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Protests Expected In D.C. As Congress Prepares To Certify Electoral College Votes

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And now we turn to the streets because even as some members of the GOP and the president are not giving up their fight to overturn the legitimate results of this election on the Hill, partisans and militia members are also due in D.C. this week to protest what should be the peaceful transfer of power. Mary McCord is currently the legal director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center after a long career in public service and government dealing with national security.

Hello to you.

MARY MCCORD: Good morning, Lulu, and happy New Year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Happy New Year. As we just heard, members of the Republican Party and President Trump are fanning these bogus claims of widespread election fraud. And President Trump has been actively calling people to come protest in D.C., saying, quote, "it will be wild." What are you expecting to see?

MCCORD: Well, we have at least four different rallies planned at four different locations within D.C. And the problem that we have right now is that these are being used - these rallies are being used as a real calling card, relying on the disinformation, the false claims of fraud coming from people like the president and others with a veneer of credibility - you know, elected senators who now are planning to challenge the electoral vote, elected representatives who are doing the same.

And this is creating a calling card for extremists to come not just to exercise First Amendment rights, which, of course, is one of our most sacred rights in America - makes us different from other countries - but also to engage in acts of violence. We know some of these groups are really street gangs that have come before to two previous protests and engaged in acts of violence. And we know that online there is a lot of talk about violence. It also draws extremist conspiracy theorists who will foment additional disinformation, which is dangerous because it has the potential impact of really further polarizing people and even radicalizing people who may legitimately have concerns about the election into a much more extremist mindset.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. As you mentioned, you know, we saw protests before and after Trump was elected. Protest is enshrined in this country. But as you note, the kinds of people that are part of these demonstrations are different - militia members, for instance. I want to play Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas saying this after his lawsuit was dismissed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOUIE GOHMERT: The court is saying, we're not going to touch this. You have no remedy. Basically, in effect, the ruling would be that you got to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And President Trump has certainly flirted with, if not outright encouraged, these groups. What message does it send to them when they hear things like this?

MCCORD: Well, you know, it's a dangerous message because it's essentially encouraging a rebellion - right? - which is something, you know, we - that - we've said historically our democracy is an experiment, but it is based on us believing in our democratic processes and in safe and peaceful transitions of power. And these are really just, you know, dog whistles to those who might actually engage in acts of violence. And it's reprehensible for any elected official, whether it's Louie Gohmert or the president, to engage in that type of rhetoric.

And much will depend, I think, on what the president says and does on January 6 and in the days that lead up to that - whether he continues to press false claims of election fraud or whether he announces he'll accept the results on January 6. Similarly, whether he continues his really thinly veiled stoking of violence or whether he denounces it - 'cause his message, we've seen before, can drive this type of a radicalization.

And, you know, I think many of the people engaging in this rhetoric, including the president himself, recognize and understand that Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. And this effort is really to delegitimize that presidency from the outset and continue to have this coalescing force that goes into the coming administration and allows for these groups to continue to have something to, you know, talk about, coalesce around, protest about and potentially even engage in acts of violence.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. How much of a problem do you think this will be for the incoming Biden administration?

MCCORD: Well, he's going to - you know, he's really going to have to find ways to reach out and close this polarized country, which is the gap between ideologies and beliefs in this country...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he said he wants to do that. I mean, that's one of his main messages.

MCCORD: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But, I mean, you have these far-right groups. Most acts of political violence have come from the extreme right recently. I mean, what needs to happen to get a grip on it?

MCCORD: I think there's no easy answers at all. I think that it's going to take really bringing together not only officials and elected officials, but ordinary people, religious leaders, people from all walks of life to have a real conversation about what is happening in this country and where do we want to go from here. And I think it's important that politicians realize what's driving some of this. Some of it is just extremists who just - who want to stoke violence. This is what they do. This is how they entertain themselves. But others are people who legitimately have found that America is not providing for them what they feel they need. And that might be jobs, education, what have you. I think those are things that the president and the incoming administration is going to have to focus on to try to find ways that everyone can find that America works for them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Mary McCord, an expert on extremism.

Thank you very much.

MCCORD: Thank you, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUSINE'S "PANORAMIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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