OPINION: How close was it? Reflecting on the U.S. Capitol attack

Anton Johnson


The attack on the U.S. Capitol will be remembered as a dark moment in history. But it could’ve been much darker. Photo courtesy of AP.

I remember attending a prayer service in kindergarten for the victims of 9/11 at my Catholic elementary school. The cafeteria was lit only by candlelight and the sunlight that snuck through the windows. I had the thought: “Wow, that sounds terrible. I can’t imagine that happening nowadays.”

It would’ve been 2004 when I was in kindergarten, yet it felt like something that happened a long time ago, before I was born. In reality, it was only three years before—I was just too young to remember it. For the priests, teachers and even other students, it did happen “nowadays.”

I never knew how I’d cope with something like that happening again. Last week, I was so close to finding out.

I woke up late Wednesday morning. I knew the vote to certify the Electoral College vote was happening, and I knew there would be protests by Trump supporters. I even knew that there were wackos who wanted Mike Pence killed.

But I didn’t know everything that happened would happen. I didn’t know how many wackos there actually were.

I was glued to all of my screens for the whole day. I switched between CNN and NBC on my TV, Twitter and various news sources on my computer and the friends who replied to me on my phone.

By the time the protestors breached the Capitol, it had barely been more than an hour since the joint session of Congress began.

Five people ended up dying from the insurrection. One police officer died the next day from injuries, three people from medical emergencies and one woman was shot by the police. It could have been much worse.

Pipe bombs were found at both of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. A pickup truck full of bombs and weapons was found two blocks away from the Capitol, and other individuals allegedly brought weapons to the nation’s capital.

Chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” images of men carrying zip-ties and wearing tactical gear, and graphic videos of clashes with the police all went viral. If the insurrectionists had their way, this would all be remembered very differently.

A lot of jokes also went viral. They were funny, and I enjoyed them as much as anybody. But would they have been so funny if one of those bombs went off? If a senator was taken hostage? If something happened to the vice president?

It might seem like an exaggeration to some to call what happened a terrorist attack. But we’re incredibly lucky to be able to have that thought.

Instead of imagining these people as geriatric racists, or uneducated rednecks, or as privileged frat boys, we need to acknowledge the fact that the insurrectionists were terrorists. These people were armed, dangerous and perfectly capable of causing irreparable damage to the United States of America.