The attack on the US Capitol was an act of domestic terrorism incited by Donald Trump and egged on by his staunchest allies — those in Congress and in the far-right media sphere. The future of our democracy depends on ensuring it never happens again.
A violent mob of the president’s supporters spent the better part of last Wednesday overrunning police officers, ransacking the Capitol, and flying the Confederate flag in the halls Abraham Lincoln once walked. But just hours later, as a Capitol Police officer clung to life from injuries he sustained during the siege, lawmakers loyal to Trump took to the House floor to double down on the president’s lies about the presidential election and defend these terrorists. That police officer later died.
“I don’t know if the reports are true,” Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said, “but The Washington Times has just reported, with some pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company, showing that some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters, and in fact, they were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
He received a standing ovation from several of his Republican colleagues, the same ones attempting to overturn the will of the American people. And his speech, like so many others amplified by extremists and far-right outlets masquerading as news sites, went viral.
Of course, this latest batch of disinformation was immediately debunked by the very company the report cited, and The Washington Times quietly removed the very story Gaetz referenced. But that hasn’t stopped his speech or similar claims from spreading across social media sites like wildfire, all while extremists who stormed the Capitol plot an even more violent return on Inauguration Day.
Three things must happen to prevent another attack and quell the intolerable spread of disinformation, especially by those entrusted with enormous power in elected office.
First, Donald Trump must go. Every second he remains in office is a threat to the safety, security, and future of our nation.
Resignation or removal of the president from office via the 25th Amendment would be the most expeditious, but it is clearer than ever that his Cabinet and the Republican Party lack the courage and patriotism necessary to hold him accountable. The House will impeach Trump this week for inciting the insurrection, and it is imperative that the Senate put country above party to try and convict him, remove him from office, and ensure that he can never be elected again.
Second, members of the House and Senate must be held accountable for spreading lies. There is no sworn oath for lawmakers to tell the truth in the Capitol as there is in a court of law. They are free to deliberately lie and amplify conspiratorial nonsense. Regrettably, too many of them, Gaetz included, are either recklessly indifferent to facts or shamelessly willing to exploit lies for their own gain.
The rules of both chambers should be changed to punish members for intentionally false rhetoric that endangers lives, encourages violence, or incites insurrection. Depending on the severity of their violation, members who break the rules should be suspended from speaking on the chamber floor, stripped of their committee assignments or, for the most egregious violations, expelled entirely.
Third, we must take swift action to address the current digital media ecosystem that locks people into echo chambers that dangerously feed disinformation and only confirm their biases. Congress, specifically the House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which I am a member, must take the lead in carefully and sensibly reforming Section 230, the regulatory framework that allows parties to shift blame and avoid responsibility.
Additionally, guardrails must be erected on the powerful algorithms, consumer data collection, and targeting techniques that deliver obscene profits to big tech while essentially brainwashing an unsuspecting citizenry. Congress must preserve our unalienable right as Americans to freedom of speech, but also prevent bad actors from utilizing free speech to trample on the rights of others.
Truth matters, and there is only one version of it. The status quo, allowing for the spread of disinformation, poses a direct threat to America’s future. Only after these steps are taken will America be able to start down the long road to recovery from Wednesday’s insurgency and Trump’s divisiveness.
US Representative Lori Trahan represents Massachusetts’ Third District.