American Insurgency – What Does a Peaceful Transition of Power Look Like Now?

OPINION: America is supposed to be the world’s exporter of democracy, a profile in and of the peaceful transition of power for our generation and generations to come. As the country transitions from the presidency of Donald J. Trump to that of Joseph R. Biden, America remains more fractured than ever. After the January 6th siege of the Capitol by a violent insurgency, threat levels remain at an all time high. With the world watching, just what example of American democracy are we leaving for our children?

The United States of America is the world leader when it comes to democracy.  “We the People” export democracy.  I should know, I was on the ground with the 82nd Airborne in 2005 exporting democracy to the people of Iraq.  I was a representative of freedom for not just the United States of America, but a change agent for all free men and women from around the world. 

In Baghdad, the election of 2005 was violent.  In January, just one of many suicide bombers blew himself up about 100 meters from a polling station, killing one person and wounding 10 others. I remember. I still see the body parts in my head. 

As a practitioner of war, I understand how to influence a population, having employed various tactics in Iraq.  Before the run up to the election of 2005, my job was to reach out to local national leaders and offer infrastructure contracts. I would pay them directly to manage the project so that the community would believe that these projects had been paid for by local leaders with funds from the central Iraqi government.  If the community found out that Americans were funding a project, anti-Iraqi factions would move in and attack those projects, targeting those who would cooperate with the “infidels.” In order to counter these attacks, we had to apply pressure to the local community, so that they would unite and be a partner in helping us hunt these violent factions that were tearing the country apart.   

We were attempting to build a nation, and we had to make the local population believe that their government was in charge, that it was able to sustain their needs before the election.  Most of all, the people of Iraq had to believe in the stability of their government, and for a peaceful transition of power, Iraqis had to be confident in their electoral process; disinformation and divisiveness had to be countered and cancelled. Our deception kept the local community safe, while at the same time it exposed these factions and their activities allowing us to work towards neutralizing them.  

I’ve seen firsthand in struggling democracies like Iraq the importance of solidarity and peaceful transitions of government as well as the power of an individual’s vote.  Tragically, America is now seeing violent and divisive tactics designed to erode confidence in our democracy, our electoral process, and even our ability to affect a peaceful transfer of power. Sadly, I have seen divisive tactics and disinformation being used against my own community, and these negative messages of doubt and distrust are influencing our youth even at the middle school and elementary school levels.  

This is why the events in Washington on January 6th concern not only myself and my community as a whole, but the foundation of my family structure. 

My family is split between liberals and conservatives.  I find myself to be a moderate so I am not influenced one way or the other, but as a father, I must be able to create a safe environment for my children to grow and prosper in their political views. I do this by having spirited debates with my daughters and offer them different perspectives on the things we discuss.  It allows me to listen to my child as they explain how they see the world, and I get to share with them my life experiences and stories.  It’s one of the greatest benefits of being a parent. 

My daughter has said to me, “Dad, the election was rigged.”  

However, after the violence in DC, it has left me struggling with a dilemma; How do you support your child’s opinion when that opinion originates in hate and spills over into violence?  This is not the right example that our children should be following. As a parent raising children, I have to be the example and provide the support, growth and development of my children in a safe and secure environment.  This becomes challenging however when violence erupts over an election.  It becomes difficult to explain the peaceful transition of power to my children. 

My oldest daughter is a proud Trump supporter and leans more conservative.  As her father, I support her choices and opinions on all matters, including politics.  I do my best to explain the difference between being a conservative and being a Trump supporter. Yet, after the events in DC, it has become more difficult.  Hate is not a family value, but hate is what was on display. 

Equally troubling, this hate is based on a lie. A cruel and reckless lie. The “Big Lie”. My daughter has said to me, “Dad, the election was rigged.”  As an Election Judge, I worked on the front lines registering eligible voters and allowing them to speak their voice.  I have worked side-by-side with my neighbors from different political affiliations to ensure the security and accuracy of our elections.  We provided a free and fair election that was transparent and accurate.  We ensured at all times that there was party balance when it came to dealing with voters and ballots.  This was our sacred duty. 

Yet, all that work was minimized by four words.  She ignored the violence, ignored the misinformation, ignored the pain, ignored the facts of the free and fair election and summarized it all into “the election was rigged.”

Meanwhile, our democracy suffers irreparably.

Brian Sicknick, a Capitol police officer who died of injuries suffered during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

We’ve all watched in horror the images of violence that day. One U.S. Capitol Police officer was killed.  Officer Brian Sicknick had joined the USCP in July 2008, having enlisted in the National Guard six months after graduating high school in 1997, then deploying to Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan.  That was the same year I graduated high school and joined the Army.

