Two years ago, when traveling was a regular occurrence, I took the train from New York to Washington, D.C., to attend a Jewish conference. I looked forward to several days of panels on Israel, American politics, social justice, and numerous other topics.
Upon exiting Union Station, I got in line to wait my turn for a cab. As I looked up, I saw the Capitol dome, its stunning white architecture framed by a clear blue sky.
It took my breath away.
It certainly wasn’t the first time I had seen it, either from a distance or close up. Yet, like a tourist in Manhattan staring at the lights in Times Square on a busy evening, I was enthralled. I was also moved and awed by its majesty.
That moment came back to me clearly as I watched the horrific events of January 6.
Mob violence isn’t easy to stomach, but seeing this crowd mounting the Capitol’s white steps, scaling the walls, and smashing glass to gain entry to the inner sanctum of American democracy, was overwhelming.
It was a physically palpable feeling. It began with witnessing the defilement of a venerated American space. It continued as I realized that I was watching the culmination of a journey that started in Charlottesville, with the Unite the Right rally of white supremacists in 2017.
My personal anxiety had started in November 2016, on Veterans Day. It was just a week after the Election. In reaction to Trump’s win, I had opined on how his administration would portend for American Jews. “We are part of the other,” I warned.
Soon after, I got messages from as far away as New Zealand, informing me: “We’re dusting off the cattle cars for you, darlin’.”
It was a confirmation that the new Trump era was about to be embraced, not only xenophobes, racists, and anti-Muslims – but anti-semites as well. That fact
was again underscored on Wednesday when I watched the rampaging crowd walking the hallowed halls of our government’s lawmakers, and gathering in the Rotunda surrounded by marble sculptures and historic paintings.
One man carried a Confederate battle standard. Another hoisted a flag that showed an image of Donald Trump clad in armor. It was clearly based on Der Bannerträger (“The Standard Bearer“), by Hubert Lanzinger. Two figures, exalted to glorious heights, connected by their language of ethnic superiority. It was chilling.
Later, photos of a man clad in a shirt with the logo “Auschwitz Camp” circulated. It was a warm-up for another anarchist whose chest bore the emblazoned acronym 6MWNE. It’s a Proud Boys shirt that stands for: “6 Million Was Not Nearly Enough.” It has been sold online via Amazon and was just recently taken down.
The videos of these insurrectionists operating with impunity have been played and replayed. New footage is surfacing, leading to further questions.
It’s been impossible to get these visual impressions and symbols out of my mind. They are now etched in my memory along with the falling towers of 9/11, and photos of broken shop windows and synagogue interiors vandalized on Kristallnacht.
How was this happening in the United States of America?
My thoughts drifted to Jews I knew or had read about who supported the philosophy Trump espoused and considered him marvelous. For a few, it was about “the economy.” For most, it was about what they considered his “pro-Israel” stance and his bond with Bibi Netanyahu. Usually, they were blind to the parallels between Trump and Bibi. As both men moved their respective countries in illiberal directions, they didn’t seem to care.
As a result of mob violence, five people are now dead. On Friday, January 8, a Confederate flag was tied to the front door of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. The JTA reported that Aaron Mostofsky, the son of Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Steven (Shlomo) Mostofsky, was onsite in the Capitol. He was captured in several photographs, including one that placed him at the side of a Qanon supporter.
What could be wrong?
It evidenced itself on Wednesday, January 6.