Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 is a date which will live in infamy, along with 9/11, Nov. 22, 1963 and Dec. 7, 1941.
This time, unlike Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the attack on America didn’t come from a foreign enemy or foreign terrorists. It came from American terrorists.
Unlike John F. Kennedy’s assassination, it wasn’t the work of a lone, twisted gunman. It was the work of thousands of twisted, hate-filled vigilantes who connected online and conspired to invade Washington on Jan. 6, take down the government and take over America. “The Storm,” they called it.
They came close. They seized the Capitol and shut down Congress. They killed a policeman. They ransacked the center and symbol of our republic, posed smugly for pictures and stole anything they could carry.
They were incited by President Donald Trump. They waved Confederate flags and Trump flags. At least one of them carried North Carolina’s state flag.
They could have blown up the building. Senator Lindsey Graham said, “Some of them had backpacks bigger than my desk.”
Some of them had zip ties and ropes. They could have taken hostages and threatened to kill them one by one until Congress overturned the election.
Capitol police weren’t prepared. They reportedly delayed asking for reinforcements. That must be investigated. But outnumbered and overwhelmed officers saved the lives of members of Congress, staff members, journalists and visitors.
The thugs aren’t going to “stand down.” They believe the election was stolen. Trump told them it was stolen. Members of Congress say it was stolen. Their media says it was stolen.
If they believe that, they believe that, as Barry Goldwater said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
In the end, the terrorists didn’t stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. But six Republicans in the Senate and 121 in the House, a majority of House Republicans, voted to block electors from Arizona. Seven senators and 138 House members voted against electors from Pennsylvania.
They denounced the attack. But do their words and votes encourage and embolden the attackers?
We averted a violent coup. But how close did we come to a political coup? Trump wanted Vice President Mike Pence to summarily reject state’s electors. Pence refused, but what if he hadn’t? Could Congress have stopped him?
Republicans now face a challenge: disavow Trump — or keep kowtowing to him and his supporters.
Democrats love to hate Senator Mitch McConnell. But he gave a powerful speech on the floor. He warned, “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We would never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”
Minutes later, the “scramble for power at any cost” reached the doors of the Senate. Police hurried McConnell and other Senators out of the chamber just before rioters stormed in.
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah declared, “What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina said, “The President bears responsibility for today’s events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories.”
For 216 years, since John Adams stepped aside for Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Americans congratulated themselves with a comfortable cliché: “the peaceful transition of power.”
Not this time.
Let’s hope we do better next time. And let’s resolve that our system will survive until next time.
Gary Pearce was a reporter and editor at The News & Observer, a political consultant, and an adviser to Governor Jim Hunt (1976-1984 and 1992-2000). He blogs about politics and government at www.NewDayforNC.com.