William Myers, a professor of political science at the University of Tampa, watched with dread as a mob took over the United States Capitol Wednesday.
“On some level it feels like we’re living through history that we never wanted to,” he said. “Whenever these types of things happen you think they can’t happen here, until it does.”
Myers was one of more than 1,000 political science professors across the nation who signed an open letter calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove President Donald Trump from office based on actions Trump took to incite the siege.
Political science professors, Myers said, normally try to stay above the fray.
They’re educators, he said, not active practitioners of politics. But he called Wednesday’s events a “distortion and perversion” of democracy that went beyond politics and required consequences.
“I think this is an inevitable outcome of the type of stuff the president and members of Congress and the conservative media have been saying for the last few weeks, if not months or a year,” he said. “They’ve been trying to de-legitimize the election even before we had the election.”
Josh Scacco, a professor of political communication at the University of South Florida, also signed the letter. He said he believes social media platforms have accelerated the radicalization of Americans who have become more susceptible to violent language from Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and QAnon messaging.
They ultimately engaged in acts of terrorism, he said.
“The president of the United States has given up on the democratic process. When that occurs, the president must be removed through either impeachment or the 25th amendment,” Scacco said. “I think when we turn to violence, democracy is over.”
Josh Gellers, a political science professor at the University of North Florida, also signed the letter.
Gellers studies human rights and the developing world.
Much of what led to Wednesday’s events, he said, can be blamed on the breakdown of media literacy and widespread misinformation.
“We’re in this completely different media environment that’s like the Wild West and it’s not very well regulated and there’s a lot of monied interests in seeing that it’s not regulated,” Gellers said. “And we see the results of that when people are essentially being led by the Pied Piper to a battle they feel is a righteous cause that results in the loss of human life and the degradation of our democratic system.”
He said he worries about the long-term implications for democracy.
“I think the most troubling lingering impact of this is people who are easily persuaded by their inability to critically analyze sources and are told from their leadership to deny the truth, deny reality, deny facts, deny science,” he said. “This instance showed how powerful that kind of tactic can be when the leader is essentially dictating the terms of reality to their followers.”
For Hannah Alarian, a University of Florida political science professor who also signed the letter, it was important to quickly condemn violence before it is normalized. She studies comparative politics and was reminded of her research in Germany when a right wing party with racist beliefs grew stronger.
“We see the legitimization of this spill out so that people who were not even in support of this party at all start to move in the direction of that party’s preferences,” she said. “This has really dire consequences for what happens in elections moving forward.”
Sean Freeder, a political science professor at the University of North Florida, signed the letter after watching Pence call the National Guard and Trump reiterate his false claim of a stolen election.
“I don’t know if we can trust him to keep us stable for the next 13 days until he’s no longer officially president,” he said.
But as he watched the events unfold — a day before the start of his spring semester classes, “Intro to American Politics,” “Controversial Political Issues” and “The American Presidency” — he wondered how he would discuss them with his students.
“People who think the election has been stolen, this is not just relegated to a lunatic fringe,” Freeder said. “I know some of those students, by just odds alone, are going to be in my class. A big challenge I have just going forward is how do we communicate to people that question the results of the election?”