COLORADO SPRINGS — The insurrection of the U.S Capitol Building by several riotous supporters of President Donald Trump will live on as one of the bleakest moments in American history, likely overshadowing any of the accomplishments made by the 45th President of the United States, according to political science professor and director of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs’ Center for Study on Government and the Individual Josh Dunn.
Wednesday’s events mark the first time the U.S Capitol building has been breached since the early 1800s, when it – and much of Washington, D.C – was burned during a war with the British.
The building was alo targeted by September 11th terrorists and, Dunn says, often falls prey to people who want to cause harm to the U.S government. But for the country’s own citizens to deface the building, he finds shocking and saddening.
“It’s a horrible image for the United States domestically to see this happen, but also internationally. This is the kind of thing we associate with other countries, failed democracies,” said Dunn, a constitutional law scholar with a Ph.D from the University of Virginia.
On Thursday crews were out to clean the Capitol Building’s broken windows and defaced halls. Dunn wonders how other countries weigh the damage done to the United States’ democracy from the outside, particularly nations that are trying to find their way.
“For countries that want to be successful democracies or republics, they hear the United States really has been the most successful constitutional republic in history and then this happens,” he said.
In his analysis, the actions of violence and breaking federal property go well beyond any sort of first amendment defense and disgrace protestors who intend to act peacefully.
“Some of them are already coming up with their defense, which is they thought they had a right to be in a public building,” Dunn said. “The problem is you see people climbing up walls, normally, if you have the right to be somewhere, you don’t have to smash windows and climb up walls, you just walk through open doors.”
Dunn believes prosecutors won’t shy away from filing charges against the rioters, including destruction of federal property, criminal trespass, and even insurrection—the violent uprising against an authority or government. He suspects the leaders of the movement will be charged more harshly.
The legal culpability, theoretically, could reach President Trump himself. The 1969 Supreme Court decision of Brandenburg v. Ohio laid out the criteria where one can be held legally responsible for speech that incites “imminent lawless action.”
Wednesday morning, Trump told his supporters, “we will never give up.” He directed everyone in attendance to march to the Capitol building, though Dunn doubts the President will be charged.
“Even if you say he didn’t engage in incitement to imminent lawless action, you certainly would expect a higher standard for our presidents,” Dunn said.
If legal action doesn’t damage the President, the events from January 6 likely will, Dunn believes. The day that will be forever remembered in American history, he says, will likely change how history views the Trump Presidency.
“There were things that happened during his presidency that he could legitimately say were successes—improvements in the Middle East, that’s incredible foreign policy success—very few people will remember that now. The thing that’s going to be most associated with his presidency was what happened [Wednesday].”
The shadow of January 6 still looms over America, but Dunn is confident that time will heal this wound. The country has done it before and in the wake of, arguably, more consequential, widespread, and turbulent events such as the September 11th terrorist attacks, the widespread bombings in the U.S in the 1970s, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Robert Kennedy, and the unrest following the Vietnam War.
“We’ll certainly look at it as a dark day in American history, there’s no doubt about that, but I think that even though there’s reason to be discouraged about the events, we shouldn’t despair. We’ve had other dark days and America has shown resilience,” Dunn said. “Remember that America has faced crises before and extremely turbulent politics and has managed to come through it.”