Reasonable Americans reject unlawful violence
Watching the events of January 6th at the US Capitol unfold, I like most proud Americans, felt gut punched. As a descendant of immigrants who fled murderous oppression in two different countries, as a U.S. Air Force veteran who has served deployed overseas and in defense of the homeland, as a North Dakota licensed Peace Officer, and as the President of the ND Fraternal Order of Police – Souris Valley Regional Lodge #7, I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing.
We live in a country where political disagreement is supposed to be resolved through robust debate and lawful political process, the foundation of which is the US constitution. The most profound legal document ever written. The assault on our Capitol was the complete antithesis of the values of our nation and despite the declaration of participants and their supporters utterly lacking in anything resembling patriotism. Were there people present that were peacefully protesting while airing their suspicions with election legitimacy in Washington DC on Wednesday? Of course. And that didn’t in anyway explain, justify, or mitigate the criminal acts perpetrated by others ranging from trespassing to vandalism to weapons violations to extreme acts of violence including multiple assaults upon US Capitol Police Officers, one resulting in the homicide of one of these defenders of that institution, Officer Brian D. Sicknick.
In 2016 and early 2017, many of Lodge #7’s members joined Peace Officers from around North Dakota and many other states, and stood the line between peace and violent chaos in our own state during the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests in southern Morton County. Some of us seeing several rotations to the region, where we were called upon to prevent or respond to months of sociopolitical motivated criminality ranging from low level misdemeanors to serious and violent felonies. And yes…lawful peaceful protest existed there as well, just as it did in DC this week.
Politically speaking, most of the participants of these two separate events are about as far apart on the spectrum as is possible. One feature of both of these events that was sadly the same; Americans who agreed with the underlying message of the legitmate protesters and allowing that to justify the conduct of those bent on victimizing other people and our society as whole. Be it through minimization, or pointing to other instances of bad behavior of others elsewhere to justify indefensible wrongful conduct among those they supported. Stranger still are those who simply deny the crimial condcut’s existence. Those opposed to the underlying protest messaging were often no better. Pointing out the worst of the participants of these incidents and assigning that conduct and intent to everyone with whom they disagree, regardless of lawful or innocent individual behavior. Simply put, not everyone at the DAPL protests were “leftist eco-terrorists” and not everyone in Washington DC were “alt-right insurrectionists”. Unfortunately, the conduct of the worst among each of those attending either event was used to vilify even those who “did it right” when exercising their first amendment rights.
Reasonable Americans reject unlawful violence, justifying it, or speaking in negative absolutism about those of our neighbors we disagree with. Lawful political processes exist to resolve political disputes in this country. Too many men and women have died in the defense of this nation to allow the poisonous thought that “frustration” with process not “going my way” is enough to justify support of the unsupportable that we saw in Morton County AND in Washington, D.C. Violent criminal conduct perpetrated because of a contrived belief of political victimization or frustration, regardless of which end of the political spectrum the participants align themselves is not a rational excuse. Supporters who justify such violence or other criminality or point to the peaceful among them to deny its existence, do so at the sacrifice of their credibility. Left or right political leanings are irrelevant. It’s the opposite sides of the same un-American coin. We as a nation are better than that, but only when we choose to be. When we choose to reject extremism in all its ugly forms, and embrace rational debate, offer nuanced and thoughtful solutions, and engage in reasoned compromise, we earn the right to call ourselves patriotic Americans. Never when we destroy property or hurt people to impose will because we are “frustrated.” Of course, we must also be willing to listen to the other sides of the debate with the respect we seek in airing our own opinions. It’s not always easy, but no less worthwhile.
In July 2016, at the memorial service for the five Texas police officers killed in Dallas while protecting the rights of peaceful protestors, former President George W. Bush brilliantly stated, “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions. But Americans, I think, have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values. We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things of the spirit – by shared commitments to common ideals.” Sadly, too many in our nation have yet to learn and apply the lessons of these eloquent words. Comments shared in reflection of that senseless tragedy that unfortunately are too infrequently applied in other disputes to this day.
While we perform our duties in our various communities, be they calm or in the midst of extreme violence, Lodge #7 remains committed to upholding the rights of the people serve. In return we ask those in our communities to respect for the rule of law, and each other. No excuses, no finger pointing. Simple respect. Officer Sicknik’s sacrifice and memory demands it. And our nation is worth it.
Moss is president of NDFOP Lodge #7.