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GOP Treason Is Stalking Democracies Around the World

And it’s damn well past time that the people who conceived and ordered and facilitated the execution of this crime against all the rest of us are held to account in a meaningful way

Protesters hold a banner that reads ‘military intervention’ as they storm the the Brazilian National Congress.,Photograph: Eraldo Peres/AP

There’s a reason the Framers of our Constitution wrote the word “treason” into that document 7 times and the word “rebellion” 5 times: they knew how deadly rebellions are to democracy when they aren’t swiftly and severely punished.

Yesterday saw that hard lesson play out in Brazil, with coordinated and simultaneous attacks — explicitly inspired by Trump’s assault on the US Capitol and cheered on by American Republicans — on Brazil’s presidential palace, capitol building, and supreme court building.

As The Guardian reports:

“Videos posted on social media showed fires burning inside the congress building. Furniture was broken and tossed around, objects were reportedly stolen in the presidential palace and the supreme court, and in some places sprinklers appeared to be dousing chambers.”

Trump’s buddy Steve Bannon, who reports suggest has been encouraging Brazilians to believe the election was stolen on his podcast, told the Washington Post for an article titledTrump aides Bannon, Miller advising the Bolsonaros on next steps:

“What’s happening in Brazil is a world event.” And, “The people are saying they've been grossly disenfranchised. [The movement] has moved beyond the Bolsonaro’s in the way that in the U.S. it has moved beyond Trump.”

Brian Klass reports at his Garden of Forking Paths Substack newsletter that Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo was in Washington, DC for January 6th, has hung out with Trump at Mar-a-Largo, and the entire Brazilian event was egged on by American rightwingers:

“A guest on Bannon’s show, Matthew Tyrmand, suggested the use of military force in Brazil to put Bolsonaro back in power. Protesters in Brazil have held signs that say ‘Brazilian Spring,’ a term that Bannon coined to suggest that Bolsonaro’s authoritarian thugs were carrying the torch of pro-democracy protesters in places like Tunisia during the Arab Spring. Yesterday, Bannon referred to the mob seeking to overturn the election in Brazil as ‘freedom fighters.’”

Two years ago here in the United States a mob attacked our Capitol building, smearing feces on the walls, defacing priceless 250-year-old paintings, and ransacking the sometimes top-secret papers and offices of members of the House and Senate as they tried to locate and murder the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

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Not a single Trump administration or congressional ringleader, planner, or facilitator of that attack has even been arrested or indicted a full two years later.

Donald Trump, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Ali Alexander, John Eastman, Mo Brooks, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Scott Perry, Josh Hawley, Mark Meadows, Ginni Thomas, Mike Flynn — the list of people who, by their own admission or now-publicly known actions, appear to have been central to or cheerleading for the plot, goes on for another dozen or so names — all appear to have skated scot-free.

To compound the crime, many of the people who are today trying to hamstring the House’s ability to function normally are, it appears, themselves unindicted co-conspirators.

Rebellion and treason are not new things in America: there was a time when we held traitors to account.

Shay’s Rebellion (1786-1787) is credited by most historians as the event that pushed American politicians to finally and fully abandon the Articles of Confederation and call a Constitutional Convention to create a federal government strong enough to deal with armed uprisings. They were known then as the Federalists, a name that’s been co-opted by people seeking to turn our nation into an oligarchy.

As Henry Knox, a close friend of George Washington’s who’d served under him in the Revolutionary War and would later become our first Secretary of War (today Defense), wrote to the future president on October 23, 1786:

“We have arrived at that point of time in which we are forced to see our national humiliation, and that a progression in this line, cannot be productive of happiness either public or private — something is wanting and something must be done or we shall be involved in all the horror of faction and civil war without a prospect of its termination.

“Every tried friend to the liberties of his country is bound to reflect, and to step forward to prevent the dreadful consequences which will result from a government of events.

“Unless this is done we shall be liable to be ruled by an Arbritary and Capricious armed tyranny, whose word and will must be law.” [punctuation modernized]

The crisis caused General Washington to come out of retirement and ride to Philadelphia to participate in the Constitutional Convention, where he helped Alexander Hamilton and James Madison successfully argue a new constitution was necessary.

In part because of Shay’s Rebellion — and out of an abundance of common sense informed by centuries of European history — the men who assembled in what’s now called Independence Hall in Philadelphia during the summer and early fall of 1787 made sure to emphasize their horror about such insurgencies and the threat they represent to democracy in our republic.

Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution gives immunity to legislators, unless they’re involved in an insurrection against the United States:

“They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses…”

Article II, Section 4 says that the President and Vice President:

“[S]hall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Article II, Section 3 defines treason:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Article IV, Section 2 says:

“A person charged in any State with Treason … who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.”

The 14th Amendment’s Section 4 is explicit:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

The Framers even wrote into the Constitution (Article I, Section 9) that habeas corpus — the most ancient of legal civil rights, one that dates back to King John being forced to sign the Magna Carta on the field at Runnymede on June 15, 1215 — could only be suspended in the United States “in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion…”

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land: every other law, be it federal, state, or local is subordinate to its explicit provisions.

