During the last 34 years ARTICLE 19 has born witness to the fall and rise of democracies, and seen the destructive power of words wielded by unprincipled actors seeking power for their own sake. The US always thought it was immune to these threats, but now we see this is one other pillar of “American exceptionalism” that has proven to be hollow.
We have witnessed this evening due to the reporting of broadcasters all over the world, the actions of Trump supporters who have taken on the role of insurrectionists and rioters. They are in the Capitol grounds attacking politicians and journalists and calling them traitors. We have all heard these words before: Donald Trump has made it part of his mission to attack journalists calling them “the enemy of the people:”
Trump and his allies have treated words as if they were a game: things to be said with a wink and nod as truth left the room and words became more hysterical and in service to lies. Power became its own end and everything was excusable. These are the well-worn tactics of a dictator.
Those of us who defend freedom of expression knew the line to incitement of a coup was drawing ever closer. The warning signs were there if people chose to look outside the US and Trumps speech to supporters today was a clear rallying cry.
Time and again we have seen that when those in power attack the press, attacks on other institutions follow. Attacking the press is a gateway to autocracy, as our own research has shown.
We can hope that once the events on Capitol Hill calm down, and the riot is cleared there will be a time for sober reflection. That reflection should include how we achieve true accountability for those who have pushed US democracy to the edge, and how to protect the vital role that a free press plays in ensuring democracy thrives.