Stop treating the Jan. 6 insurrectionists with leniency. Throw the book at them — including Trump
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Understanding why January 6 happened is not merely a question for the history books. It’s about the future. It’s about stopping Trump’s next coup — which has already begun.

To that end, there is one big reason, much overlooked, why thousands of Trump-supporting conspiracists, extremists, and white supremacists stormed the Capitol on January 6: they were supercharged by impunity.

Evidence shows they had every reason to believe they could get away it. And despite their Bud Light Putsch having failed, they are getting away with it.

Lawmakers have blasted U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland for giving “slaps on the wrist” to insurrectionists. Of 71 rioters who have been sentenced so far, most have avoided jail time and many of the rest have been allowed to be confined temporarily in the comfort of their home, or given token sentences of weeks or months.

The Department of Justice is tying its own hands. It “has failed to charge anyone with sedition or treason” despite the fact trying to stop Congress from certifying the electoral vote is “textbook sedition.”

Perhaps Garland thinks sedition charges would be unorthodox. But he can easily apply terrorism enhancement charges, as is often done to Muslim and left-wing defendants. Biden said the rioters were terrorists and Capitol Police who testitied to Congress asserted the actions of Trump’s mob met the definition of terrorism under federal law. Such charges would add decades to sentences to coup participants, showing there is a price to pay. But that has not yet happened.

Garland doesn’t even need to hit them with terrorism enhancement. A threat is enough to make most defendants plead guilty to serious charges instead of the probation, 40 hours of community service, and $500 fine that some defendants are walking away with.

Nor has any insurrectionist been charged in the deaths of five people that day despite the “felony murder rule” that “holds a person who commits a crime responsible for any deaths that result.”

Judges are frustrated at government leniency. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell has blasted prosecutors as “schizophrenic” and “baffling” for describing the insurrectionists as a grave threat to democracy and then letting them off the hook with petty misdemeanors. Howell has also pushed prosecutors on why weren’t they charging more defendants with “obstructing an official processing,” which carries a sentence of up to 20 years.

The cost of government leniency is evident in how violence has infected the GOP. A new Washington Post poll found 40 percent of Republicans say violence against the government can be justified. The right-wing glorification of political violence is spreading through society.

Reuters has documented more than 850 threats against election officials in sixteen states in the wake of the 2020 election. Virtually all expressed support for Trump and 110 “appear to meet … the federal threshold for prosecution.” Yet no arrests have been made.

With far-right media having whipped the GOP base into a frenzy over critical race theory and mask policies, school-board officials are now regularly subjected to death threats, violence and in need of police protection, leading some to resign.

Attacks on school boards are hardly the work of overly passionate parents. With more than a dozen members and leaders arrested in connection with Jan. 6, the fascistic Proud Boys have invaded school board meetings, seemingly to stoke violence and gain recruits.

Assaults against airline employees soared after Jan. 6 — including on flights carrying pro-Trump rioters home from the nation’s capital. According to the latest data for 2021, nearly 75 percent of 5,779 unruly passenger incidents involved mandatory mask policy on airlines, a measure of how much of the violence is motivated by pro-Trump sentiment.

Violent rhetoric that is a precursor to far-right attacks is inside Congress among extremists such as Rep. Paul Gosar tweeting an anime video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Lauren Boebert suggesting Rep. Ilhan Omar is a terrorist.

The violence has a calculated political effect. It’s emboldening Trump loyalists like Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows who are stonewalling Congress’s probe of Jan. 6 by defying subpoenas. They are trying to run out the clock on any possible prosecution, betting that Republicans will take back Congress in the 2022 midterms and shut down the investigation.

Some are turning the failed coup into political gold. On election day in November, at least seven Jan. 6 rallygoers were elected to state or local office. Since then another 13 participants have thrown their hat in the ring for the 2022 vote, including two facing charges.

With Trump little different than classic fascists, the most worrying trend is the Big Lie that the election was stolen from him being used to justify a legislative coup now underway. The GOP went into overdrive last year passing 34 laws in 19 states that restrict the right to vote. Republicans have passed laws in 14 states stripping election officials of powers.

Barring a blood vessel clogging or bursting, Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee in 2024, and signs point to him carrying out a “respectable coup” by having a Republican Congress steal the election even if he loses.

“Every day is Jan. 6,” warns the New York Times. Democrats led by Biden “have so far failed … to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage.” Passing a new voting rights law is a crucial step, but just one. The Brennan Center has listed other measures to make it harder for Trump to interfere in future elections, to tamp down disinformation, to protect election officials, and to prosecute those who threaten them.

It’s those prosecutorial powers that are lacking. The DOJ and state prosecutors need to use their legal powers to crush the violent elements of the GOP.

One encouraging sign is the lawsuit by the D.C. Attorney General against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers that could financially cripple the organizations. It would follow the jury verdict in November awarding $25 million to plaintiffs against 17 white nationalists and organizations who organized the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, including Jason Kessler, who was inducted into the Proud Boys in Charlottesville.

Then there is the big fish himself. Such is the sad state of American democracy that it was left to Rep. Liz Cheney to ask did “Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceeding to count electoral votes?” She was all but saying Trump should be charged, which needs to happen swiftly.

Trump would undoubtedly go ballistic and incite more mob violence, which would only land him deeper in the drink.

The alarm bells are going off about a second coup — even louder than they were before the Jan. 6 coup. Will they be ignored again?