The participation of police officers and active duty military personnel in the insurrection of January 6 is not entirely surprising, given what we already knew about the presence of racist, white supremacist, and pro-trump elements among their ranks. Nevertheless, it is a serious problem. People sworn to protect and defend the Constitution took it upon themselves to decide that the duly consituted legislative branch of the United States government was a “domestic enemy” of the government and that it was their right and duty to attempt to overthrow it by force and violence. They had no orders coming through their chain of command. They had only their personal belief.
How did it come about, and how can it be prevented in the future?
It seems to me that a large part of the problem may be a lack of education in civics. I could be wrong, but my impression is that most American schoolchildren do not receive the kind of education in civics which was commonplace sixty years ago. From the early years, they learned, in progressively growing detail, that America was founded on principles of God-given universal human rights, that our system of governments, federal and state, was designed to protect those rights by limiting governmental power and distributing it among different levels and institutions. Nevertheless, each element of government was authoritative within its own sphere. Our Constitution was studied as a work of genius, balancing various interests in light of a keen awareness of human propensities to evil. In high school, the education was capped with a course specifically in American government, which presented the design and function of our constitutional system in detail. Such an education should prevent all but the most gullible from going rogue as far too many of our men and women in uniform seem to have done.
Recently we have seen the 1619 Project proclaiming to all and sundry that racism and white supremacy are what it means to be an American — precisely what many of the insurrectionists seem to believe. I disaagree with that view of America. I say that America as a nation has always embraced the principles of the Declaration of Independence, even when we have failed to live up to them, when some Americans ignored or denied them, when others compromised them. I do not want future police officers and soldiers to be taught from their earliest days in school that America means white supremacy.
We must overcome the deep mistrust of our system of government which allowed insurrection to flourish among people who were sworn to defend the Constitution but clearly did not understand what that oath meant. Certainly, the military and the police do not lose their right to have an opinion about what is best for our country and to vote for the candidates of their choice, but no citizen has the right to resort to force and violence to attempt to impose their opinion, much less one who has taken an direct oath to protect and defend the Constitution.
Of course, a proper education in American history and civics is essential for the entire population. I have no doubt other factors played a part in the insurrection, including racism and certain strains of evangelicalism, and it is important to deal with those as well, but I think understanding of and respect for our constitutional system is foundational.