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OpinionEditorial

Fear and danger in the Capitol

Hundreds of National Guard troops hold inside the

Hundreds of National Guard troops hold inside the Capitol Visitor's Center to reinforce security at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

An uneasy foreboding hangs over the nation. The violence that wracked the U.S. Capitol last week still lurks.

Law enforcement officials warn of potential clashes involving supporters of President Donald Trump, seething at what they view incorrectly as a stolen election, in the days leading to next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Washington is already locked down, with 6,000 troops in the city and at least 9,000 more on the way.

Capitol Police have briefed lawmakers on several plans, the most alarming of which involves 4,000 armed "patriots" surrounding the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court and blocking Democrats from crossing that perimeter — and possibly killing them — so Republicans can take control of the government. Another plan calls for a Million Militia March on Inauguration Day. The FBI has warned that militia groups and other right-wing extremists are plotting to march on all 50 state capitols this weekend. Wisconsin has boarded up the windows of its capitol. Michigan will protect its building with a fence.

This is madness. And it must stop.

The only person who can end it is the president himself. But the video he released Wednesday evening was too little and maybe too late. He sounded the right notes in forcefully condemning violence and urging an easing of tensions, but those calls came a full week after the Capitol riot and only after strenuous pleas from advisers. He never said the election was legitimate or that Biden is the duly elected president, and he has a history of releasing such videos when he is out of options, only to soon resume his fiery rhetoric. We can only hope it is effective.

Only one day before the impeachment vote, as the House considered a resolution to ask Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment process to remove an unfit president, Trump used television to defend his incendiary words at that pre-attack rally as "perfectly appropriate." His continued refusal to show any contrition, even in that video, is disgraceful. He remains a clear and present danger to the nation.

That’s why the House of Representatives was right to impeach Trump. Yes, his term ends next Wednesday just before noon and most likely he will leave office before the Senate can conclude a trial because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is declining to call the body back into session. But the Senate’s refusal to act promptly does not mean the House shouldn’t have done its duty. And it certainly does not mean that Trump should not be held accountable for his role in fomenting the Capitol attack. That is a point of bipartisan agreement.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who voted against impeachment, nevertheless said Trump "bears responsibility" for the violence. Ten GOP members did vote for impeachment, including the chamber’s No. 3 Republican, Liz Cheney, who said of Trump’s actions, "There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution." Other Republicans reportedly said they would not vote for impeachment because they feared the wrath of Trump and his followers. Longtime GOP donors and once-staunch Trump supporters say they feel betrayed by the president.

Some Republicans argued that impeachment will not help heal the country. Many of these same people voted to reject Biden’s win, widening divides. Their words ring hollow. The country will never be healed without acknowledging the president’s role in tearing it apart.

Trump’s behavior in inciting the mob was no aberration. Worries abounded for years that the extremism at the core of his appeal coupled with his support for violence by his supporters — sometimes tacit, sometimes overt — would lead to some explosion of brutality.

What happened in Washington was more frightening than anyone could have imagined. White supremacism, racism and anti-Semitism were on display on flags and shirts and heard in shouted words. These grotesque feelings, amplified during Trump’s tenure, are at the root of the mob’s grievances, and continue to be aired on social media. Their hate is terrifying. Yet Trump continues to send them signals with his defiant abdication of responsibility and continued false claims of election fraud.

And now hundreds of people — some of whom used pipe bombs and tear gas and some who had Molotov cocktails, zip ties and maps of the Capitol’s underground tunnels — have been charged or are being sought in connection with the assault on the Capitol.

And now the tension and uncertainty have led the Joint Chiefs of Staff to affirm this week that Biden is the legitimate president and to remind all service members of their duty to defend the nation and the Constitution and to refrain from extremism.

And now the Capitol, the symbol of our democracy, is an armed fortress protected by 2,000 troops and razor wire strung along the top of metal fences. It’s all unspeakably sad, and alarming.

Nations on occasion are tested in extreme ways, and asked to respond with a collective will to do what is right. This is one of those times. Holding the president accountable for what he has done is the first step in that test.

— The editorial board

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