An FBI information wanted poster at a bus stop in Washington D.C., January 2021.
The January 6 Select Committee is approaching the public phase of its investigation into the failed, bloody insurrection of January 6, 2021, and the list of those responsible for the carnage keeps growing longer by the day. If business leaders stick to business as usual, the next coup has a better chance of succeeding. Rather than sitting on their hands, corporations can make a real difference by leveraging their financial clout and spend advertising dollars to promote and defend American democracy.
The failed insurrection of January 6 could have easily been a success. The defenders of Congress were vastly outnumbered when the U.S. Capitol Building was overrun by an organized mob of white supremacists bent on murder. But for the courage and decisive action of the defenders during a pitched, hours-long battle, the bloodthirsty mob would have succeeded.
In the year since then, blame has been assessed and there is plenty to go around.
First and foremost, of course, are the thousands of attackers who traveled long distances to invade the Capitol Building and its grounds. That includes members of known white supremacist organizations such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. By mid-January, the Southern Poverty Law Center had noted that more than a dozen extremist groups participated in the insurrection.
The finger of blame also points straight to social media. In particular, Facebook enabled these groups and like-minded people to communicate and radicalize each other, as reported in detail by the news organization such as Pro Publica.
Political observers have also drawn attention to the election fraud lies promoted by various Fox television personalities. Fox is an extreme example, partly due to its extensive contacts with former President Trump and his administration. However, Fox is far from alone. Other media organizations with a right-wing bias have also actively contributed to the “Big Lie” of mass election fraud. That includes radio and print media as well as television.
Media organizations that profess to be objective can also share the blame, through their passivity. By and large, leading mainstream news organizations have kept to the “both sides” version of objectivity, even though only one side actively supported the insurrection.
That brings up the role of Republican elected officials in the insurrection. On Capitol Hill after the insurrection attempt, 147 Republican members of Congress refused to certify the Electoral College on January 6, lending a false air of credibility to the voter fraud lies.
And, then there is President Trump, his family, and numerous members of his administration. They worked unstintingly to promote the Big Lie in the months and days leading up to Election Day 2020. They continued during the period leading up to January 6, and they persist to this day. Together, they have effectively groomed millions of American citizens to believe, without a shred of evidence, that massive voter fraud propelled Joe Biden into the White House.
However, by last spring some did take action, by withdrawing their financial support from the 147 Republican members of Congress who failed to certify the Electoral College.
The latest report from the independent investigative journalist Judd Legum of Popular Information suggests that many of these corporations have held firm on their political donation policies, though some have not.
However, the damage has clearly been done. The influence of the Big Lie continues to ripple out relentlessly, drawing power from other extremist elements such as the anti-vaccination movement and the pushback against teaching the truth about American history.
The Insurrection Index, a project of Media Matters and other watchdog groups, has identified more than 1,000 public figures in positions of trust who allegedly contributed to the events of January 6. That includes dozens of elected officials who still hold office or are running for office.
Hundreds of the boots-on-the-ground perpetrators of the January 6 insurrection are already facing justice for their crimes. Not as certain is the justice to be faced by public figures who aided and abetted the terror.
However, justice is achievable, if not in court then certainly in the marketplace.
Corporate leaders can make a difference by tracking the Select Committee hearings and in turn use them as a guide for withholding financial support for candidates for public office. Refusing to hire, endorse, recommend or network with accused seditionists could also help dissuade future acts.
A far more elusive target is the millions of voters who continue to ferry candidates into office based on little more than raw emotion, opening the doors of power to grifters, charlatans, white supremacists and other extremists.
That will be a tough row to hoe, but corporate leaders don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Successful public service campaigns provide a model, and the guidebook is already written.
The DC firm RaffertyWeiss Media is among those identifying hallmarks of a successful public service campaign.
RWM outlines four factors that go into a successful public service campaign. Each of these could apply to messaging about preventing the next insurrection:
“Whether they’re promoting healthier practices or informing people about how to get involved in the community, PSAs are providing audiences with action items and not just a catchy slogan,” RWM explains.
The evidence shows that effective PSA campaigns can change behavior on a mass scale.
Leading U.S. corporations spend billions each year to convince the buying public to buy what they’re selling. They could make a difference by spending a fraction of that on PSA campaigns that help convince the voting public that violent insurrection is wrong, that the peaceful transfer of power is the bedrock of American democracy, that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, and that every U.S. citizen age 18 and over should have equal access to the ballot box.
Image credit: Ian Hutchinson via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.