By Mike Reynolds
Officer Brian Sicknick, Ashli Babbitt, Kevin Greeson, Benjamin Philips and Roseanne Boyland all lost their lives inside the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th. We know how they died. Sicknick was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher while defending an entrance. Babbitt was gunned down by Capitol Police as she tried to jump through the shattered window of the House chamber door. Philips succumbed to a stroke and Greeson to a heart attack during the sudden excitement. Boyland was trampled to death under a crowd of her own compatriots while rushing the door to the Senate chamber.
Passionate heroism, tragically misplaced patriotism, innocent victimization, and naïve hubris were all on display in a whirling Walpurgisnacht of chaotic violence deliberately targeted at the sacred temple of our democracy — all while the crowd cheered.
We know how they died. WHY did they die?
A lame duck president could not accept the plain fact that he had lost an election. For months, he continually told us that his victory was being stolen from him by a deep-state cabal hiding evidence of massive election fraud and the “real” results of his irrefutable victory. Republicans in the House and Senate cynically staged a protest vote during the House certification ceremony to appeal to ideological extremists in their constituencies. Meanwhile, that president invited over 10,000 supporters — Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Q-Anon and other violent paramilitary groups — to rally outside the White House. There, that president told them to march on the Capitol and to “show strength.”
They were ready. Some had brought firearms, clubs, pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, and zip-tie handcuffs to kill, capture and otherwise serve his purpose. They had erected a gallows in the parking lot. They reached the Capitol, assaulted the small force of police guarding the building and smashed their way inside chanting death cries to the elected leaders in the House and Senate chambers. When they reached those chambers, though, they found them empty. Their intended quarry had escaped. They sat around, vandalized offices and wondered what to do next.
They had failed and five dead lay bleeding in their wake. The next day, Donald Trump grudgingly called for a “peaceful transition of power.”
What was it all for? Trump knew he had lost. The senators and representatives who staged the protest vote knew he had lost weeks earlier. There was nothing to gain. Nothing to prove.
Perhaps, though, there was something to avenge — and to exploit. The 10,000 would never admit it, but they were frightened. Facing a future where their hold on the few scraps of power and privilege they had left would be taken from them by people who do not look, speak, feel, believe or aspire as they did (and leave them starving for these things), maybe they panicked. Before any group of people starves, they do three things — consolidate resources, build up their army, and raid the neighbors. Frighteningly, this happens whether the threat of starvation is real or imagined.
A group who thinks they are in this kind of danger is not hard to sway. All you do is repeat to them that they are the deserving, that the undeserving are after what they have, and that those people are the enemy who deserve only death. Then they are willing servants.
In my view, Trump plans to open his own media company after he leaves office and to use his claim of “legitimate hold” on the presidency to cement the attention of his revanchist audience.
Did five people die for a publicity gimmick? I think so, and hope not.
Mike Reynolds is a social studies teacher in the Hartford Public School System and a former guest member of the R-J editorial board.