Attorney General Merrick Garland pressed a crowd of Harvard graduates on the need to “defend democracy” in the United States on Sunday.
Garland delivered the keynote address in a joint commencement ceremony for Harvard’s classes of 2020 and 2021. The university had postponed in-person observances for both classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his speech, Garland claimed that U.S. democracy is “under threat” and cited the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and referenced recent election reforms passed largely in GOP-controlled states.
Garland began his remarks by pushing the graduate classes to “devote some part of your life to public service.” The U.S. attorney general said the need for public servants is great because of the “threats” to U.S. democracy internationally and domestically.
“Russia’s unprovoked and unjust invasion of Ukraine this February has been accompanied by heart-breaking atrocities: murders of civilians, the shelling of hospitals, the bombing of a theater in Mariupol where hundreds had sought shelter, the demolished residential apartment buildings of Bucha and other cities,” Garland said.
“At home, we are also facing threats to democracy – different in kind, but threats, nonetheless,” he added.
He said January 6 rioters and voting laws passed to restrict the right to vote were two of the main threats to democracy domestically.
“We see [threats to democracy] in efforts to undermine the right to vote. We see them in the violence and threats of violence that are directed at people because of who they are or how they serve the public,” Garland said. “We saw them when a violent mob stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.”
The Biden administration, and specifically the Department of Justice headed by Garland, has prioritized combating white supremacy above any other domestic terror threat. In a May 2021 Senate hearing, Garland told lawmakers that racial extremists, “specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race,” are the greatest domestic threat that the U.S. faces.
President Joe Biden and Democrats have also criticized GOP-led voting reforms following the 2020 election. Biden pushed Major League Baseball to boycott the state of Georgia after its GOP-led legislature passed a slew of election reforms last year. MLB moved its 2021 all-star game and its draft out of the state, costing the local economy tens of millions of dollars in business.
“We have also seen the violence and threats of violence directed against Americans who serve and interact with the public at every level — many of whom make our democracy work every day,” he continued. “These are our fellow citizens — who administer our elections, ensure our safe travel, treat the sick, teach the children, report the news, represent their constituents, ensure the rule of law, and keep our communities safe.”
“These threats and acts of violence are permeating so many parts of our national life that they are becoming normalized and routine,” he said. “This is deeply dangerous for our democracy.”