U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

January 6, 2024

Democracy Under Pressure

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

I was asked by a local student recently, after hearing a news story on the latest January 6th convictions, “why are they still talking about January 6?” As we mark three years since the insurrection that saw intruders storm the U.S. Capitol with the purpose of preventing the peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations, I thought it was a fair question to ask.

The short answer: for the future stability of our nation, we need to ensure those responsible are held accountable. We also must take steps to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.

Three years may be a long time in the life of a middle schooler but our nation had a nearly 250-year streak of peaceful transfers of power until January 6, 2021. Due diligence and following the rule of law are not always easy to do, but we need to get this right.

The long answer: the violence may have ended after numerous injuries and fatalities suffered by our brave U.S. Capitol Police and other law enforcement that day, and the Capitol windows may have been repaired, but the effort to undermine democracy is still ongoing. It’s remarkable, I know.

To this day, there still are individuals – including current and former elected officials – who continue to sympathize publicly with those who over-ran the Capitol, brutally attacked police officers, hunted down members of Congress with zip-ties at the ready, and deliberately sought to overturn the legitimate results of a free and fair national election.

Despite theory after theory being debunked, including in the courts, these extremists keep promoting lies that are scraping away belief in our government institutions and the rule of law. These individuals are working not only to delegitimize the last presidential election; they want to cast doubts on the upcoming election before it even happens. This denialism, along with harassment and intimidation of poll watchers and workers, as well as court officials, is a precursor to authoritarianism. Such actions put our nation and way of life at risk.

On this anniversary of the first mass breach of the Capitol since the British invasion during the War of 1812, I would like to thank the brave men and women who did their best to defend the Capitol on January 6, 2021. They were out-numbered but kept to their mission. Lives were lost on that fateful day and the days that followed, but many more were saved. These courageous souls held the line for American democracy and the resiliency of our republic.

I also would like to thank the law enforcement officers who have worked tirelessly for the last three years to identify and hold accountable those who purposefully sought to disrupt the functions of government and overturn the election.

Over the last three years, more than 1,230 individuals have been charged by federal law enforcement for crimes that range from trespassing to seditious conspiracy. “Roughly 730 people have pleaded guilty to charges, while another roughly 170 have been convicted of at least one charge at a trial decided by a judge or a jury, according to an Associated Press database.” Many others are awaiting court action and others are still at large for their actions.

Upholding our laws should not be partisan. We need Democrats, Republicans, independents and everyone to put the needs of our nation above individual or political party power. Our nation is not perfect, and this has not always happened, but the example of Democrats and Republicans working together on the January 6 committee to uphold the Constitution is one worth emulating.

Democrats, Republicans and independents also worked to reform and modernize the Electoral Count Act to help prevent another January 6. The legislation clarified the ceremonial role of the Vice President in counting legitimate Electoral College votes from the states.

We cannot let down our defenses. History has shown that democracies can be lost at the ballot box, not only at the point of a gun. Attacks on the free press, dehumanizing immigrants and political opponents, and fidelity to a single person as part of a cult of personality rather than allegiance to the Constitution and the rule of law are bright, flashing warning signs of authoritarianism that we cannot ignore.

One of the best ways to push back is to vote. I urge every eligible voter to register to vote. If you already have done so, check your registration to make sure it is current and all data is accurate. When the time comes, make sure you vote.

As President Joe Biden said at Valley Forge on Friday, “This is not rhetorical, academic or hypothetical. Whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause is the most urgent question of our time.”

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this or any other topic. I appreciate your feedback.

In solidarity,

Ben Cardin