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Opinion: After Jan. 6, what's next for our democracy?

People gather in a park outside of the U.S. Capitol to watch the Jan. 6 House committee investigation in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2022, as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol holds the first in a series of hearings laying out its findings.
Jose Luis Magana
/
AP
People gather in a park outside of the U.S. Capitol to watch the Jan. 6 House committee investigation in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2022, as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol holds the first in a series of hearings laying out its findings.

I have covered wars, and quite a few murders and other crimes, and, for that matter, civil wars overseas and unrest at home. On January 6, 2021 I watched the coverage of a mob overtaking the U.S. Capitol, and have closely covered the aftermath — the impeachment hearings, investigations, accusations and deflections.

Still, on Thursday night, my family and I saw the videos and heard the recollection of witnesses before the select congressional committee investigating the insurrection, and were once more shaken and teary.

To see again American flags — the banner that battle-stained U.S. Marines raised over Iwo Jima; and that New York City firefighters raised over the ruins at Ground Zero — used as weapons against police officers; then to hear people who call themselves patriots — Proud Boys and Oathkeepers — chant for the Vice President to be hanged for fulfilling his elected responsibility — is staggering, shocking and chilling.

The halls of Congress have been the workplace of proud public servants who earned legacies there, like Abraham Lincoln, Barbara Jordan, Margaret Chase Smith and John Lewis. And many thousands of congressional aides, journalists, janitorial staff and food service workers who show up every day to quietly do the nation's work.

Security camera video from January 6th shows chanting, jeering, terrorizing crowds who swarmed over the U. S. Capitol like a marauding army, breaking windows and battering the officers who were there to protect the business of democracy.

This week we heard Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer, recall that day of an American nightmare.

"I was slipping in people's blood," she said. "I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos..."

The hearings will continue over the summer. It is hard to say now how many people will watch them, or if the committee's work will lead to further criminal prosecutions. More than 800 people have been charged so far.

But it was hard not to wonder this week if what we saw on Jan. 6, 2021, was a spark of insurrection that will be snuffed out by law and democracy — or will it continue to smolder, and ignite once more? Will some Americans begin to regard free elections as ceremonies to be sidestepped by whoever can bring the biggest, angriest mob to the U.S. Capitol? Can Americans follow the hearings this summer and say, "Glad that's over," or must we wonder: what's next?

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