Certain events stay with us forever. We’ll never forget where we were on Sept. 11, 2001, when we first learned of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Nor will we ever forget where we were on Jan. 6, 2021, barely a month ago, when we first learned of the terrorist attack on the United States Capitol.
We all watched in horror as a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, easily overran understaffed and unprepared Capitol Police, smashed doors and windows, pummeled police officers with the staffs of their MAGA flags, penetrated the sacred Rotunda and House and Senate chambers, forced the vice president and all members of Congress to flee for their lives and killed officer Brian Sicknick.
It was an unbelievable, gut-wrenching moment to witness the desecration of our revered shrine of democracy, the first occupation of the Capitol by an enemy force since the British seized the building in the War of 1812. But a profound relief four hours later to know that the Capitol Building was once again secure and Congress could resume its constitutional duty of certifying the results of the Nov. 3 election.
The mob was chased out of the Capitol. The insurrection was crushed. And the Proud Boys lost. Right? Wrong!
If you think the Proud Boys lost on Jan. 6, try visiting the Capitol today. You can’t even get close. The Proud Boys won beyond their wildest dreams. They’ve succeeded in shutting down the Capitol. The Hill’s an armed fortress. Not just the Capitol building, but the entire area is surrounded by a 7-foot wire fence topped with razor wire that surrounds the Capitol itself, the 58-acre Capitol grounds, the House and Senate office buildings, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Folger Library. The fence stretches from Independence Avenue on the South to Constitution Avenue on the north; from 3rd Street SE, to 1st Street NW, with heavily armed National Guard troops stationed inside its perimeter.
And now the Capitol Police have asked Congress to leave some version of the fence up forever. No way! That fence itself is an invasion: an ugly, god-awful, unnecessary wall that cuts against the spirit, history, and reality of democracy that the U.S. Capitol represents. It’s a place where all Americans are welcome to visit the seat of their government, talk to their representatives and enjoy the magnificent landscape created by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Surely, Republicans and Democrats can agree on this: The most important action Congress could take to prove that this nation remains strong and free — that we have not, in fact, been taken over by the Proud Boys, or any other right-wing extremist group — is to take that fence down immediately.
After all, we know what happened on Jan. 6. An embittered president, unwilling to accept his defeat on Nov. 3, summoned a mob to Washington and unleashed them on the Capitol to take over Congress and overturn the election. All the while the Capitol Police ignored intelligence warnings and failed to adequately secure the Capitol and bring in reinforcements ahead of time. But neither Trump’s act of sedition nor the Capitol Police’s poor judgment justify locking the Capitol down forever.
Nobody wants a repeat of Jan. 6, but there are other ways to prevent it. The man who incited the insurrection must be convicted. His supporters who invaded the Capitol must be tracked down and prosecuted. The Capitol Police must get new leadership. The building itself must be better secured. But a permanent fence is not the answer.
Note: To join the ranks of Americans who want to free the U.S. Capitol, sign the petition to take down the fence at: https://dontfencethecapitol.com.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”