Threats, violence becoming more common against democratic governments globally, says WIU professor
The COVID-19 pandemic may serve as an instigator or accelerant for a troubling trend of increased threats or act of violence committed against parliaments worldwide.
That's the premise of a new article by Dean Alexander, director of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University in Macomb; and his co-author and former student, Caden Buettner.
"Most of the impetus for these attacks have been pandemic related, so restrictions on gatherings, anti-masking, that sort of thing, anti-vaccine, as well as the economic impact of the pandemic," said Alexander.
Alexander said an evolving virus and misinformation has also played a role.
"[There's] the role of the public health sector and leadership having certain perceptions on what the nature of the risk is and how to respond to it. And that's shifted based on data," he said. "Some of the individuals in the misinformation/disinformation camp have taken that and said, 'Well, this is a big conspiracy. They're just using it to impinge upon basic freedoms, etc.'"
The recent trucker convoy in Canada is one such example of a backlash against pandemic restrictions, Alexander said.
That phenomenon is coupled with the slow erosion of democratic activity across the world, Alexander said. That includes growing pessimism about the future among Democrats and Republicans alike.
"You have about 64% believe democracy is in crisis and risk of failing," said Alexander in citing one recent poll of American attitudes on democracy. "And a higher percentage of Americans are supportive of violence in order to either maintain American way of life or in righting election wrongs or other concerns."
Alexander said in a healthy democracy, interests need to be weighed, heard, and assessed, but not to the point where violence or threats are used - or become normalized.
"That undermines society as a whole," he said.
Alexander said the tendency towards radicalization can be pushed back upon on multiple levels.
"If you get to the point where individuals are threatening violence or utilizing violence, then you have obviously law enforcement function. People that have been radicalized, try to utilize the countering violent extremism or off ramping. Present all facts and try to have a normalized discussion," he said. "For those that are on the mobilization track, they've embraced extremist tenets and support the use of violence. Then again, you have the law enforcement function."
He said politicians, the media, educational institutions, and the business community ultimately all have a role in reducing tension.
"Our democracy, democratic system is far from perfect. We need to make improvements as relevant. But every individual with a grievance that is unhappy and utilizes violence, that's not going to achieve anything long-term," he said.
He said even individuals can have influence among family, friends, and co-workers, whether that's in the form of political activity, advocacy, or working with community groups and not-for-profits.
"We're not saying, you know, bottom line, everything's going to be terrible, etc. Far from that," Alexander said. "You're just raising the notion that we do see some trends of violent attacks and threats against parliaments globally. We see some other challenges that exist, as well. And ultimately, there is a role to respond to these to these threats," he said.