‘The nation must brace itself for continuing political conflict,’ expert says: For Journalists


EVANSTON, Ill. — Former President Donald J. Trump was indicted yesterday on four conspiracy charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Professors in the fields of history, political science and communications at Northwestern University provide their perspectives on Trump’s third indictment.

To request an interview, email the faculty member or Northwestern media relations at [email protected].

Political science experts:

Alvin B. Tillery Jr. is a professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern.

Quote from Professor Tillery
“Former president Donald Trump’s indictment on four federal charges of conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 election is a turning point in the federal government’s approach to the Jan. 6th insurrection. Whereas most of DOJ’s prosecutorial efforts immediately following the sacking of the Capitol focused on the rioters, this indictment shows us that the government is now ready to hold the coup plotters accountable. While this is an essential moment in our nation’s history and represents a tremendous legal threat to Mr. Trump personally, the fact that the indictments are coming three years after the crimes and Mr. Trump has already ramped up his political campaign means that the indictments will pose a considerable threat to our democracy as Mr. Trump will use them to stoke anger and discord among his supporters. In short, the nation must brace itself for continuing political conflict as the DOJ attempts to hold Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators accountable.”

A professor of political science and African American studies at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, Tillery’s research focuses on American politics, race relations, presidential leadership and social movements and protest politics. Alvin B. Tillery Jr. can be reached at [email protected].

Erik Nisbet is a political communication expert on media, political behavior and public policy in the areas of democracy and elections, and international security.

Quote from Professor Nisbet
“The latest federal indictment of former President Trump has two major implications for the 2024 election. First, though it increases his legal liability and threatens to further divert his campaign fundraising to fund his legal defense, this criminal indictment and the others are political gold for his standing in the Republican primary. There has been a substantial ‘Rally Around Trump’ effect among conservative voters propelling his political standing – and fundraising. 

“This ‘Rally Around Trump’ effect also heightens the potential for the continued mainstreaming of political violence among the American electorate. Court hearings and verdicts provide opportunities for domestic violent extremist groups to mobilize angry, polarized citizens for acts of targeted political violence aimed at electoral or judicial institutions. The Department of Homeland Security warned of such attacks in their May 24, 2023, National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin. As more citizens are mobilized during the campaign season, as political rhetoric heats up and intensifies, and as rallies become more frequent, the danger of political violence will increase substantially in the coming months.”

Nisbet is the Owen L. Coon Endowed Professor of Policy Analysis and Communication at the School of Communication at Northwestern, where he directs the Center for Communication and Public Policy. Erik Nisbet can be reached at [email protected].

History experts:

Michael J. Allen  is a historian specializing in American history after 1900.

Quote from Professor Allen:
“In bringing this indictment against former President Donald Trump, Special Prosecutor Jack Smith affirms what Americans witnessed between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 6, 2021, and what the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 found in its bipartisan investigation: that President Trump conspired to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election and thus sought to deny the American people their constitutional right to choose their own leaders.

“There is nothing surprising in these charges, nor seriously debatable. Americans watched these crimes unfold in real time and saw the deadly consequences in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Still, Smith’s action is welcome and important in signaling the government’s determination to defend the constitution against the grave threat that Trump’s lies pose to popular sovereignty and the rule of law, not to mention truth and reason. It is now up to the courts to enforce the law Trump willfully violated and to uphold the people’s right to self-governance.”

An associate professor of history at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, Allen’s research focuses on war and empire in history. His book in progress, “Paradoxes of Power: The Imperial Presidency, the Democratic Party, and the New Politics of Reform, 1933-1981,” explores the fraught relationship between the pragmatic left and presidential power from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. Michael Allen can be reached at [email protected].

History professor Kate Masur is the author of “Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History.

Quote from Professor Masur
“Donald Trump is charged with several federal crimes, including violating a law first passed in 1870 that was designed to protect Americans’ right to vote and to have their vote counted. The main threat at the time was organized white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but the law’s larger intent was to make it a federal crime to conspire to interfere with constitutionally protected individual rights. Now we see how important those Reconstruction-era measures were in establishing Americans’ rights and providing mechanisms for enforcing them.”

Masur is the Board of Visitors Professor of history at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern where she specializes in American history before 1900. Her research focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, race, politics and the state. Kate Masur can be reached at [email protected].

Kathleen Belew is an associate professor of history at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences where she specializes in American history of the present. Her research focuses on the white power movement, the history of violence and paramilitary organizations. Belew’s first book “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America” established her as the foremost historian of the modern white power movement. Kathleen Belew can be reached at [email protected].


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