The day our democracy came under an attack

Cary R. Brick documented peaceful demonstrations in Washington, D.C., in his book ‘People of Peace: Americans Protest the Vietnam War.’ Photo courtesy of Cary R. Brick

I began a three-decade congressional staff career 51 years ago this month. I’ve been retired for two decades and understand all too well today’s Hill staffers work in an environment quite unlike the one I enjoyed. Comity in Washington is a spirit that is in retirement as well.

Jan. 6 was a sad time in American history and will forever be called another day of infamy. Our democracy was under siege just as it was at Pearl Harbor 79 years ago. I was spellbound before my television and computer screens showing chaos in the U.S. Capitol.

I shook my head in horror as domestic terrorists paraded through the place where I worked. They invaded space open only to members of Congress and senior staff. It was frightening to see them rampage and assault our democracy.

I shall never forget seeing police aiming their handguns at the rioters rushing the House chamber at the very doorway where I shook the hand of Lyndon B. Johnson as he exited the chamber after his final State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress. The excitement of that moment at that place still rings in my memory as the first time I shook the hand of a president and the first time I had been at the House chamber!

As time went on, I shook the hands of six more presidents and walked those halls countless numbers of times. Trying to absorb the history of the House chamber where I was offered the privilege of sitting in the chair of the speaker one weekend afternoon many years later, I wondered what my great grandparents — who as teenagers fled the tyranny of the czars of Eastern Europe in the 1800s for the freedoms of America — would think of seeing one of their offspring at that moment in the center of the greatest democracy in the world!

That is an experience I shall never forget. I wonder what the founding fathers would think about the turmoil of recent days if they were offered the same privilege.

I know we would agree the Capitol is not just a building. It is a hallowed symbol of freedom recognized throughout the world.

An attack on it is an attack on democracy itself. It carries a strong message worldwide.

While I was a young father of two young daughters in Washington, I always tried to impress upon them that most American kids would never have the opportunity to do what they did in the 1970s — to see the Capitol up close let alone run around its plaza, pose for pictures on its steps with their puppy or watch a spectacular Fourth of July fireworks celebration on the Mall from a picnic blanket on its lawn. For me, just being under the dome and its Statue of Freedom brought a feeling of awe that has never gone away.

Fast forward to today: So what went through my mind when I saw rioters smash windows, trash offices and parade Confederate flags through it for the first time in U.S. history? I was shellshocked and am still angry.

How could they penetrate the post-9/11 security barriers? How did their insurrection overpower the Capitol Police? Why was one police officer taking selfies with the thugs? How could this happen?

The answer is obvious: The U.S. Capitol Police were unprepared, understaffed and overwhelmed. Somebody, somewhere above their pay grade ignored all the intelligence gathered over the preceding days and weeks signaling that something destructive was on the horizon. And when it was obvious that it was happening, somebody, somewhere did not call for reinforcements until it was too late.

The new Congress and administration will examine the “whats” and “whys” in the months to come. They already know it was an attempted coup by domestic terrorists. Demonstrations in D.C. are nothing new.

In the 1970s, I took my cameras to the mall to capture for posterity images of the emotions of protests of the war in Vietnam. I did the same two decades later at the Million Man March. I photographed them for hours at a time. They were just as angry and committed but they did not set out to storm and ransack the Capitol. They did not threaten our democracy.

Today, the good news is that America survived a four-year narcissistic embarrassment occupying the White House and an attack on its greatest strength, our democracy itself.

We always have and always will survive.

Our democracy is stronger than any single man and terrorists of any stripe. That is the real America.

What we must never forget, though, are the names and excuses of the congressional enablers such as New York’s Elise Stefanik — seditionists, the apologists without backbones who failed to stand up to a president who for four years poisoned the minds of a cult of followers-turned-terrorists.

Cary R. Brick served as executive assistant to U.S. Rep. Robert C. McEwen and congressional chief of staff for U.S. Rep. David O’B. Martin, both of St. Lawrence County, and John McHugh of Jefferson County during a Washington career spanning 30 years.

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(7) comments


I guess that pretty much sums it up this was definitely a distraction from the very severe pandemic raging across the nation. I was half heartedly convinced until today when it started coming out who these people were. There were special forces, ex-police, even ex legislators and men and women who knew how to carry on a raid like this. Thus far no motive has surfaced but the convincing thing to me is there were a lot of professionals in the mob. A raid like this just would not happen with these type people performing it. It went awry for sure but worked as far as convincing America and did distract from media stories of dying covid patients in southern California where doctors are crying for help.


This article raises the question: Since some of the incoming GOP freshmen are out and out conspiracy nuts, what are their staffers like?


Excellent article. I see there are reportedly a large number of senate staffers who are going to resign en masse if their bosses don’t vote for impeachment since, you know, Trump put their lives in danger. The hearings on this are going to be incredible. We may see why Republicans so quickly want to just forget this ever happened when some of them are required to testify. When logs and video from the day before show who was being given “tours” of the Capitol and how that matches up with those charged for crimes.


Please tell us all what Trump said that put us all in danger. Lets hear the text. You Dems are are warped. Harris saying, "they won't quit, they shouldn't quit" or Mad Max saying, "I will take Trump out now!" Give me the language Trump used that was so dangerous! Was it, "go down to the Capitol and peacefully and patriotically protest?" What was it?


Trump has been feeding the grievances of his supporters for four years. Last Wednesday morning he held a rally before the mob took off for the Capitol. He and Mo Brooks and his sons wound the mob up and sent them off to “fight” against any Congresspeople who didn’t help keep the coup attempt alive. Your defense of him is that he riled up this mob, but he never gave them specific orders to kill a police officer or defecate and urinate in the hallways or vandalize the symbol of democracy so it’s okay. If that makes you feel better.

And the barbarians themselves? We’re these just some bad apples? Hillary called some (not all) Trump supporters deplorable. Do you agree in this case? Or is it justified because these poor folks have just been victimized by the left for so long it’s understandable that they’d be angry?


“You have a 55-year-old man, retired from firefighting for 26 years. He’s never been arrested. A family man with three kids, law-abiding guy who barbecues and has a nice smoker. He doesn’t just get up and say, ‘I am going to go and get arrested, I’m going to go to the Capitol,’ ” WP

That guy threw a fire extinguisher and hit a police officer. He’s just a normal guy like anyone you know that a Trump fan. Is he totally to blame or does the guy who assembled the mob bear some responsibility?


[thumbup][thumbup] Powerful conclusions from someone with valuable perspective and experience based on years in public service.

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