An attack on America that’s divided Congress — and a nation

On the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, just hours after terrorists attacked the United States, scores of lawmakers from both parties gathered on the Capitol’s East Steps for an outward show of national solidarity and an impromptu rendering of “God Bless America.” 

There was no such unifying moment after last week’s deadly mob attack on the same building.

Just hours after a mob of pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol, a pair of lawmakers — a Democrat and a Republican — nearly came to blows on the same House floor that armed officers had just bravely defended. The parties immediately sniped over the true identity of the rioters — and which party bore the blame for inciting them. 

Hours after the Capitol had been secured, 122 Republicans — a majority of the House conference — voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election in two battleground states, aligning themselves squarely behind the same specious cause as the angry mob.

These extraordinary events mark a stunning finale to a uniquely bitter era of partisan conflict under President Trump. Each side maintains the other is responsible for the acrimony. 

“It is a very troubling time for our whole country and for the Congress,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a 25-year veteran of Capitol Hill, said Friday of the heightened hostility. “It’s reached a new level.”

Signs of the distrust are everywhere.  

Democrats are calling for investigations into whether some GOP lawmakers abetted the rioters in the Jan. 6 assault.

Republicans have fired back, accusing Democrats of driving the country apart by impeaching the president just days before he is set to leave office. 

Highlighting just how deep the suspicions have grown, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) installed walk-through metal detectors around the House chamber, not to discourage outside attackers, but to prevent some ardent 2nd Amendment defenders from bringing firearms on the floor.

When Republicans mocked the precaution by circumventing the machines, she quickly imposed $5,000 fines for would-be violators. 

“In order to serve here with each other we must trust that people have respect for their oath of office, respect for this institution,” Pelosi told reporters Friday in the Capitol. “We must trust each other, respect the people who sent us here. We must also have the truth.”

The enmity has accompanied a tense and violent opening to the 117th Congress, as the country prepares for the transition to the Joe Biden administration after months when Trump refused to accept his election defeat. Those tensions reached a tragic crescendo on Jan. 6, when thousands of Trump devotees marched on the Capitol to block the vote formalizing Biden’s victory. 

In several hours of bedlam that followed, more than 50 police officers were injured and one, Officer Brian Sicknick, was killed. Four rioters also died, including one who was shot by police as she tried to climb through a window to access the House chamber.

Shocking video from the day’s events shows a gallows erected outside the Capitol, and rioters can be seen chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” and, “Where’s Nancy?” — haunting references to the powerful politicians who are first and second in line to the presidency.  

Trump’s own Justice Department this week described the assault as “a violent insurrection that attempted to overthrow the United States Government.” 

Lawmakers, speaking to The Hill on condition of anonymity, said they continue to fear for their lives and those of their loved ones. Some are exploring using congressional funds to hire private security, while others are avoiding airports after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) had run-ins with hostile Trump supporters that were captured on video.

First-term Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), an Iraq War vet and intelligence analyst who was one of 10 Republicans who backed impeaching Trump, said on MSNBC he plans to buy body armor and is changing his daily routines after receiving death threats.

And progressive superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) detailed in an Instagram Live video that she avoided the undisclosed, secure room where House lawmakers were evacuated because she thought “QAnons and white supremacist sympathizers” there would give away her location to a mob hell-bent on killing her. She was referring to some of her Republican colleagues.

The fear and finger-pointing is a long departure from the environment of unity and national healing that followed the attacks of 9/11. And the contrast highlights the stark differences between the two tragedies — one orchestrated by Muslim extremists from foreign lands, the other by domestic allies of a sitting president. 

The Washington Post reported that dozens of people on a domestic terrorism watch list, including many suspected white supremacists, were in Washington for the Jan. 6 protests. One rioter carried a Confederate flag through the Senate halls, while another donned a “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie. An Alabama man, who had guns and Molotov cocktails in his truck, was carrying a note with the name of Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), who is Black and Muslim.  

Law enforcement officials are bracing for more violence from pro-Trump factions starting during the long weekend honoring Martin Luther King Jr., who was cut down by an assassin’s bullet during the civil rights movement. 

The extremists “see themselves losing the white power and the white supremacy that they have enjoyed for generations because our nation is going to become majority black and Hispanic and people of color by 2040. They are resentful of that,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), a Black Caucus member who correctly predicted the violent assault on the Capitol in a warning to police a week earlier.

“So Make America Great Again actually means Make America White Again,” she said. “And that is the premise of how the Trump presidency was formulated and won.”

Republicans quickly rejected those charges, saying the seeds of violence were nurtured earlier in the year during the nationwide protests against police brutality that followed the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. While most of those marches were peaceful, others featured rampant looting, violent clashes with police and destruction of property, including a Minneapolis police station. At least 19 people were killed in the first two weeks of protests alone. 

Republicans said the same Democrats accusing Trump of inciting violence now had tolerated it then. 

“If we prosecuted BLM and Antifa rioters across the country with the same determination these last six months, this incident may not have happened at all,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.).

In the wee hours of Thursday, while the Capitol was still in tatters from the attack, the fiery rhetorical clashes threatened to turn physical when Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Colin Allred (D-Texas) exchanged sharp words on the House floor after another lawmaker, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Md.), accused Republicans of “lying” about rampant voter fraud stealing the election from Trump. Lawmakers and aides from both parties had to rush to the scene to separate the pair.

Since the attack, most Republicans have howled against Trump’s second impeachment, warning that it will only further divide a torn country. Those calls fell on deaf ears: Democrats impeached Trump on Wednesday with bipartisan support. And Democrats are incredulous that some Trump allies are calling for unity after their own leader encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” or risk losing their country.

“Some of my colleagues, some of which may well be co-conspirators in their latest attempt to placate and please this unfit president, suggest that we shouldn’t punish Trump for his actions in order to unify the country,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who is leaving Congress to join the Biden White House, said in a floor speech before the impeachment vote. 

“That is the climax of foolishness.”


Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Andre Carson Andy Harris Black Lives Matter Capitol breach Cedric Richmond Colin Allred Donald Trump Frederica Wilson Impeachment Inauguration Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Lloyd Doggett Lou Correa Mike Pence Nancy Pelosi Tom McClintock

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