That’s why there’s an Insurrection Act

How they will do it if and when they get the chance:

Out of the many new details revealed in former President Donald Trump’s third indictment, the most chilling one may be a discussion between Trump’s White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin and “Co-Conspirator 4” — who, based on the Jan. 6 Committee report, appears to be Jeffrey Clark, a former top Justice Department official in the Trump administration. That discussion, in which the man believed to be Clark suggests using the Insurrection Act, underscores how Trump’s inner circle wasn’t simply seeking ways to delay Trump’s departure from the White House, but actively gaming out how he could stay in power even in the face of a mass movement to restore democracy — using military force.

That is, even if he simply unmistakably “stayed in power” by naked force, he could make it stick despite mass resistance. How? The Insurrection Act.

According to the indictment, Philbin repeatedly discouraged Trump and his loyalists from trying to stay in the White House beyond the end of his term. In December, he allegedly told Trump, “There is no world, there is no option in which you do not leave the White House [o]n January 20th.” Then on the afternoon of Jan. 3, Philbin apparently tried to dissuade “Co-Conspirator 4” from trying to assume the role of acting attorney general as part of a reported bid to overturn the election results with Trump. He allegedly told that person that “there had not been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that if the Defendant [Trump] remained in office nonetheless, there would be ‘riots in every major city in the United States.’” The indictment alleges that Clark responded, “Well … that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”  

Why there’s what? Why there’s an act empowering the president to send troops to shut down protests.

This stunning statement marks not just an authoritarian posture, but an authoritarian strategic vision. The Insurrection Act allows the president to deploy the military domestically to put down a rebellion or unrest. The law has been invoked a handful of times in the past century, most recently by then-President George H.W. Bush to put down the Los Angeles riots in 1992 after the police beating of Rodney King. Civil liberties experts have criticized the law for giving the president too much power: The Brennan Center for Justice’s Joseph Nunn has described it as “ripe for abuse,” cautioning against the president’s “almost limitless discretion to deploy federal troops in cases of civil unrest” under the law and Supreme Court rulings on presidential power. In many ways the American public is at the mercy of the president to use the law in discerning and limited ways to deal with emergencies, not as a tool for quashing dissent.

But when the president is Donald Trump, there is no such mercy to be at.

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