President Donald Trump invited his followers to Washington, D.C., a month ago, promising them it’s “gonna be wild.”
They planned the riots openly on social media for weeks, bragging about how many guns they’re going to bring and the mayhem they’d set off.
They came by the thousands and outside the White House, Trump rallied them to march on the Capitol on Wednesday, reassuring them that “after this, we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you.” (He wasn’t.)
” ‘Scuse me, ma’am,” the Trumpers said to me and everyone else they jostled as they rammed ahead, an army of Carhartt and camo, to storm the Capitol on their hero’s orders.
“They have the House. They have the Senate. They have the presidency,” a guy in body armor and a barn coat told the man marching with him. “This is the only thing left to do.”
Heck, you can say we’ve seen it coming for all four years that Trump’s been in office — the incitement, the rallying, the lies. Y’all know his words and actions just about lit every one of those torches of hate in Charlottesville.
And still, even though we all saw it coming, the headquarters of our government was literally invaded by loud, vaping fools in flannel, surplus-store body armor, animal pelts and face paint. Police seemed powerless to stop it.
After 21 years of covering protests in this town, I have never seen such a flaccid and disinterested preparation by law enforcement as what happened Wednesday.
Were the people in charge of stopping this blinded by the white, perhaps?
Imagine if all those people were Black. Oh wait, we don’t need to imagine. When thousands of demonstrators, largely Black Americans, came to the nation’s capital in the summer to protest the killing of unarmed Black people, D.C. looked like Kandahar under occupation.
For a few thrown water bottles, a blaze that was about the size of my high school’s homecoming bonfire, and some stores looted by folks who came in cars and appeared to have little to do with the demonstrations for racial justice, the entire city was encircled by armored Humvees and columns of soldiers were positioned on city streets around the White House, which became a fortress wreathed in several walls all summer long.
So what happened this time? Did someone in charge just figure, “Oh, they’re patriots. They’re harmless?”
Or: “These are good people, give all the officers the day off.”
Or: “Hey, let’s show America what white privilege looks like.”
Because that’s how it felt.
This is the same police force that swarmed me and my sons when we kicked a yellow and green bouncy ball around near the Capitol Visitor Center years ago. The same police who stared at me steely eyed when they found goldfish crackers in my son’s backpack. The same officers who kicked my husband out of the building when he went into the speaker’s lobby without a tie.
“The keys are in there!” someone in the crowd yelled.
And a young man in a hoodie and ridiculous body armor jumped into an articulating jib lift — a cherry picker — parked by the inauguration construction on the west side of the Capitol, turned it on and took people with Trump flags on rides 60 feet in the sky.
I watched a man in an orange hunting hoodie simply take a barricade apart, letting more of the mob pour onto the grounds. No police around.
The rioters climbed the inaugural scaffolding and waved Confederate battle flags. They swarmed steps and terraces that have been closed to the public for years.
Right in front of the Capitol steps, the place where my kids were kicked out years ago for sledding, someone set off a flare that flew in an arc, burning bright red, toward the dome.
“The Civil War is starting tonight!” a woman with salt-and-pepper hair and a lavender parka declared, waving her mittened hands in the air, giddy.
“Oh, it already started,” her partner said.
It was pure chaos and emotion with no plan, no mission and no reason.
A man with a megaphone verified that.
“People keep asking us, ‘What’s your plan?” ” he said. “I don’t have a plan, but I have a reason.”
After the flashbang grenades went off, after the phones all buzzed with the alert that D.C.’s mayor had set a curfew, they simply walked back to their cars and hotel rooms, regaling each other with stories of their glorious day trying to take down democracy.
That’s right. While a few dozen arrests were made, most just got to go back. I was surprised the police also didn’t hand them burgers on their way home.
This is the two Americas we need to be talking about.