It was the summer of 1969 or maybe 1970. I don’t remember the exact year, but I distinctly recall the experience.
I was part of a small group of North Carolina 4-H members touring the White House. We were on the grounds when suddenly, without announcement, President Nixon joined us.
Star struck, we 4-H’ers formed a loose circle around him as he welcomed us to the White House. I didn’t think about it then, but looking back, I am startled by the lack of security. I was only a few feet away from the Leader of the Free World, yet no one had checked my purse. I had not gone through any sort of metal detector that day to gain access to the White House.
It was a different time. I doubt any president strolls out of the White House today for an impromptu meeting with a bunch of teenagers holding unexamined purses or backpacks. After various terrorist attacks culminating in the trauma of 9/11, people wanting to tour the White House now must submit their names through their member of Congress and then go through a security check.
In light of the recent storming of the Capitol, I’m afraid the same security measures will be enacted there as well. Before pandemic restrictions, seeing the historic areas of the building was not difficult. An invitation on the website visitthecapitol.gov currently states: “The Capitol Visitor Center welcomes visitors from across the United States and around the world. Identification is not required to enter the Capitol or to enjoy a tour.”
That type of access will probably not last much longer given the protest, siege, riot — whatever you want to call it — we all witnessed on Jan. 6. Rational Americans know that a line was crossed that day when lawmakers were forced to flee the House chamber during the counting of the Electoral College vote. The destruction of public property and the loss of lives was jarring, to say the least.
It angers me when I have to pay for the political fanaticism of others. For example, terrorists have caused airlines to require all sorts of tests for law-abiding travelers to pass to get on a plane. Those wanting to fly must abide by the 3-1-1 liquids rule in a carry-on. Shoes and belts have to be removed at the security checkpoint, and then there’s the indignity of a body scan.
Because of the lawlessness of others, there are metal detectors at the entrances to schools and sporting events. This type of surveillance was unheard of a generation ago. But lines have been crossed; the unthinkable has happened. Students and teachers have died as a result of school shootings. The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2013 Boston Marathon showed how easy it is to target an unsuspecting crowd.
When lines are crossed by a lawless minority, a more restrictive society seems to follow. Innocent, rule-following citizens inevitably see more of their freedoms curtailed. It’s somewhat ironic that those who cause this loss of freedom often say they’re fighting for liberty.