When I would drive my young family from our home in the Maryland suburbs into Washington there was a spot on North Capitol Street where the familiar dome would come into view, and our son, barely two years old, would point to it and exclaim, “Look, Daddy’s office.”
Actually, my office was across the street in the Rayburn House Office Building. I first came to Washington right after the1970 election as a Congressional Fellow and went to work for one of my heroes, Hubert H. Humphrey, before moving to the House to spend the rest of the decade on the staff of Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal of New York.
Working in the Congress was an amazing and rewarding experience, and I loved exploring the Capitol. And taking friends on tours.
One of my brothers brought his fiancé to visit and I took them for a midnight visit. We parked on the East Plaza by the great staircase. I showed them George Washington’s empty tomb, the catafalque where Lincoln’s body laid in state, the painting of the Indian with six toes and statuary Hall. Along the way a Capitol Police officer offered to show us something unusual. In a small circular stone staircase just off the Rotunda, he pointed out several round indentations with reddish borders. Those, he told us, were bullet holes from shotes fired by British officers in August 1814 when they came to burn the building.
The Capitol has been the most famous building in America and a symbol of freedom open to everyone. Until modern terrorists of all stripes changed that. A small bomb in a bathroom on the Senate side in 1971 did minor damage and caused no injuries but changed history. The leftist anti-war Weather Underground planted the bomb.
Another leftwing radical group, the Armed Resistance Union, planted a device also on the Senate side, in 1983, again with no injuries.
Slowly restrictions on access to the building were incrementally added. The fear the extremists were creating was working.
There had been other attacks earlier. In 1954 that Puerto Rican separatists shot five members of the House, none fatally, from the House Gallery.
Osama Bin Laden’s terrorists tried to crash a hijacked plane into the Capitol on September 11, 2001 but were diverted by passengers on United Flight 93 who forced it to crash in a Pennsylvania field.
After each terrorist threat and event, access to the Capitol became more restricted.
The worst, of course, was just a month ago, when a violent and deadly attack by followers of President Donald Trump invaded the building. Five people died, 140 Capitol Police officers were injured, and damage ranged from urinating and defecating on the floors to vandalism, stealing a podium, stealing a laptop and documents, destroying offices and ransacking desks. There were calls to assassinate Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The insurrectionists erected a gallows and noose with a sign saying it was for Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump had earlier trashed for not helping him overturn the election.
Inside, 147 Republican lawmakers sought to overturn the election despite a total lack of evidence of voter fraud and in their lemming-like fealty to the impeached insurrectionist who falsely claimed he won in a landslide
One immediate result was a 7-foot iron fence topped with razor wire and hundreds of armed troops surrounding the Capitol. This was supposed to last for about 30 days, but it could become permanent.
Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of the US Capitol Police, has said “permanent fencing” will be part of improved “physical security infrastructure.” DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has tweeted her opposition to permanent fencing. No final decisions have been made.
If the fence stays, it will stand as a symbol of the violent insurrection sparked by Trump to prevent the Congress from carrying out its constitutional responsibility to certify the election of Joe Biden. Security is also being beefed up for individual members of Congress, who’ve been told that body armor is a legitimate business expense and have been warned they may need bodyguards for trips back to their districts.
“We have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress,” Pelosi said. She called them “the enemy within.”
Whether they are violent left wing anti-war activists who believe in bombing for peace or violent rightwing insurrectionists who storm the Capitol and seek to kill the vice president and speaker and overturn an election, they are all anti-America terrorists who have succeeded in diminishing American freedom and democracy — all in the name of saving it.
It has been another victory for terrorism.