Historian warns current events, like deadly U.S. Capitol riot, mirror times of war

The violent and deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol has a local historian making a startling observation.

"Civil war is when a society turns in on itself and starts to use violence in order to resolve its differences rather than to use conversation and democracy," says Stephen Smith, the Executive Director of USC’s Shoah Foundation. 

Smith studies the history of genocide and how it happened. 

He says, "When we look back, for example at Germany, how did that happen? Well, ordinary people who made extraordinarily bad choices over and over again, over a long period of time and then you end up with world war and the holocaust." 

Smith says violent societies didn’t start violent. They started divided, very much like what we’ve seen in the last several years.

"It was unthinkable two weeks ago that the capitol, the heart of our democracy would be ransacked by people in our own society and yet that is a reality. So that piece of history, you can’t put that back in the bottle, it happened. Now what we have to do is resolve that or we’ll take the next step and the next step and the next step," says Smith. 

On Thursday, Smith wrote an op-ed for Newsweek. In it, he explains the patterns of history include dangerous lies and propaganda, which he says are flooding the internet.

"One of the things we know from history is that if you tell a lie long enough and regularly enough, it becomes the truth" says Smith. 

Never accepting responsibility is another pattern. 

He says, "We need to make sure that we don’t look for scapegoats in the people that we see have a different perspective than us, or a different identity."

Smith encourages listening to different views even when we don’t agree with them because it’s a good way to diffuse violence. 

And while some may accuse Smith of being an alarmist by saying we are dangerously close to a second civil war, he says this is simply a wake-up call.

"The reason I’m saying this… if we make good decisions and make them now, we will save ourselves and prevent any bloodshed in the future and really, that’s what this is about."

Get your top stories delivered daily! Sign up for FOX 11’s Fast 5 newsletter. And, get breaking news alerts in the FOX 11 News app. Download for iOS or Android.