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Violent extremism has many faces: A conspiracy theorist in Nashville, Tennessee, who blew up a city block and himself on Christmas Day. Unidentified vandals, possibly environmentalists, who recently sabotaged natural gas infrastructure in Colorado and left people without heat and hot water during a cold winter. An angry progressive who opened fire at a congressional Republican baseball practice in 2017, injuring several people and nearly killing Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
The mob of people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, some wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and draped in Trump flags, have earned a place on that abhorrent list. America has seen worse days and worse violent acts, to be sure. But Wednesday was an awful day for anyone who believes in law and order, and who believes in America’s brave democratic experiment.
This was not a protest. It was a siege. It was an attempt at political intimidation. The attackers may have done it under the guise of free speech and free assembly, and they may call themselves “patriots.” But violently delaying a constitutionally mandated process of counting certified electoral votes wasn’t patriotic. It was idiotic. It was dangerous. It was decidedly un-American, even as it was fueled by the unhinged rhetoric of the current American president.
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The actions of these pro-Trump rioters, who obviously need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, resulted in the deaths of four people, including a woman who was shot inside the capitol, and put many other lives at risk.
Wednesday’s incendiary would-be patriots induced a congressional lockdown, fighting with U.S. Capitol Police and forcing them to barricade doors to the House floor and escort America’s elected representatives to secure locations. This was a literal threat to the democratic operations of our country that brought chaos to the halls of Congress (a place that is chaotic enough without violent extremists breaking in through the windows).
Importantly, this attempted insurrection ultimately failed. Members of Congress resumed their constitutional role of counting electoral votes Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, eventually certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory on a bipartisan basis. That quick return to the work at hand offered some hope for calmer, more cooperative leadership moving forward after a disastrous day of homegrown extremism.
Nearly 20 years ago, a different group of extremists from across the globe hijacked airplanes and flew them into buildings at the heart of America’s government and economy, killing nearly 3,000 people. Investigators believe that the U.S. Capitol was also a likely target on Sept. 11, but the brave passengers on United Flight 93 stood up to Islamic terrorism and faught to retake that plane. They may not have known it at the time, but these heroes probably prevented a catastrophic assault on America’s legislative branch. Their stand against extremism cost them their lives.
READ MORE CAPITOL RIOT COVERAGE
On Wednesday, other faces of violent extremism made it all the way to Capitol Hill. These weren’t foreign faces. They were our fellow Americans, incited by our American president, who even though has only days left in office, needs to be removed.
We may live in a divided nation, but let’s all agree that the assault we saw on Wednesday was unacceptable and un-American. Let’s agree that violence has no place in our public discourse, from the left, right or anywhere on the ideological spectrum. And let’s all strive to choose facts over fiction, tolerance over tyranny, and to recommit ourselves to the promise of a more perfect union. It’s a daunting task in the current climate, but we must confront these challenges together.