In the predawn of a midwinter night, I woke up startled.
My heart raced, my body quivered, and I felt a shortness of breath. Soft diffused light from the window filled my bedroom. A deep breath relieved my quivers. As I struggled to become oriented, seemingly out of context, in my mind I heard, “Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?”
I rolled onto my side, relaxed, and snickered. Yes, of course the banner still waves. My nightmare was induced by the Jan. 6 onslaught of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. I could not go back to sleep and spent the morning pondering what was, what might have been, and what should never come to be.
The demonstration in Washington was to appear as a protest of the outcome of the presidential election. It was to force the U.S. Senate to disregard the votes of the Electoral College and thus restore Trump to four more years of presidency.
But it was a protest planned to go bad. Long before the “march,” the mob voiced its intentions to harm or kill members of the opposition and execute Vice President Pence. Their destructive anarchy, shown in the news, was not spontaneous. The mob did not become carried away by its own frenzy. The violence was preplanned. President Biden called it “domestic terrorism.”
Mob action was weaponized, but it fell short of being a coup. The extremists’ threats to kill Democrats and Vice President Pence remain idle.
The security police of the Capitol were outnumbered and overwhelmed. The numerous security cameras throughout the Capitol building provided no security for the members of either house. The cameras were not designed to prevent violence or crime. But they did record evidence of the insurgents’ criminality.
Whisked out of harm’s way, the legislators and Vice President Pence were escorted to safety in the underground of the Capitol building. The imagery of their flight causes me to pause. Memories of countless times, my mother and I rushing to an air raid shelter in Germany during the Second World War, swarm in my mind.
The anarchists’ riot might have been used as cover for a commando-like strike by a relatively small number of combatants to inflict the threatened unspeakable “carnage.”
Recruits for such a mission are abundant. There are many former members of special forces among extremist Trump supporters who could carry out such a mission. News reports of the National Guard members having been recalled from their duty in Washington verify that there is a source of operatives for a murderous mission waiting in reserve. In an interview, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called them “enemies within.”
Greek democracy lasted about two hundred years. Autocracy followed. The Trump administration attempted to move our American democracy toward a similar fate.
The incursion of the U.S. Capitol by Trump-roused extremists is an indication of how imperiled our democracy can be. In spite of an appearance that it can survive anything, it is fragile and vulnerable. Any overly ambitious Trump-like populism must be prevented from ever posing a threat to it.
Fred Natkevi is a longtime Oak Park resident who grew up in Eastern Europe during World War II.