High Desert Sketches: Riot in the Capitol Building

Art by Valerie “CrowCrumbs” Howard

When I first heard about the riots going on in the United States Capitol Building, I thought of three things. First I thought about the hundreds of times I had walked through that building, going from the House side to my office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, or going the opposite direction. The second thing I thought about was Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I first met Nancy Pelosi more than 25 years ago when she was a newly elected member of Congress. She was a young, highly intelligent politician on the way up in her leadership role in the House. Having met dozens of House members, I knew she would have a leadership role, but I never suspected she would make speaker. My third thought was that if these rioters had been members of Black Lives Matter, there would have been many more dead than six. In my hundreds of ramblings through the Capitol Complex, I had met dozens upon dozens of the Capitol Hill Police, and they were polite and informative. I was shocked to learn that a Capitol Hill policeman, Brian Sicknick, had been murdered.

Mr. Sicknick followed his Air National Guard unit to Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan and a military base in his home state of New Jersey, all in the hopes of one day wearing a police uniform. It was a wish fulfilled more than 10 years ago when he joined the police department tasked with protecting the U.S. Capitol.

Then on Wednesday, pro-Trump rioters attacked that citadel of democracy, overpowered Mr. Sicknick, 42, and struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher. With a bloody gash in his head, Mr. Sicknick was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. He died the next evening.

The chief of Capitol Hill Police resigned without comment. The police union stated that their first duty was to preserve life, not property. And I know personally that had there been any shots fired in the Capitol Complex, innocent bystanders would probably have been victims. The unit also stated that they were not briefed or equipped for the violence which manifested with the riots.

While listening to the rampage going on inside the Capitol Building, I remember the peaceful demonstration in June that took place in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. The plaza between St. John’s Church and Lafayette Park was full of people nonviolently protesting police brutality when U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops, with the use of tear gas, suddenly started pushing them away for no apparent reason. It became obvious when President Trump walked from the White House through the park to the Episcopal church. Camera crews scrambled to keep up with him as he strode through the park, followed by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, along with Attorney General William Barr and other administration officials.

Trump stopped briefly outside the church and held up a Bible. “We have the greatest country in the world,” he said. “Keep it nice and safe.” The visit came just after Trump delivered remarks at the White House, declaring himself “your president of law and order” and demanding that governors deploy National Guard units and “dominate the streets.”

My first question is, when thousands of white folks attack the nation’s Capitol, where were the police, the National Guard, and the tear gas? You may call the actions of January 6 what you will, but it cannot be denied that it was an assault on every member of Congress, the Capitol Hill Police, and government employees within the building. Six people died because of the attack. The most damaging part of the entire riot was that it was an assault on our Democratic Republic. Benjamin Franklin once said, “We have given you a Republic, if you can keep it.”

Democracy is not the natural order of things. Throughout recorded history, democracy has not been the rule. Most people want a strong, colorful dictator. Winston Churchill once said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”

America flirted with fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s. Tens of thousands across the country joined the pro-Nazi America First Movement promoted by famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. In 1939, more than 20,000 people packed Madison Square Garden. The movement faded with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Does the attack on the United States Capitol Building mark a public drift toward a revival of America First and its brand of modern fascism?