Two Faces of Protest – A New Kind of Political Theater

By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

In the 1980’s, plagued with rising terrorism, India enacted TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act). Intended to be a safeguard against serious threats to national security, the law inevitably led to abusive manipulation by those in power against opposition parties and disruptive forces. In the aftermath of the foiled terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the lethal terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008, subsequent laws became more stringent eventually ending the distinction between ‘unlawful’ and ‘terrorist’ activities and allowing government unreasonable flexibility to designate anyone as terrorist.

The definitions of terrorism and insurrection tend to be fluid and depend on who is in power. Someone’s freedom fighter is another’s rebel depending solely on one’s politics. World history is filled with examples of freedom fighters being charged and hung as terrorists and insurrectionists.

That never-resolved tussle between what constitutes good and bad, lawful and unlawful protest, and legitimate and illegitimate free speech continues to plague all nations.

In the US, the conflicting perceptions have come to a boiling point as the nation tries to negotiate what is legitimate and what is not between Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa led year-long protests in the aftermath of the savage killing and avoidable tragic death of Floyd George, and the singular forcible entry by a mob of protesters into and occupation of the august Halls of US Congress on January 6, 2021.

While Republicans decried the rioting and violence for a year by BLM protesters, what they saw as anarchy, Democrats kept quiet and compliant. But when January 6 erupted, with Democrats vehemently condemning it as insurrection provoked if not led by Trump and equating the protestors to rebels, Republicans mostly remained impassive.

Often sprinkled with violence, the lawfulness of the former category of protests has remained mainly unchallenged. Nor have those carrying out the protests been demonized as rioters or insurrectionists unlike the January 6 protestors.

Lasting for a mere four hours, that single action rattled American politicians and a majority of us leading to its wide condemnation as one of the blackest days in American history. The import of a mob forcing its way into the Capitol with the likely intent to suspend the confirmation process certifying the election of Joe Biden as President is serious and a frontal attack on our democracy. The error lies in deeming it a coup.

Yet, that is precisely what the ruling party and its captive media have chosen to do. Surrounded by a wildly excited crowd seeking to halt the confirmation proceedings, Congressional members feared for their lives. For weeks thereafter, they tweeted and publicly moaned about how traumatized they were with that near-death experience, even creating a support group to deal with their trauma.

Speaker Pelosi has announced the creation of a Select House Committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol attack. Democrats as well as the liberal media are salivating over the possibility that its genesis may well connect to the Capitol Hill and those in Trump’s orbit, or best of all, to Trump himself!

Alas, none had the grace to recall let alone concede how arrogantly indifferent they were to the year-long Antifa-BLM led protests and in many cases rioting, and how they failed to show empathy for the average citizens and business owners dwelling in those riot-torn areas. Some horrendous losses of property and life accompanying those riots were dismissed as collateral damage.

Though the congressional members’ fear for their own safety is entirely understandable, and their determination to ensure no such threatening event ever occurs again justified, on both counts they fall short of the fair-mindedness we expect of our elected representatives and the judicial and executive branch of our government. Their outrage at the temporary takeover of their chambers was in total contrast to their previous utter disregard of the lawless conduct and rioting that plagued our cities from coast to coast. Suddenly the shoe seemed to be pinching only because it was on their foot.

For an entire year or more, the takeover of streets and public buildings and destruction of national monuments by mobs was ignored, even justified and lauded.  Protesters felt righteous and encouraged to express their rage and freely loot and burn whatever came in their line of fire or desire. While Republicans decried what they saw as anarchy, Democrats kept quiet and compliant. But when January 6 erupted, with Democrats vehemently condemning it as insurrection provoked if not led by Trump and equating the protestors to rebels, Republicans mostly remained impassive.

The handling of protests by police was also starkly different as seen in the way in which the police handled black protesters versus white protestors, using tear bombs and other intimidating means to tackle the former, yet standing passively by and treating white protesters with kid gloves.

These wide chasms in the American public’s perception and the handling of protests and protestors by political parties and their respective administrations at all levels of government is highly unsettling. Left unchecked it will endanger our democracy’s stability.

The line between democracy and anarchy is razor thin. Even as we must safeguard our democracy against a similar occurrence in future, to treat any and every Trump supporter as enemy of the state is to jump the gun. Until more facts emerge, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the breach of America’s sanctum sanctorum occurred not from a planned takeover of the highest seat of government but most likely, a political rally morphing spontaneously into a break-in, temporarily halting Congressional certification of Biden’s electoral victory, which does not equate to a coup d’etat.

Importantly, we need not slip into a yet another conspiracy theory either from the Left attributing a sinister design of protesters to take over Congress and restore Trump to power, or from the Right implicating FBI as using undercover agents to provoke pro-Trump crazies and white supremacists to overturn the electoral outcome. Above all, we must not condone the Congressional Democrats’ unrelenting zeal to seek retribution and punish and make an example of wrong-doers.

That moderation remains wishful thinking, as the state’s powerful judicial and executive agencies have already come out with blazing guns to identify and go after anyone who had been present within the vicinity of the Capitol. More than 440 of the estimated 800 who entered the Capitol have already been arrested and another 100 are expected to be charged. Those charged with assaulting the police or carrying a weapon into the Capitol face a prison sentence of 3-4 years, which could be longer or shorter depending on their pleading guilty, willingness to cooperate, or fulfilling other conditions. Rather than undergo lengthy prison stay, some have already pleaded guilty including a grandmother of five with no prior record or offence.

Ever ready to lead the charge against Trump, Speaker Pelosi announced on July 1 the creation of a select House committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol attack and its origins, and make recommendations on how to prevent a future riot. Convinced of their own and the FBI’s righteousness in pursuing the roots of the January ‘rebellion’, Congressional Democrats as well as their liberal media lapdogs are salivating over the possibility that its genesis may well connect to the Capitol Hill and those in Trump’s orbit, or best of all, to Trump himself!

With fewer spots for Republicans on the committee, the die is already cast in favor of Democrats whose perspectives and conclusions alone will prevail. Pelosi’s enthusiastic nomination of an anti-Trump ‘rogue’ Republican – Representative Liz Cheney – to serve on the Committee sends a clear signal to Republicans that the Committee will be nothing more than political theater.

Played day after day on the captive media, its hearings will serve as political cudgel to beat up on Trump and undermine Trump’s and his sympathizers’ re-election prospects in 2022 and 2024.

Get ready for a classic retake of the Impeachment Drama 101, which was focused on Trump-Russia Collusion, with Impeachment 201 focused on Trump-Rebels Collusion!

Based in California, Neera Kuckreja Sohoni regularly contributes opeds to The South Asian Times


Images courtesy of (Photos courtesy AP and Reuters), (Photo courtesy AP) and pROVIDED

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