Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army ranger who saw combat, comforts Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild as they were trapped in the House Chamber. Photo by Tom Williams/Getty
Facing a Trump impeachment trial that could put their collusion with domestic terrorists on record, a craven and ever-hypocritical GOP is frantically backpedaling on history, downplaying the mayhem they unleashed, declaring themselves innocent of wrongdoing, blithely insisting it’s time to “move on” and for good measure deriding those insisting on the facts and the need for accountability – thus following a long national tradition of willful denial that led writer Gore Vidal to proclaim us “the United States of Amnesia.” In truth, the damage from the Capitol riot – and the “insurgents” the FBI is still tracking – runs deep and wide. Among a growing number of lawmakers speaking up about the panic they felt that day and the trauma they still struggle with, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been one of the most visible. In a 98-minute video this week, she described her fear – especially, she revealed, as a sexual assault survivor – as she hid with Rep. Katie Porter even as she called out complicit GOPers who “continue to be a danger to their colleagues.”
As a longtime target of right-wing vitriol and death threats – including from a rioter who’s been arrested; his lawyer is now trying to de-program him from “cult leader” Trump – AOC has keenly felt that danger. Still, she argued, “We cannot heal without accountability” for those who “chose to tell the lie.” For her bravery, she’s become the target of a nasty smear campaign – classic abuser move – by right-wing pols and media: She’s “a petulant child” and a la Jussie Smollett the country should “unify in telling you to go fornicate yourself,” her account was a “loopy delusion” of “amazing acting” and “gross manipulation,” she wasn’t even in the building, and from Glenn Greenwald (yes, that one), she didn’t have “even a tiny little bruise on her body,” though damn you’d think he’d know about the long history of women needing to show bruises to prove they were harmed. The vicious clap back prompted several outraged pieces – here, here, here – about the indignities visited upon women who speak out. The gist, from one: “I am so fucking sick of men telling women they didnt experience what they experienced.”
At the heart of the bedlam that day were hundreds of ill-prepared Capitol police suddenly “engaged in literal hand-to-hand-combat” against a frenzied mob wielding everything from crutches, flagpoles and cross-bows to stun guns, molotov cocktails and multiple firearms, including rifles with armor-piercing bullets. Due to a still-murky mix of incompetence and complicity, they remained largely, stunningly without back-up, in part thanks to passive Army officials who admitted they “didn’t like the optics of boots on the ground at the Capitol.” In closed-door remarks, titled “Capitol Complex Security Failures,” before the House last week, Acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee called the assault “a dark day for our country” that had “exposed weaknesses in the security of the most secure city in the country.” In a chilling narrative, he described “officers being beaten by a crowd of insurgents” in hours-long combat “indelibly etched” on officers’ memories – and their bodies. About 140 officers were injured – cracked ribs, traumatic brain injuries, smashed spinal discs, a lost eye, many scratches, bruises, cuts, mace-burned eyes. His clear, grim conclusion: Police, the Capitol, the electoral process was under attack. “This was not a peaceful protest, (but) an assault on our democracy,” he said. “The costs for this insurrection – both human and monetary – will be steep.” And they have been.
There were five deaths: four rioters, and officer Brian Sicknick, whose remains lay in honor this week at the Rotunda; he died after getting hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. At a brief ceremony, Nancy Pelosi lamented the “senseless tragedy” of his death; a superior noted there’s “nothing more traumatic” to police than a colleague’s death. Far more of that trauma, Chief Contee warns, “will be widely felt but possibly unacknowledged.” He says he’s working to address the mental health issues of officers, but the force has been “reeling” from two suicides of officers in the wake of the riot. Howard Liebengood, 51, who had guarded the Capitol for 15 years, took his life Jan. 9, and Jeffrey Smith, 35, a 12-year veteran, killed himself Jan. 15. Those deaths and all that sparked them has reportedly left a department in turmoil, with plummeting morale and widespread fear, guilt, uncertainty and anger at higher-ups that many officers feel failed them. “We’re coming to work for the next person we work with,” said one. “(We) try to take care of each other.” That’s also what drove officer Michael Fanone, 40, who’s worked plainclothes for a decade and never taken his riot gear out of its plastic bag, to leave his desk and self-deploy the day of the riot: “I went there for my brothers and sisters in law enforcement.” He ended up getting beaten, tased, dragged down stairs, and pummeled smashed with an American flag by a half-dozen rioters yelling, “Kill him with own gun.” After he begged them to let him live for his four daughters, they released him; he later had a heart attack. He likely spoke for thousands in D.C. that day in his response to their moment of mercy: “Thank you, but fuck you for being there.”
Gas-masked lawmakers exit the Chamber. Getty Image
Lawmakers huddle. Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP
Fox goes lower still
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) January 15, 2021
This post was originally published on Radio Free.