Opinion: Witnessing history on Jan. 6, 2021

Washington — “American carnage” was what Donald Trump envisioned in his first address as president in 2017. That was one promise he kept, after he bitterly lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Trump raged and waged war on the United States government by inciting deadly violence at the Capitol. Our temple of democracy came under siege, with Congress captive under the dome. And I was there.

The date was carefully chosen — by Trump and his men — because the House and the Senate were in joint session to certify the election.

With peasant cunning, Trump summoned thousands of followers (from all over) to a “wild” day in Washington. The intent was to march to the Capitol to overturn the counting ritual and keep his grip on power. Most members of the mob were white nationalists, middle-aged, middle-class men.

They spewed racial slurs during the riot, akin to the Ku Klux Klan without hoods and robes. Trump is like Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy who declared war on the United States and never surrendered.

Of all the odious things Trump did every day he was in office, he encouraged “us” to hate “them.” He ignited an uncivil war that’s not over yet.

The Jan. 6 conspiracy was clear in internet chat rooms, with the extremist Proud Boys and Oath Keepers trading notes on travel, hotels, weapons and military gear. But the Capitol Police and FBI lost the plot.

We were saved by the 800 Metropolitan Police officers responding to the crime scene. Still, 140 officers were injured in “medieval” combat as the mob scaled walls, burst barricades and shattered windows on the Capitol terrace.

Blood fell. Statues wept. The throng was 30,000 strong.

President George Washington laid the cornerstone of the Capitol citadel in 1793. He passed power peacefully on to John Adams in 1797. That’s why Biden launching his reelection campaign from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where Washington commanded the Revolutionary War army, was apt.

When you witness history hell, as I did that bleak winter day, you have to tell people what went down.

Shock and horror are often the reaction, but the truth can’t get lost in translation or absurd lies that some Iowa Republican voters may believe.

The Jan. 6 attack was an attempted murder of democracy, the first time the peaceful transfer of power came under fire or even a stress test. We were caught in “The War Within,” my new book title.

My father says the history major in me got to witness one of our darkest days.

Inside the House of Representatives chamber and floor, we heard the pounding footsteps of the mob Trump sent — pursuing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s nemesis.

The speaker was spirited away, but the rush was on.

The armed mob, loaded for bear with actual bear spray, broke glass on the marble halls. A sound that reminded one of Kristallnacht. Shots were fired in the speaker’s lobby. The Senate’s quaint desks were ransacked. Then a gun standoff through a jagged glass door into the floor happened right in front of us.

Our fates were unknown.

Worst of all, their howls haunted me for months. It’s safe to say most in the chamber froze and later had some post-traumatic stress. One police officer declared he felt safer as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Amid the Rotunda shambles, a Black officer wept at the end of the fray. The onslaught of hate curdled his blood. Harry Dunn is now running for Congress in Maryland.

There is little doubt that if the mob had found Vice President Mike Pence on the Senate side, they would have lynched him, as Trump egged them on. A gallows stood outside.

The master of the mob watched with pleasure from the White House for hours, deaf to pleas to call off the attack. The plan was working. Somehow the Pentagon was AWOL.

We have to understand that American carnage was the best day of Trump’s presidency. He loved every moment. The rogue president felt fulfilled.

Democracy won the day, but not by much. This is what I know now: it’s rare, precious and fragile.

— Jamie Stiehm is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.


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