A Democratic congressman suggested Monday that Trump-voting National Guard members providing inauguration security might pose an “insider threat” to the incoming administration, drawing widespread criticism.
The moment: Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, made the remarks in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto about the preparations in Washington, D.C. for Joe Biden’s Wednesday inauguration.
Sciutto, noting that the government is running background checks on the 25,000 guard members deployed in the nation’s capital following the January 6 Capitol riot, asked whether Cohen perceived any kind of “insider threat” from the armed forces.
- Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said in a Monday press release that the background checks are routine, announcing, “While we have no intelligence indicating an insider threat, we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital.”
- Cohen said the riot, in which some current and former members of the military and law enforcement participated, “raises [a] warning”.
- After invoking “Anwar Sadat and Indira Gandhi, who were killed by their own people,” referring to the erstwhile president of Egypt and prime minister of India, Cohen said, “You know, I think the guard is 90 some odd percent I believe male, only about 20 percent of white males voted for Biden.”
Quite a quote: “You have to figure that the guard which is predominantly more conservative — and I see that on my social media, and we know it — there are probably not more than 25 percent of the people there protecting us that voted for Biden, the other 75 percent are in the class — that would be the large class of folks who might want to do something,” Cohen told the CNN anchor. “And there were military people and police who took oaths to defend the Constitution and to protect and defend who didn’t do it, who were in the insurrection. So it does concern me.”
- When Sciutto pushed back, saying having voted for Trump is “far different from being a threat of violence” and asking Cohen if he has seen “anything to substantiate just how broad this inside threat may be, if it — if it exists,” the congressman replied that he had not.
- “But you know, you draw circles of people, and in the first circle who work for Trump and not for Biden as far as people who would be within the zone of folks who you would be suspect of,” he added. “And the suspect group is large.”
The reaction: Commentators cross the political spectrum criticized Cohen’s remarks.
Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler suggested Cohen’s words were inflammatory and inconsistent with politicians’ earlier stances toward the armed forces.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson lambasted the Democrat on his Monday show, saying, “If you wanted to stoke an irreparable civil conflict, you would talk this way and you would keep talking that way.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review’s senior political correspondent, underlined Cohen’s erroneous statistics about the composition of the National Guard and the electorate, as well as pointing out that elsewhere in the interview the Tennessean made the unsubstantiated suggestion that Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert worked to aid the rioters.
He’s not the only one: Cohen’s comments echo concerns voiced by colleagues on the left, who have accused Republican officials of having “abetted a violent insurrection on our democracy.”
- New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed the police committed “acts of betrayal” during the storming of the Capitol, and has called for the resignation of Republican leaders and the suppression of conservative media.
- Meanwhile, prominent media personalities like former CBS News anchor Katie Couric have amplified the perceived threat from Trump supporters, even calling for them to be “deprogrammed.”