“Jim Jones was a religious cult leader, Donald Trump is a political cult leader,” Speier told the Guardian. “As a victim of violence and of a cult leader, I am sensitive to conduct that smacks of that. We have got to be wary of anyone who can have such control over people that they lose their ability to think independently.”The Guardian
It was 18 November 1978, and Speier had travelled to Guyana as part of a congressional investigation into the Jonestown settlement and its cult leader, Jim Jones. The fact-finding group of 24 were ambushed by cult members on a jungle airstrip; the congressman for whom Speier then worked, Leo Ryan, and four others were murdered.
Speier, shot five times and left for dead, had to wait 22 hours for help to arrive. She told herself as she lay on the tarmac that if she survived the ordeal she would devote herself to public service.
On 6 January, Jackie Speier was one of scores of members of Congress threatened by the mob of violent Trump supporters and white supremacists who stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overthrow the results of the presidential election.
Along with her peers, she was told to wear a gas mask and ordered to lie prostrate on the marble floor as the baying crowd pounded on the chamber door and the sound of gunfire rent the air. The terror of that day induced in her a flashback, to the events that brought her into politics in the first place when she lay bleeding from five gunshot wounds in the Guyana jungle, not knowing whether she would live or die.
Speier said that. . . . measures were needed urgently even before 6 January. Trump’s open dialogue with extremist organizations had supercharged the need for action, she said.
“Donald Trump had a code for talking to these groups. ‘There’s good people on both sides,’ ‘We love you,’ ‘You’re special.’ He recognized that they were valuable to him, and they recognized that he could amplify their recruiting. It was a toxic brew of personal gain, and it put at risk the entire democracy of this country.”
The formative experience that gave rise to her political career gives Speier an unusually sharp perspective on the danger posed by the Capitol insurrection. She thinks of it as “groupthink”, saying that “when the groupthink is about overthrowing the government, then we’ve got a serious problem.”
. . . Last month she wrote to Joe Biden and his newly confirmed defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, calling for a “new sense of urgency” following the “appalling events at the Capitol”. . . . In her letter, Speier told the president and defense secretary that she had become “increasingly alarmed” about the connections between violent extremist groups and military personnel. .
In her Guardian interview, Speier said that the current crisis of white supremacy and the military has been brewing for many years. “I thought it was urgent a year ago when I held a hearing on violent extremism in the military and was astonished at the number of service members who are recruited in part because of their training to these extremist groups.”
She added: “It’s not as though we haven’t been given a heads-up.”