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Managing Festering Sores, Identity and Free Speech in America’s Workforce

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Y. Mitsumi Flores, Chloe Novet and Ygnacio Flores
February 15, 2021

In the wake of the events on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, the concept of individual responsibility is a topic gaining visibility in managerial circles. Joining calls to impeach President Trump for a second time were discussions on disciplining derelict Capitol Hill Police Officers, holding administrators responsible that ignored intelligence reports of the upcoming event and firing those participating in the disturbance. The rippling effects of this unprecedented event will reach nearly every working environment as the socio-political ramifications continue to resonate among the workforce. Public administrators need to acknowledge their role in managing the aftermath of the event as employees align with the various socio-political consortia making sense of January 6. This task is not easy, as a public administrator is an apolitical entity operating in a very political ecosystem.

The events on Capitol Hill came as no surprise, as would the potential for more disturbances on January 20 during the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The fissure taking place in society is not the result of one person. Rather it is the symptom of a long festering sore in American society. The social band-aide covering the sores of inequity, institutionalized discrimination, and the crises of the American identity lost its adhesive in the killing of George Floyd and the 2020 election cycle.

Underpinning factors contributing to the turmoil experienced in the contemporary socio-political environment are constitutional guarantees, particularly the ideology of free speech. Observable in the media soundbites and symbology displayed by the riotous mob on Capitol Hill is a desire to enforce the perception of regime continuity in the hopes of changing the political direction of the nation. Driving the events of January 6 was a slow-growing aggravation overlooked in the nation due to social factors that shielded the potential violence of a few wayward citizens. What changed in the last decade was the radicalization of those believing their ideas required violent action to realize a better nation.

Under this framework, administrators need to be cognizant of how individual attitudes can affect productivity in the workplace. Many of those that rioted on January 6th worked in many occupations, including a United States Olympian, former law enforcement officers and active and former military personnel, including a senior officer. It is not a far stretch to acknowledge that many other people sympathizing with those that marched on Capitol Hill are working in offices throughout the nation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2019 Hate Crimes Statistics show a drastic increase in hate crimes. Further supporting this national trend is a Military Times article reporting that more than one-third of active duty personnel surveyed have observed white nationalism or ideological-driven racism demonstrated in the ranks.

The outcome for those arrested for rampaging Capitol Hill will have their fates decided in the courts. Meanwhile, administrators need be conscious of those radicalized in their organizations. This does not endorse a witch hunt. Rather, it calls for practicing awareness in the name of mitigating violent extremism. A significant factor in the process of radicalization is the internet. The internet facilitates the persuasion of like-minded people to that extreme ideology supporting the use of violence as a voice of reason. Protecting free speech is a tactic many nationalist and supremacist groups use to profess their ideology. Mitigating radicalization requires a collaborative effort by employers, government and service providers.

Those most susceptible to radicalization are males in their mid-twenties, though any person is susceptible to activism. While there are many signs of radicalization, some that might be demonstrated in the office are:

  • Specific changes in dress—especially apparel with symbolic significance.
  • Changes in a person’s friends and acquaintances.
  • Verbalizing the use of violence.
  • Intolerance of race, ethnicity, religion, etc.
  • Frequent arguments with co-workers.
  • Promoting scripted messages.

The paradigm of violent extremism through the narrow Islamist-lens created post-September 11, 2001 enabled the events of January 6 to occur, with those participating fearing little from the government or law enforcement. In the habit of failing to learn from the past, it is time to revisit the experiences that led to the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871—better known as the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, legislated to protect African Americans in the post-Civil War era.

A conundrum faced when mitigating violent extremism in an organization is the thin line separating supervision from an invasion of privacy. Administrators must work within their laws, regulations and collective bargaining agreements. Working with an organization’s legal counsel protects the rights of the employee and the organization.

As the nation moves into the next decade, exercising caution can prevent the rise of violent extremism. Ostracizing a specific segment of society does not facilitate an inclusive society. Meaningful dialogue and training at work can alleviate extremism budding in an organization or individual. The United States has taken a crucial step toward instability. It will take more than a new administration or one individual to abate the current use of violent extremism in the country. Remedy involves a national effort on the part of all stakeholders, including the role of administrators in this complex environment.  

Author: Y. Mitsumi Flores, student at Palomar College, and Chloe Novet, student at University of California Berkeley, and Ygnacio “Nash” Flores, faculty at Rio Hondo College

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