It seems futile to add to what has been said over the past week, but also impossible not to speak of it. Protesters are people who want change. Rioters are people who want disruption and destruction. Rioters, at the behest of the president, set out to seize the Capitol and demand the audit of certain elections. After violently attacking the heart of our democracy, did they really think the body politic would go along with their demands?
Shamefully, some did. They crawled out from wherever they were sheltering, went back to their chambers and voted to press for election audits. After scores of election officials from both parties, courts, judges and the Supreme Court itself rejected claims of election irregularities as baseless, how could the likes of Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley imagine their base would react any differently to the outcome of an audit unlikely to change the results?
The event was pure chaos, resulting in the grievous destruction of many national treasures and the desecration of our country’s — and the world’s — greatest symbol of democracy. Reactions from the global community expressed astonishment and sorrow as they watched the leading light of freedom dim.
In many countries, an assault on the capitol and national leadership would have ended in a hailstorm of bullets and hundreds of people dead, not just the five who died here. Perhaps the greatest irony of the attack is that when the perpetrators are arrested, rather than having been killed on the spot, those charged will press for their rights under the very system they set out to dismantle, depending on the American justice system to defend them. This is the system they mocked and sneered at as they went about their anarchic business.
Many of the people who poured into the building, once it was breached, looked no different than the visitors who tour it every day. Young couples holding hands, people in jeans and puffy coats, even a few kids wandered through, gazing around, apparently confident they would not be randomly shot. How fortunate they are. Weirdly, many in this lawless mob stayed within the rope lines in the rotunda.
Law enforcement has an unlikely partner in pursuing those who participated, and that is the perpetrators themselves. The invaders imagined themselves such heroes that they could not resist taking and disseminating selfies of themselves committing crimes. That has already resulted in the first arrests. In an act of unheralded stupidity, they have provided the evidence needed to convict them of their crimes.
The list of those already identified and apprehended is a who’s who of Americana. Teachers. Pastors. The CEO of a marketing firm. A state legislator. An insurance attorney. A real estate broker. This was not some underground mob of criminals. They were our friends, our neighbors, our family. What were they thinking? Police have asked for the public’s help in identifying rioters and an army of techies has responded, combing the internet for identifying features to help with arrests.
Members of Congress were quick to show their determination to return to their chambers and complete the work of certifying the election results, which they did in the early morning hours. That six U.S. senators, well over a hundred members of the House and their leaders were willing to perpetuate the same election myth that the president used to drive the riots, even after what they witnessed in the Capitol, is disgusting. To their credit, some of those who had planned to object decided otherwise.
Since Jan. 6, there has been a relentless parade of photos, video and audio, depressing, disturbing or downright sickening, of the whole catastrophe, including graphic scenes of murder, violence and destruction too awful to watch. But watch we must, if we are to learn from this.
Perhaps the most deeply touching photo was that of a single congressman and his response to it all. Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey pronounced himself “heartbroken” after surveying the damage as he walked through the Capitol complex after the buildings were secured. Wanting to treat the building “with the respect it was not given” by the assailants, he did the one thing he could do right then. He began to clean it up.
At a time when it is hard to find a ray of light in the darkness, the photo of Congressman Kim on his knees in the Capitol rotunda, gathering up trash and filling a garbage bag with it, is the antidote to the photo of the smug rioter with his foot up on a desk in the Speaker’s office.
Congressman Kim’s humble effort at restoration points out the way back. Do what you can, wherever you are, to make what surrounds you better. It is all we can do.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state sentator from Hancock County.