IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The FBI says the Capitol riot was 'terrorism.' Democrats (and Republicans) should, too.

To borrow a famous line from former President George W. Bush shortly after 9/11: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
Image: The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police outside the U.S. Capitol.
Capitol police officers inside the Capitol as rioters approach on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington.NurPhoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Tuesday, we heard FBI Director Christopher Wray testify before the House Oversight Committee that Jan. 6 was an act of “domestic terrorism” that has “no place in our democracy.”

We've heard Wray make similar claims since March, when he testified before the U.S. Senate that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “was behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.”

The word “terrorism” holds a special type of power over America post-9/11.

The word “terrorism” holds a special type of power over America post-9/11. As problematic (and more often than not, xenophobic and racist) the application of the word has become in the years since, there’s a real opportunity for Democrats right now to lean into the word with all its visceral connotations to condemn the people who laid siege to the Capitol on Jan. 6. This feels especially important just months before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Wray’s statements are based on the definition of "domestic terrorism" under federal lawas unlawful “acts dangerous to human life” that have a political goal. Per his Tuesday testimony, Jan. 6 was just that: He said the goal of the “angry mob” was “to interfere with our democratic process” and they did so using violence, resulting in injuries to “more than 100 law enforcement officers.”

This is why it’s time Democrats embrace the word "terrorism" when speaking about Jan. 6, as in, "Jan. 6 was a terrorist attack incited by then-President Donald Trump and all involved in that attack are therefore terrorists." Democrats could even borrow a famous line from former President George W. Bush, which he delivered to a joint session of Congress shortly after 9/11: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

But as we heard during Tuesday’s hearing, Democrats continue to frame the events of Jan. 6 as an “insurrection.” It's true that Jan. 6 does qualify as an insurrection as defined by federal law in that it was an attack “against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof.”

A dangerous side effect is that the use of the word "insurrection" has provided some Republicans with a chance to downplay the dangers posed by the Capitol riot.

Sen. Ron Jonson, R-Wis., in May declared Jan. 6 was not an insurrection because there were not “thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol intent on overthrowing the government.” We heard a similar line from Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga.

Also in May, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., slammed the Department of Justice for “harassing peaceful patriots” as it sought to arrest all involved in the Jan. 6 attack. On Tuesday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., described the attackers as simply people seeking “accountability from their government.”

This is akin to members of Congress defending the terrorists involved in 9/11 just months after the attack. Of course, the unspoken reality is that if the Jan. 6 attackers were Muslim, Greene, Gosar and others like them would be screaming that all involved are terrorists and demanding they be fully prosecuted.

While politics is secondary, the lessons of the 2002 midterm election, the first after 9/11, are evidence that Bush and the GOP’s framing of Democrats as not being tough enough on terrorism likely helped them see unexpected success.

In September 2002, just six weeks before the midterm, Bush gave a speech slamming Senate Democrats who controlled that chamber as being “more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people.” The Democratic majority leader of the Senate at the time, Tom Daschle, responded by condemning the “politicization” of the security of the American people and war.

In September 2002, Bush gave a speech slamming Senate Democrats as being “more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people.”

The GOP was able to buck the tradition of the president’s party losing seats in the midterm election. Republicans actually gained eight House seats and two Senate seats — giving the GOP control of the Senate.

But this is not about politics. It’s about countering the GOP’s efforts to downplay and deny the threat posed by Jan. 6, which make us less safe as a nation. The danger to our democracy posed by those who waged the Jan. 6 terrorist attack is not over.

As Attorney General Merrick Garland stated in a speech Tuesday on the "elevated" risk of domestic terrorism in our nation, "the two most lethal elements of the domestic violence extremist threat are 'racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists' … specifically those who advocated for the superiority of the white race" and "militia violent extremists." As Wray testified in March, the arrests in connection with the Jan. 6 attack comprise people from those same two groups.

While Jan. 6 and 9/11 are not at all comparable in terms of loss of life or destruction, Jan. 6 poses a significant danger to the internal structure of our democracy. We saw Trump, then the president of the United States, radicalize Americans with his lies about the 2020 election and then with a speech incite an act of terrorism designed to prevent the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory so he could remain in power.

If we want to ensure that Jan. 6 never happens again, it’s time the Democrats call Jan. 6 what it was. And it’s time the Republican Party tell us if it is with the United States or with the terrorists.