9/11/01-1/6/21 and Beyond – Is the Homeland Secure?

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

Unrelenting false claims of election fraud led to the attempt to violently overthrow the government of the United States on January 6, 2021. Sometimes it sucks to be prescient. In June 2020’s “Emergency Management Once Removed,” I wrote this: “… how huge a leap is it from refusing to honor and enforce existing laws to threatening to take up arms against the state or national government (which has and is happening), to refusing to accept election results?” 9/11 demonstrated our vulnerability to external forces. However, 1/6/21 exposed a more serious threat  within our own borders that merits our  immediate attention.

Post 9/11, some Americans chose to view certain nationalities, ethnic and religious groups as unworthy of humane treatment. Tragically, this was not a first in our history. For example, the Chinese who built our railroads, Japanese Americans who were abused during WW II, and ongoing treatment of Black Americans provide glaring reminders that we have so much farther to progress toward a perfect version of our union and a more secure homeland.

Fears of “others” exercising their right to vote were exploited at the highest levels of our government. The resulting insurrection back in January endangered members of Congress and the Vice President, along with hundreds of law enforcement personnel. The insurrection exposed a potentially lethal “social pandemic” that has afflicted our country since its inception and remains largely untreated.

Despite the devastating impact of COVID-19 and its variants, preventive measures (masking, social distancing) and inoculation can limit and eventually halt COVID’s spread. But, like COVID, bigotry and hatred’s survival require a relentless search for new “targets.” One reason this “social pandemic” will be difficult to cure is that as a nation, we have neither accurately diagnosed “what ails us” nor have we taken the necessary educational, ethical, and political steps to eradicate it. However, ignoring it is not an option: it will not go away on its own.

Floods, wildfires, wind events, extreme weather earthquakes, and pandemics already constitute a staggering workload for emergency managers without the added threat of sedition by disloyal Americans. Sadly, the timing of emergencies is rarely optimal. Reality dictates what challenges must be met and when.

Emergency managers and homeland security professionals cannot avoid the burden of analyzing and planning to combat these undercurrents of bigotry and insurrection within our respective professions. Merely reacting to events as they occur is insufficient: an emphasis on discerning hiring practices, updated professional training, and thorough academic preparation to counter this threat to national security is necessary. We must be accountable and confront our history as it happened, not as we wish it had. Much of that history is remarkable and inspiring, yet some of it is shameful. We can handle both truths.

Post 9/11 reflections, and especially 1/6/21’s aftermath, offer an opportunity to identify and apply lessons we should have learned long ago. The timing for such introspection may be inconvenient, but this may well be the last time that we have a chance to get it right.

The End or the Beginning?