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Capitol attack is a calling to support the rule of law, defend our country
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Capitol attack is a calling to support the rule of law, defend our country

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The violent mob that entered the U.S. Capitol building represents an attack on our most venerable and cherished institutions.

The FBI has expressed concern about significant threats to the nation’s and state capitals around the country relating to this week’s inauguration. The violence we witnessed by mobs, now and earlier this year, and the extremist threats regarding the transfer of power in our country, should be a calling to all of us.

It is a calling to fortify against this attack on the rule of law. A calling for all of us to remember what it is we love about this great country. And, ultimately, a calling to come together as a nation to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

On Jan. 27, 1838, a 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln gave a speech describing America’s greatest danger: the “mobcratic spirit.” This speech is known as the Lyceum Address, given at a time when our young country was facing great internal strife and debate about our collective path forward as a nation.

In words that ring far too familiar today, he said, “I hope I am over wary; but … there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.”

He warned that “if the laws be continually despised and disregarded if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure then the caprice of the mob” then this government cannot last.

I have spent my 30-year career in law enforcement, as a deputy district attorney, a deputy attorney general, and since 2006 as the elected district attorney of El Dorado County. It saddens me to see the rule of law grow weaker each day.

As a member of law enforcement, a veteran, a grandfather, father, husband and as an American, I strongly condemn the attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as the threats surrounding the inauguration. As president of the California District Attorneys Association, I call on all of us in law enforcement and, frankly, to all citizens, to support the rule of law and assist law enforcement in maintaining order, supporting the constitutional right to peaceful protests and seeking ways to reduce the disregard for law that seems to pervade our country.

Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell said, “The first person who throws the rock is a lot more radical than the hundredth person. By the time the riot has attracted a hundred people, you don’t have to be nearly as much a daredevil or a hothead or committed to any of those things to want to engage in a riot.”

It seems throwing that rock has become more and more common, and thus easier and easier. We see it on social media chat pages, in the media and even amongst lifelong friends. The anger is rising, the passion is intensifying, the rock-throwing has become harder and more dangerous.

As the inauguration approaches, we are hearing that some on both ends of the political spectrum plan protests and perhaps riots. To what end? President Lincoln ended the Lyceum Address: “There is no grievance that is fit object of redress by mob law.” I could not agree more.

As I write, men and women in law enforcement and the U.S. military are mobilizing to deter and prevent violence in our nation’s and state capitals. They do this even while in the middle of the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic. They do this, for most of them, without yet having received a vaccine. They do it, even when they may disagree with the institutions of power in a state like California that put criminals in prison ahead of them in line for vaccinations, not to mention the sick and elderly.

They put themselves in harm’s way, once again, to help defend our way of life and to push back against the mob. We owe it to these men and women who stand up on the front line to push back against the mob mentality wherever we see it, to not lose faith in our political processes even when we may not agree with our elected representatives, and to encourage everyone to work within our system of government to achieve our desired ends, and not seek to tear down that system.

To do otherwise, we collectively risk resembling the “crazy” shirtless man who invaded the capital.

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Vern Pierson is the district attorney of El Dorado County and is the president of the California District Attorneys Association. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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