MPD Officer Daniel Hodges was beaten with his own baton while being pinned in a doorway.  We’ve all seen the video of him desperately shouting for help, mouth bloodied, as the crowd surge crushed him. Hodges remembered being attacked by a man who was “practically foaming at the mouth.” He would later say, “If it wasn’t my job I would have done that for free … It was absolutely my pleasure to crush a white nationalist insurrection and I’m glad I was in a position to help. We’ll do it as many times as it takes.”

Officer Michael Fanone, a narcotics detective, had rushed to assist, but was dragged into the crowd, beaten, and shocked repeatedly with a Taser. Rioters stripped the gear off his body, including his ammunition, police radio and badge. Fanone stated afterwards in an interview:

“Some guy started getting a hold of my gun and they were screaming out ‘Kill him with his own gun!’. At that point it was self-preservation, how do I survive this situation. And I thought about using deadly force. I thought about shooting people. And then I just came to the conclusion that … if I was to do that I might get a few, but I’m not going to take everybody and they’ll probably take my gun away from me and that would definitely give them the justification that they were looking for to kill me, if they already didn’t have made that up in their minds … The other option I thought of was to try to appeal to someone’s humanity. And I just remember yelling out that I have kids. And it seemed to work. Some people in the crowd started to encircle me and try to offer me some level of protection.”

Fanone added, “A lot of people have asked me my thoughts on the individuals in the crowd that helped me or tried to offer some assistance. And I think kind of the conclusion I’ve come to is, ‘Thank you … but f*ck you for being there.’”

We’ve also watched video of Officer Eugene Goodman, an Iraq combat Veteran who had deployed with the 101st Airborne, bravely drawing the angry crowd away from entering the Senate Chamber. Goodman is being considered for a Congressional Gold Medal.  There are rumors of dedicating a statue to him.

I had also watched live when a security detail emerged from the Capitol building with a paramedic team frantically administering first aid to an exposed, shirtless woman. They applied chest compressions as she lay on the stretcher before rushing her to the hospital.  Her neck bloodied, she appeared to not be breathing on her own, due to an apparent gunshot wound. Video would soon surface that Ashli Babbitt, a U.S. Air Force Veteran from California, was part of the violent mob that had attempted to smash through barricaded doors into the House Chamber. A police officer in plain clothes shot Babbitt as she tried to climb through a broken window of one of the doors, a Trump flag tied around her waist. Babbitt had deployed overseas on multiple occasions, to Afghanistan in 2005, Iraq in 2006, and the United Arab Emirates in 2012 and 2014.

They say 5 people died. By my count, one courageous law enforcement officer died, and four terrorists mounting an attempted coup were thwarted that day.  Then there is U.S. Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood, who later committed suicide after being on duty that dreadful day.  In all, 56 D.C. Metro Police officers were injured, with 60 Capitol Police officers injured and 15 hospitalized. These horrific numbers continue to rise with members of the Capitol Police battling the trauma they experienced and the subsequent suicidal ideations. 

As more and more disturbing video emerges from that day, questions about Capitol security and preparedness continue and must be thoroughly investigated. We now stand days before the 2021 Inauguration, at a threat level never before seen. U.S. intelligence warns of more violence to come.

Still, some in Congress, magnified by pundits on media outlets such as Fox News, Newsmax and OAN, repeat or enable the Big Lie that this election was stolen. All despite volumes of evidence to the contrary. The deluge of disinformation about what was clearly a free and fair election is staggering.

And now, a second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump looms ahead. Whether he did incite the riot on January 6, and, equally important, whether he failed to act, and failed in his duty to act once the riot was underway, will be decided before the Senate. Whether Donald Trump can run for office again, possibly splitting the Republican vote, is also on the table.

So how has this been a peaceful transition, as envisioned by our Founding Fathers?  How do you educate your child that this is not what our country does? 

Whether Donald Trump incited the riot on January 6, and, equally important, whether he failed to act, and failed in his duty to act once the riot was underway, will be decided before the Senate.

There is an energy of division in politics that appears to be growing to unprecedented levels. Some say we are currently engaged at the height of what is being described as political domestic hybrid warfare. Certainly, the momentum of this energy of division is further dividing us, and as a parent, it is becoming increasingly difficult to educate my children and my community on what it means to be an American and what a peaceful transition of government looks like. 

We must set the example for our children because they will follow our lead.  How do we want them to run our elections in the future?

Free and fair, or with violence and hatred of heart?


[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

Don Martinez is a retired Iraq War veteran, Chief Strategy Officer for Lima Charlie News, a former Election Judge in El Paso County, Chair of the Colorado Latinos Vote and sits on the Defense Council with the Truman National Security Project.  All views and opinions expressed are his own.

[Main Image: U.S. Capitol Police with guns drawn stand near a barricaded door as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik / Associated Press][@andyharnick]

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