[CN: violence; white supremacy; terrorism, domestic & otherwise: specifically 9/11/2001 and 1/6/2021]
I have vivid memories of the early hours of 9/11, after seeing plane #2 go into the South Tower. I was living in the heart of Philadelphia, unsure of the scope of the planned attacks and aware there was a slight chance that the historically significant locations in my then-home city might be interesting symbolic targets. At a couple different times during those endless, rapid-fire minutes, I spoke to other Philly friends, weighing the likelihood of Philadelphia or Washington DC or both cities being targets this clear autumn Tuesday.
The detail that’s haunting me this week is something my friend L. said in that brief slice of time between the Pentagon being hit and us learning the fate of Flight 93.
I think I could cope if they hit the White House, but if they hit the Capitol, it will break me.
And now, a little less than 20 years after that haunting, heartfelt moment, the “they” that hit the Capitol this week was part of an inside job. Domestic terrorists.
I spoke there once, last June. I was part of a legislative briefing held in a non-important basement conference room, hoping to educate those staffers that chose to attend about UDL, educational flexibility and equity.
That opportunity remains one of the proudest moments of my career. Here’s a photo a took that day.
It’s not a great photo—I’m not even sure it’s a good one. Photography has never been in my skill set,* and this was an admittedly overcast, humid day. But it’s my photo, one that I took just a couple hours before I actually spoke inside this building that is sacred to me. So I treasure it just the same.
Needless to say, I’ve been struggling a bit since Wednesday.
At some fundamental level, I was not even remotely surprised at Wednesday’s riots and insurrection. I’d seen enough coverage on Monday and Tuesday (NYTimes, WaPo) that I had strong concerns about the violence I felt likely to erupt around Congress’s certification of the 2020 Election Results. I woke up Wednesday morning worried about it, and when the news updates started flashing on my iPhone around 2 PM, my internal reaction was less
Shit, what’s going on?
Damn, here it is.
And yet, there was also something deeply shocking to me about the photos and footage from Wednesday’s invasion of the seat of our democracy.
I’m not going to pretend I have some big, comprehensive interpretation of Wednesday’s events. For some good insights, check out:
- Heather Cox Richardson talking to Bill Moyers: “one of the pieces that people are not talking about is what we saw yesterday was the overwhelming attack of the Executive Branch, the president and the people in the Executive Branch, to destroy the people’s branch, the Legislative Branch”
- Tim Alberta in Politico: “The attempted coup d’état had been unfolding in slow motion over the previous nine weeks. Anyone who couldn’t see this coming chose not to see it coming. And that goes for much of the Republican Party.”
- Nicole Chavez for CNN: “As hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol, breaking windows and wreaking havoc, politicians and activists were among the many who drew comparisons between the police response on Wednesday to that of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.”
- Clint Smith in The Atlantic: “During the Civil War, the Confederate Army never reached the Capitol. The rebel flag, to my knowledge, had never been flown inside the halls of Congress until Wednesday. Two days ago, a man walked through the halls of government bearing the flag of a group of people who had seceded from the United States and gone to war against it.”
- Dan Kois in Slate: “I can’t stop thinking about the zip-tie guys.”
Instead, I’m going to share a few details and stories that are sticking with me right now.
The Senate aides and parliamentary staff whose quick thinking saved the boxes of electoral college votes whilst the Capitol building and Congressional chambers were under assault. (Alas, that viral photo is from earlier in the day—a misconception which, refreshingly, one of the women in that photogaph has been quick to correct.)
The gripping first person account of Wednesday’s events from CA Congressman Adam Schiff, who draws some important connections between the physical violence of the insurrectionists and the legislative violence of the Congress Members who betrayed their Constitutional oath by continuing to object to electoral college votes even after the domestic terrorists had been expelled from the Capitol:
The actions of the mob and those who incited them, the President most of all, are despicable and outrageous, and those who committed crimes need to be held accountable. But we should not lose sight of the fact that what happened in the early hours of the morning, in a chamber with windows broken by bats and not far from statutes flecked with blood, was every bit as much an attack on our democracy as anything the mob tried to do. This assault on our Constitutional order was inspired by people wearing suits and ties, and cloaked in the genteel language of Congressional debate, but their purpose was no less ominous.
Finally, there’s NJ Congressman Andy Kim, who, during a break in the late-Wednesday/early-Thursday certification of Biden’s presidency, quietly helped clean up the debris left in Capitol Rotunda after the rioters has been allowed to disperse.**
“When you see something you love that’s broken you want to fix it. I love the Capitol. I‘m honored to be there,” he said. “This building is extraordinary and the rotunda in particular is just awe-inspiring. How many countless generations have been inspired in that room?
“It really broke my heart and I just felt compelled to do something. … What else could I do?”
I probably would have done the same.
* I still carry some residual pain and resentment about not being allowed to participate in a photography unit in my middle school’s gifted and talented program, because I wasn’t “artistic enough” to qualify.
Image credits: All photos taken by the author, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.