Catholic leaders point to dangers of social media after Capitol violence

Catholic leaders point to dangers of social media after Capitol violence

An explosion at the U.S. Capitol in Washington is caused by police munition while supporters of President Donald Trump breach the building Jan. 6, 2021. (Credit: Leah Millis/Reuters via CNS.)

Now that the dust has started to settle after the protest-turned-riot at the Capitol Wednesday that left four dead, Catholics continue to condemn the violent acts that took place and look for answers on ways to bridge the divide in the United States.

NEW YORK — Now that the dust has started to settle after the protest-turned-riot at the Capitol Wednesday that left four dead, Catholics continue to condemn the violent acts that took place and look for answers on ways to bridge the divide in the United States.

For many, dialogue and a renewed focus on clear, truthful information is a place to start.

“Lent is coming early this year. Feb. 17 is Ash Wednesday. I strongly suggest that everyone get off Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the platforms for the entirety of lent and see if they can break themselves of that habit of being whipsawed by vitriol and nonsense,” said George Weigel, distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

In a conversation with Crux, Weigel said he was “disgusted” but not surprised by what happened at the Capitol because “people behaved in an outrageous manner and that’s been going on in this country at both ends of the spectrum for the past nine months.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the Washington D.C. Police Department reported 68 arrests. Ashli Babbitt of Huntington, Maryland, was identified by police as the woman that died of a gunshot wound. The department attributed the other three deaths to medical emergencies: Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Kennesaw, Ga.; Kevin Greeson, 55, of Athens, Ala.; and Benjamin Phillips, 50, of Ringtown, Penn.

The thousands of Trump supporters were gathered outside of the Capitol Wednesday in protest of the 2020 election. Things took a turn for the worst early in the afternoon as insurgents forced their way into the Capitol Building breaking windows and confronting police along the way.

Hours later, lawmakers made their way back onto the Senate and House floors and certified the election results early Thursday morning. Thursday night, President Trump acknowledged the outcome of the election in a video message from the White House.

“A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power,” Trump said.

Earlier in the day, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler said the president needed to take that step for the country to move forward. On Dec. 12 Strickland spoke at the Jericho March in Washington D.C. that was organized to protest the election results.

“He needs to clearly acknowledge that the violence is not the answer and really make it clear that he has accepted this vote even with all of its confusion,” Strickland told Crux. “He needs to continue on that path and to make (the transition) as smooth as possible. There are many elements of what the Democrat’s platform stands for that I’ve made clear I disagree with but we have to accept that, that is the administration that will be taking office.”

He called Wednesday’s events “tragic for the nation and for everything we stand for.”

“I think it’s a sad moment in time to recognize that we need clarity from the media, from politicians, from everyone. It’s the clearest path for people to make reasonable decisions,” Strickland continued. “We all, and I include myself, we have to do our best to be clear and speak clarity and truth to avoid confusion and avoid so much of what we’ve seen in politics.”

Matthew Green, politics professor at the Catholic University of America, was quick to blame President Trump and his rhetoric for inciting the violence, but didn’t stop there. He also said the bigger problem is the false information people consume on a regular basis.

“I think we need to see fundamental reform of social media and the internet environment. Companies, spokespeople, talking heads – anyone who advocates conspiracy theories that insight an act of violence need to be persecuted for sedition,” Green told Crux.

“There also needs to be education so people know what to believe and what not to believe on the internet. Facebook, Twitter, rogue websites, dark web websites all have to be dealt with and people need to learn not to trust everything they read on the internet.”

He also noted part of the problem is the political climate that exists.

“Party polarization and party identity is so strong that it’s very hard to get both sides to agree that something is wrong if it’s seen as benefitting one of the parties,” he said. “This is not the days of Watergate where we had both parties saying Nixon is a crook and needs to go.”

Speaking with Crux, Mary FioRito, Cardinal Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said she doesn’t believe Trump incited violence with his words. Instead FioRito put the onus on the rioters for the “disgraceful” actions.

She said she hopes people will start to have constructive dialogue going forward and create a situation where “both sides felt they would be heard.”

“The world is watching and if we want to remain the nation we are we need people to see the humanity of the other person. That people can have different reasons but violence doesn’t settle the score. There are plenty non-violent, peaceable means,” she said.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth told Crux that what happened tells him the church has an obligation to “evangelize reason, just as urgently as we try to evangelize faith.”

Olson laments the current lack of civility and constructive discourse in society. And questions if mediums like Twitter mitigate real discourse and dialogue with its limitations.

He also wants people to remember how lucky they are to live in the United States.

“We need to renew our sense of solidarity as the people of the United States living here and working together in this experiment known as the project of our republic,” he said. “This is the United States, we have so much here and have been blessed so much to be here.”

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg

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