The deadly siege of the Capitol in Washington, which sought to overturn a legitimate election by targeting lawmakers with assassination, was not the first attempted insurrection in American history.
“What occurred in the South in the late 1860s and the 1870s was at a scope and scale of violence and resistance that was not even remotely similar to what we saw [in Washington],” Mark Pitcavage, a historian and senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, told me. The scale of violence “was so big that there are some people who say it was a low-intensity conflict. I don’t know if I want to go all the way there, but parts of it weren’t too far off from that.”
However, the echoes of that Reconstruction-era violence — led by both white marauders (cloaked as the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups) and white supremacist Democratic officials bent on reclaiming power from Republicans — were impossible to escape in Washington in early January when the rioters paraded Confederate flags through the halls of the Capitol and chanted threats to hang the vice president.
Time and again, Grant battled back, sometimes almost single-handedly, against rising insurrections bursting across the South. Time and again, he appeared to succeed — only to eventually watch the entire edifice of Reconstruction crumble under Supreme Court decisions, wilting willingness among Northern whites to win the peace, and, most especially, a Compromise of 1877 that cemented the beginnings of the Jim Crow era to come.
Grant’s approach relied on a combination of brute military force and a drastic curtailment of civil liberties, yet it nevertheless has relevance for the current moment and contains lessons for lawmakers who fear that January 6 might have been only the first of widespread attacks on the government and elected officials at all levels, across large swaths of the nation. Officials in our current era have many more legal tools at their disposal to combat such terrorism. But as Grant’s experience shows, it’s not just the tools that count; rather, it’s the willingness to persist in the fight that will likely decide whether these counter-terrorism efforts actually succeed.
This is a good article on how this threat will not just go away. It will require decades of political will to reestablish trust.