Democracy expert expects political violence will get much worse and become a 'normal part of our life'

Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld, an expert on how democracies can improve at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, spoke to Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent about what Americans witnessed on Jan. 6, 2021, and what can be expected as the United States enters a new era of politics.

The outlook is grim, Kleinfeld explained, noting that things will get much worse before they get better.

"Americans need to realize that paramilitary groups could become a normal part of our political life," she said of those like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, which have been part of the prosecutions of the attack on Congress.

"For the last few years, we’ve seen an uptick in Republican parties at the local level — though occasionally at the state level — using militias for security at party events, having militias vote on party business, in one case in Michigan having militias introduce legislation," she explained. "You’re seeing a lot of photo-ops with militia members — things that normalize their interaction with the democratic process. These militias are being used to threaten other Republicans who aren’t part of this anti-democratic faction."

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She cited some of the other countries where police violence has broken out and that it goes from violence to dehumanization. She cited the GOP's use of the word "groomers" to imply Democrats are pedophiles. The same happened to Republican Arizona state House Speaker Rusty Bowers after he refused to overturn the 2020 election results in his state for Trump. He testified that they spent days outside of his home blasting loudspeakers calling him a pedophile while his terminally ill daughter was dying.

"The next stage is making violence against those dehumanized opponents seem more normal. You’re starting to see GOP candidates posing with rifles — everything from Rep. Thomas Massie’s family Christmas photo to Eric Greitens’s new ads about hunting RINOs," said Kleinfeld.

There are three groups an antidemocratic faction of the GOP is going after, she continued: pro-democracy Republicans, elected officials who handle elections, and everyday people like teachers and librarians.

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"But if they start losing, then they’ve built up a lot of hatred — a lot of distrust in the system — and then the violence is going to get out of their control," she told Sargent. "It’ll look more like an insurgency. A disaffected left, not connected to the Democratic Party, is also justifying violence. It could get ugly."

The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Congress and what led up to it will look at the links between the attacks and milita groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.