Politics and violence
As our understanding of last week’s riot at the Capitol continues to develop, it has become clear that the potential for serious violence against congressional members was much higher than originally recognized. While some who stormed the Capitol appeared to behave more as tourists than threats, it is now clear that community political leaders and law enforcement officials also participated in the riots, along with groups of white nationalists and QAnon supporters. Evidence from social media, comments from participants, and messages left during the riot show that many in the crowd had serious intention of harming, kidnapping, or even executing members of congress and the Vice President. Simultaneously, we have learned that calls for assistance from additional protective forces, including the National Guard, went unheeded for hours, despite repeated calls from Capitol police and congressional leaders. Taken together, the last week reveals just how close we came to a deadly political insurrection taking place within the halls of congress.
Police and National Guard presence in Washington D.C. escalated dramatically this week as Senators and Representatives returned to Congress, and images of guardsmen splayed out on the Capitol floor seemed almost humorous in their excess. Yet threats of ongoing violent assaults by Trump supporters on government buildings continues, with state capitols put on alert to anticipate such attacks and local officials urging residents to avoid state capitols this weekend and up to the inauguration this Thursday. In response to last weeks events and credible threats of attacks at government buildings across the country, Governor Lujan-Grisham declared a pre-emptive state of emergency in New Mexico that would allow the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to lead the response to such an attack and release as many National Guard units as were deemed necessary. Fencing is continuing to be installed around the state capitol.
Virus, vaccines, virtual learning
The challenges of the pandemic continue despite the roll out of the vaccine as cases of COVID-19 hit 2 million worldwide. In New Mexico, Harding County earned a “green” ranking in the Department of Health “Red to Green” framework, with a total of zero cases during the last two-week period. Union County moved to “yellow” while the rest of the state remained in the “red” zone. As of January 13th, San Miguel County was “improving” in its case numbers but still reported 38 per 100,000. The number of cases in the state have averaged over 1000 per day for more than a week. Most New Mexico schools, including both the Las Vegas and West Las Vegas districts, will remain in “remote learning” mode when they re-open next week. A full list of districts and their re-entry status is provided on this updated school re-entry status listing.
Vaccines have begun to be distributed in the state and numbers are expected to increase once the Biden administration takes office. In his address yesterday evening, President Elect Biden outlined a plan that “would direct roughly $400 billion to the public health crisis” created by the pandemic, that including $20 billion “toward a vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories. His package also included increasing the previous $600 stimulus payment checks to $2000 and another $130 billion for helping schools meet safety standards of re-opening safely during a pandemic. Employment benefits and eviction protections will also both be expanded, as will assistance for small businesses and local governments.
Villanueva Library at El Valle Community Center
The Villanueva Library will re-open for curb-side pick up and for services by appointment beginning Tuesday January 19th. Patrons may find and reserve books for pick up by using the library catalog. Instructions for searching for books using the catalog are available on the Villanueva Library curbside pick-up instruction sheet. Other services available by appointment include printing, scanning, faxing, and use of public computer access computers and wifi. To sign up for services or for other questions, please call 575-421-0808 or 505-660-3434.
Votes and violence
The upheaval of yesterdays events is over for the moment, but many of us are still processing the scale and depth of what occurred. While we gather additional insights, it’s helpful to review the facts as we know them thus far. Here is a brief summary of events as of late Thursday afternoon.
Yesterday, January 6th, Congress met in joint session to record and certify electoral college votes previously tallied and approved by each state. The process of certifying these validated state counts is a procedural step in the complete presidential election process that ends with the inauguration on January 20th.
Prior to yesterday’s convening, President Trump had raised questions about the validity of some of the state’s certifications, based on unfounded claims of voter fraud, and active support for this claim from several Republican Senators and Representatives had led them to plan objections to some state counts during the certification session. The President promoted these objections with the hope of convincing Congress to disqualify enough states to be able to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Trump had also requested the Vice-President, who oversees the congressional certification, to invalidate the counts from those several states (something the Vice-President does not legally have the authority to do).
Communications by Trump to his followers in recent weeks had also targeted the joint certification session, calling on supporters to gather in Washington D.C. on January 6th to “save our democracy” from voter fraud and a “stolen” election. Thwarted by Vice-President Pence’s refusal to comply with the request to block state certified counts, Trump met his followers near the capitol, urging them to “fight hard” to overturn Biden’s win. Encouraged and emboldened by the president’s remarks, crowds converged on the capitol building, breached the entrances, overwhelmed local police, and entered Congress as the certification process was under way.
For the next four hours, House and Senate members sheltered in place or were evacuated to secure rooms as protestors moved through the building, defacing offices and reportedly “looking for Pence” and other individuals who Trump supporters now considered their enemies. By dusk, four people had died, one of a gunshot wound and three of medical emergencies sparked by the unfurling events.
Despite the unprecedented and violent nature of the Capitol assault, no response or directive was forthcoming from the President or his administration during this time. As the hours passed, there were repeated and increasingly loud calls from current and past administration officials, as well as from President-elect Joe Biden, urging the president to address his supporters and direct them to leave the Capitol. Reports from within the White House during this time state that Trump appeared enthusiastic about the attack and resisted or delayed calling for the national guard, which could have supported the overwhelmed capitol police and brought order to the site more quickly. Shortly after 4:00 p.m., and under growing pressure, Trump issued a brief message that re-iterated false claims of election fraud. Voicing admiration for his supporters, who were still in the Capitol where the Vice-President and others were sequestered, protected by a few lone security staff, the President ended his message saying to the attackers: “go home, we love you.” Within an hour, with Vice-President Mike Pence speaking for the White House, the national guard was deployed to clear the area.
Determined not to be frustrated in carrying out their duties, Congress re-convened in the evening and, working until the early hours of Thursday, completed the certification process. Democratic Senators Heinrich and Lujan, as well as Representative Legere, all voiced their desire to resume the work of governing and complete the tasks as planned. While several Republicans did abandon their objections in response to the link that the recent Capitol attack had created between a false narrative of election fraud and armed insurrection, several Senators and over 100 Representatives were undeterred and raised objections to state certified counts for Pennsylvania. New Mexico Republican Representative Yvette Herrell was one of the objectors. These challenges were defeated and Congress adjourned having formally certified Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next President and Vice-President of the United States.
The assault on the Capitol reverberated across the country as other, smaller disturbances at state government offices occurred in capitol cities. In Santa Fe, approximately 500 Trump supporters, some on horseback, arrived at the capitol building, which was quickly evacuated and closed. No one was injured.
As information about yesterday’s events is reviewed and debated, there has been growing alarm about the President’s role in encouraging the attack on the Capitol and the absence of leadership he displayed as events unfolded. Several key Republican leaders broke with the president late yesterday, including Vice-President Pence and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom had been strong Trump supporters previously. With mounting criticisms from high ranking political leaders in both parties, and several abrupt resignations from current administration officials during the past 24 hours, concern over the nation’s safety under President Trump’s final days in office has grown. The actions and gestures that play out over the coming days will continue to address these issues and will set the tone for the opening days of the new administration. In the meantime, the images of yesterday will remain vivid in our minds.
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