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Democracy won’t survive as a spectator sport | Editorial
Watch how, beginning with tonight’s prime time hearing
Rioters using metal bars and a ladder clash with police while trying to enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election. (Credit Image: © Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire)
Rioters using metal bars and a ladder clash with police while trying to enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election. (Credit Image: © Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire) [ LEV RADIN | ZUMAPRESS.com ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jun. 9

The nation, the world, couldn’t believe it — self-styled patriots in battle gear pummeling police with American flags as fellow rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to overturn the election of a president. Now today, 17 months after that deadly siege on Jan. 6, 2021, the House committee investigating the attack will hold its first public hearing. It’d be a shame if Americans are too jaded to watch.

Tonight’s prime time event follows a nearly yearlong investigation that saw the committee interview hundreds of witnesses and scour through thousands of pages of documents and untold hours of video. Though the main storyline hasn’t changed — Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and Joe Biden succeeded him the following January — the committee, and the news media, have filled in critical blanks, revealing how dangerously close this insurrection imperiled American democracy.

The raw images of that brutish crowd, hyped by Trump in a speech outside the White House, descending upon the Capitol building — beating and pepper-spraying police, crashing through windows, looting the halls of the people’s house, scrambling after a vice president fleeing for his life — are forever etched in minds and history. But the Jan. 6 committee was charged with looking further. What was the connection between Trump’s losing legal bid to overturn the election and the violent effort to stall certification of the results that day? Who organized and financed the right-wing groups that physically attacked police officers and the Capitol? And how did the White House and Republican congressional leaders respond as the rampage played out in real time? It’s worth watching the hearing with fresh eyes to see what investigators actually know — and how they know it. As voters, as citizens, as Americans, it’s important to bear witness.

The House also tasked the Jan. 6 committee with recommending fixes. How could the U.S. Capitol Police, the D.C. Metropolitan Police and other law enforcement personnel have better responded? How can government intelligence agencies across jurisdictional lines better share information about potential domestic terrorist threats? And how was online technology and foreign influence used to motivate those to participate in the assault?

The many moving parts here matter. After all, the Stolen Election drama had a huge and diffuse cast, from Republican campaign operatives and lawyers to functionaries inside and outside government. The level to which they conspired to nullify the vote and prolong an illegitimate presidency should be a core concern for every American.

Jan. 6 proved that while violence may be a spectator sport, democracy is not. The hearings tonight, next week and beyond should go a long way toward debunking the myth that the American experiment can be taken for granted, that autopilot is fine and that tuning out politics is somehow a civic virtue. They should also test the limits of partisan allegiance when the continuity of government is actually at stake.

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The news media has done its part, having plumbed this saga for nearly two years, disclosing many machinations that led the Jan. 6 committee to be formed. Tonight’s hearing starts at 8 p.m. eastern time, and most major networks and cable stations will be airing it (except for Fox News). The committee’s website is also a rich resource and live viewing portal. Americans need to take this front row seat to see how their system nearly fell to authoritarianism and armed force. And they need to send a clear message to their elected representatives in Washington to show the same grave concern.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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