To anyone in America just waking up from a four-year slumber, what an odd and incongruous presidential declaration. We fight like hell during the campaign. Then, we try to unite around the victor, a gracious predecessor attends ceremonies feting the declared winner, and a photographed handshake ensues. Our society acknowledges that as bitterly as we fought the election contest, we remain the United States of America.
As a retired FBI agent with a quarter century of experience, I view the issued bulletin as more than perfunctory or pro forma, but as a dire warning of potentially impending security threats. The president’s announced state of emergency is revelatory in just how far our country has deviated from its ideals. The direct result of last Wednesday’s Capitol riots
, where some Trump supporters overwhelmed Capitol Police checkpoints and occupied and defiled our national seat of government, should distress us all.
A necessary state of emergency declaration is the antithesis of that cherished hallmark of our democracy, the peaceful transition of power.
But what was the Capitol attack and the dark forces it embodied but an emergency? Angry protesters carrying American flags and screeching “stop the steal” abounded
. The silly coup attempt — exemplified by the “QAnon Shaman
,” shirtless and replete in horned headgear, and the cad who attempted to make off with Nancy Pelosi’s lectern
— should embarrass us all. It should also serve as a warning.
Law enforcement will not be caught as flat-footed as they were last Wednesday. There won’t be as much concern for — as the now-former chief of the Capitol Police put it to the Washington Post — “optics.”
A robust law enforcement presence — local, state, and federal — with out-of-town assets
being pre-positioned, will serve as a deterrent to anyone considering disrupting the democratic process. The United States Secret Service
will ensure the new administration is safely able to take the reins. Intelligence will be widely shared and quickly disseminated — no pre-9/11 firewalls to permit gaps to threaten integrated security plans. Nothing will impede the peaceful transition of American power that has been so central to our democracy since George Washington handed over the reins to John Adams in 1797 — 223 years ago. Nothing.
Last Wednesday was a national disgrace, an embarrassment and an entirely preventable tragedy.
These actions were more shameful and dangerous than theatrical. We witnessed a bearded man adorned with a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt
, as well as a West Virginia legislator
who resigned after he streamed a Facebook Live video of his unlawful incursion into the Capitol. Off-duty police and firefighters
are also under investigation
for their participation. It certainly was not our nation’s finest hour.
Make no mistake about it — this was an insurrection
. I fully understand the precision of language required by our criminal justice system. Title 18 U.S. Code § 2383 defines it this way
: “Whoever incites, sets on foot, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof…” Storming the meeting place of our nation’s legislature meets this definition. The Capitol isn’t just a functional building that houses elected officials. It is a symbol of our democracy. And if we narrowly define terrorism
as violence or intimidation in pursuit of political aims, then this was, by the FBI’s definition, a case of domestic terrorism
The period to raise election grievances had long passed by January 6. The Trump administration had exhausted their legal remedies
. It was time to move on. But the president encouraged his supporters to descend upon our nation’s capital on the 6th and whipped them into a frenzy
with reckless, incendiary language that the unhinged used as a call to arms.
The thing about mobs is that they are not precise, controllable instruments. Once you roil up an instigator or agitator or two, they act as the catalyst for mobilization — what results then transforms into a singular, dangerous vessel — and otherwise sober or reasonable folks get caught up in frenzy.
It remains supremely difficult to accept at face value the pleas from some of the Trump supporters who traveled to DC
equipped with firearms, Molotov cocktails, stun guns
, explosive devices, tactical gear and zip ties
(plastic hand restraints) as simply caught up in the momentum of events. A Capitol Police officer died as a result of his injuries in the melee. He was beaten with a fire extinguisher,
his killer or killers aided and abetted, literally, by folks wrapped in or waving the American flag.
These weren’t patriots. They were part of a seditious action that resulted in a police officer’s death. They were part of the rabble that included a cop killer. The murdered officer, Brian Sicknick, was also an Air National Guard veteran
Another Air Force veteran was killed during the assault on the Capitol. Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed that day
, was a small business owner as well. The shooting remains under investigation. Her service to our country should be applauded. However, being a military veteran doesn’t absolve anyone who joins with a mob to overrun those guarding the Capitol. Her death was tragic. It was also wholly preventable.
The incitement and execution of mob violence on Congress is a horror unto itself but, sadly, disorderly crowds bent on destructive action have also become all too familiar over these paralyzingly long past eight months. Too many Americans are almost inured to the tumult, numb to its omnipresence. Black Lives Matter protests this summer, hijacked in some places by extremist groups
on the left and right, have seen federal courthouses in Portland firebombed
, a Seattle police precinct occupied
, police assaulted
, and seemingly unending destructive behavior which has continued into the New Year
None of this is righteous. None of this — no matter how sacred the cause — is how we effect change in America. Extremism isn’t a cancer only detected in one side’s political adherents. But it is something we should have been better prepared to confront in its most noxious form last Wednesday.
Here’s hoping we learned some necessary lessons from the Capitol riots.