And yet, today, none of the planners or ringleaders of the armed assault on our Capitol — a rebellion at the least and treason by any reasonable definition — are still walking around free two years later, continuing to agitate against democracy and advocate its destruction both here and around the world.

Pundits wring their hands about holding the senior-most officials of our government and their allies accountable for the treason of January 6th. “What about the backlash?” they wail, as if we should enthusiastically imprison asylum seekers but G-d forbid we hold traitors to account for fear it might piss them off.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have already extracted a promise from Speaker McCarthy that he’ll empanel a House committee specifically to investigate the FBI and the January 6th committee in a naked attempt at intimidation and a warning to those who may seek to hold Republicans to account in the future. At least a half-dozen of these Judas-like legislators had previously asked Trump for pardons: they know well the gravity of their crimes.

These turncoats’ behavior — and, perhaps most important, America’s failure to punish it — has now led to an open rebellion in Brazil where Jair Bolsonaro modeled himself and his presidency after Trump and his White House.

So closely, in fact, that Bolsonaro first fled to Mar-a-Lago and is now reportedly staying at the home of a mixed martial arts practitioner nearby. (Congressman Joaquin Castro is calling for his prompt extradition to Brazil to face the possibility of charges of treason.)

It empowered Putin to attack Ukraine and, sure enough, a handful of Republican quislings are already talking about stripping money for that democracy out of the Pentagon’s budget.

Authoritarian governments and movements around the world were empowered by Trump’s lawless presidency and his attempt to replace our free republic with a strongman authoritarian fascist state. Wannabee dictators, as we see in Brazil, are learning from Trump’s failed attempt at treason.

The fact that we have not arrested even one of these people gives them certainty about the weakness of democracy. And sureness that our time on the world stage as a democratic republic is limited.

If the Founders and Framers were here today they’d recognize in an instant what and who these back-stabbers are and what must be done. The timidity of the Biden administration and Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice would rightly horrify them.

In the middle of his second term as President, an aging George Washington was confronted by the Whiskey Rebellion, itself in many ways an echo of Shay’s Rebellion. Realizing the danger to our republic that armed groups of citizens defying our laws and attacking government officials represented, he gathered over 12,000 troops and led them on horseback, literally risking his own life (fortunately, it didn’t turn out as bad as it could have) to put down the insurrection.

When the Confederacy declared an insurrection against the United States, President Abraham Lincoln summoned the nation’s army to fight them, leading to over 600,000 casualties. When he was assassinated, giving his life in defense of democracy, and slaveholding southerner Andrew Johnson became president, Johnson began the process of holding harmless the ringleaders of the Confederate treason.

He pardoned their ringleader, Jefferson Davis, along with over 13,000 other men from the leadership of the insurrection. He issued a proclamation of amnesty for white men who’d taken arms against their country. He even pardoned Samuel Arnold, one of the men convicted of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln.

President Johnson’s failure to enforce our constitution and the laws of this nation echo to this day. They inspired the “Lost Cause” mythology which informs the Benedict Arnolds in today’s political and media worlds.

As Rachel Maddow documented so brilliantly in her Ultra podcast, when members of the House and Senate took money from Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s to do the Nazis’ bidding and were eventually found out, the Truman administration’s DOJ basically let them get away with it.

When Richard Nixon committed treason in 1968, telling the South Vietnamese not to go along with a peace deal President Johnson had negotiated, he did it so Vice President Hubert Humphrey — Nixon’s 1968 presidential election opponent — couldn’t take credit for ending the war. Johnson was informed by the FBI but went to his grave with the secret.

When Ronald Reagan’s campaign cut a deal with the Iranian ayatollahs to hold their American hostages until after the election so he could destroy President Carter as “weak,” nobody made a serious effort to hold him or officials in his campaign accountable. Even after Iran’s then-president, Abolhassan Banisadr, came to America and published an account of Reagan’s 1980 treason, no officials called for accountability.

When George W. Bush’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, cancelled the voter registrations of around 80,000 African American voters in that state in the months leading up to the election of 2000 and it was widely publicized on BBC and other media, nobody demanded either of the Bush brothers pay a price for their sedition.

The Republican Chief Justice of the Supreme Court even put his stamp of approval on Jeb’s un-American action, writing in his decision in Bush v Gore that the statewide recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court must stop (so much for the 10th Amendment):

“The counting of votes … does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [George W. Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election.”

Now it’s Donald Trump and his wealthy and powerful allies who put American democracy in the crosshairs and, if history repeats itself, will not be held to account or, at most, will receive a slap on the hand.

This willingness to brook rebellion is not just hurting America. It’s threatening democracies all around the world.

And it’s damn well past time that the people who conceived and ordered and facilitated this crime against all the rest of us and the world are held to account in a meaningful way.

Thom Hartmann is a NY Times bestselling author 34 books in 17 languages & nation's #1 progressive radio host. Psychotherapist, international relief worker. Politics, history, spirituality, psychology, science, anthropology, pre-history, culture, and the natural world.