Commentary, Opinion

Domestic terrorism in the Capitol

By Haviland Smith

Editor’s note: Haviland Smith is a retired CIA operations officer who was the CIA’s first chief of counterterrorism. Since his retirement in 1980, he has lived in Vermont.

It is a fact that the best, noblest political movements often attract the worst kind of violent participants. These people barge in and commit the kinds of violent acts that ultimately change the focus of a previously benign movement to violent terrorist activities. These are viewed quite differently and are generally punished more severely than normal criminal activities.

That is what we are seeing today in the United States. Whether you agree with their goals or not, the vast majority of Trump supporters are non-violent Americans who seek basic changes in American life. They plan to reach their goals by supporting Trump. Right now, that means demonstrating peacefully on his behalf and agreeing with and backing his claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election which he lost to Joe Biden.

The other part of this picture is the violent one. There is unquestionably a smaller group or groups who, for whatever reasons, see these peaceful demonstrations as an opportunity to raise havoc, to partake in the only form of protest that turns them on – violence.

What none of these folks seem to realize is that in the commission of felonies (entering the U.S. Capitol forcibly, etc.) in the pursuit of political goals (the illegal participation in maintaining Trump in power) they qualify nicely for classification as terrorists.

At one point during the invasion of the Capitol, it was announced by the TV commentators that the invaders were beginning to leave the area. Careful examination of the TV footage at the time shows that the people leaving the area were old, often female – a less fit, less bellicose group. In fact, they were the Capitol invaders who had no intention of getting involved in what clearly was becoming a potentially violent situation. They simply were not up to it politically, mentally or physically.

On the other hand, who stayed behind? Those who were actively interested in becoming involved in violence. Did you notice how many of them wore helmets? The only reason you wear a helmet is to protect yourself from violent attacks on your head and that is clearly what they were doing. They anticipated participating in violence. In addition, the stay-behinds were a major cut in age below those who were leaving. They were the sort who could climb vertical walls, break through windows and throw projectiles at the protecting police force. The fact that five people died, over 80 were arrested, and 50 police officers were injured bears eloquent testimony to the fact that this was a terrorist invasion encouraged by the sitting president of the United States, his family members and Republican colleagues.

Ever since the results of the November election became known, the president has created and maintained the fiction that widespread fraud was involved in the Biden win. Whether Trump knows that his major premise is all lies (which would make him a calculating criminal) or doesn’t know that his positions are all lies (making him deranged) is almost irrelevant. In either case, calculating or deranged, he is a strangely questionable choice for leader of this country.

Terrorism is the use of fear (terror) and acts of violence to intimidate societies, governments or ideologies. Domestic terrorism is a form of terrorism in which victims within a country are targeted by a perpetrator with the same citizenship as the victims.

It is worth noting that in the middle of the Jan. 6 invasion, the FBI became involved, presumably on the basis of a logical conclusion that they were looking at an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism is “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature.”

It is clear that the invasion of the Capitol building involved criminal activity. It is equally clear that if the criminals are to be identified and tried for their crimes, as has been clearly stated by all the government elements involved, it will be the FBI that will lead the way. It is, after all, the premier law enforcement organization in the United States. As such, it is most likely to be the only organization capable of resolving the many complicated issues involved in this crime, most emphatically including the issue of domestic terrorism, its initiators, motivators and perpetrators.

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