There weren’t any subtle warning signs for the political violence that erupted on Jan. 6.
There were blaring sirens, flashing red flags and alarms in every direction. President Donald Trump’s loyalists had been openly planning an insurrection on the internet.
For months, an older, white male Trump supporter had warned me about impending violence. He’s been writing to me regularly for several years, but after the last election, his predictions had become more dire and frequent.
“In my opinion this action, along with President-elect Biden’s other promises to overturn the Constitution, can only lead to violence and even civil war,” he wrote on Dec. 23. (Biden has never said he would “overturn the Constitution.”)
Earlier, this reader had written to say he was “getting the impression that people are moving from complaining to preparing.” His previous emails had similar warnings: “I sense gunsmoke and violence and blood in the future ... I am horribly afraid that the troubles will make the Watts riots look like a love-in.”
So as horrifying as the events of Jan. 6 were, there was no secret or surprise about what was coming. The Washington Post reported that an FBI office in Virginia had issued an explicit warning the day before the insurrection that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and wage “war.”
Trump, who helped to incite the attack on our Capitol that led to five deaths, had been promoting a protest based on lies of election fraud for days on Twitter. He reiterated his love for his supporters soon after they breached the Capitol, beat a police officer, broke windows, stole items, smeared feces on floors and walls and waved a Confederate flag in the nation’s halls of power.
Everyone knew -- including those lawmakers who fueled the fires of false grievance -- but no one took the threats seriously.
I had feared this scenario.
My parents emigrated from a country that has had four coups, and several attempted coups, in its short history. We never talk about the political instability they left.
Last week, I talked to my children about this attempted coup in America. They watched as the peaceful transfer of power was shut down. And hours later, six Republican senators and more than 100 House members sided with the man who sent armed rioters storming into the Capitol. Seditionists in Congress continued their attempts to delay and cast doubt on a fair and lawful election, which had been deemed so by dozens of courts and judges Trump himself appointed.
As the events unfolded, I received a text from a friend asking if I thought it was safe to go for a hike in a park. (We live in Missouri, far from the chaos in D.C.) Others asked what kind of accountability there would be for those brazenly desecrating democracy. I heard from several immigrants and children of immigrants who thought they had left scenes like this behind.
Adults may have been stunned, but our kids weren’t really fazed.
This is the generation that has come of age in a time of protests, state violence and political chaos. They are living through an information war that recruits their peers. They’ve seen schools turned into killing fields. The online spaces where they socialize are peppered with insults and dehumanizing remarks.
As the shock of what happened on Jan. 6 wears down, perhaps we will take more seriously the threats of violence that lie ahead. Posts are again circulating on social media, calling for armed marches on Capitol Hill, and on statehouses, before and on Inauguration Day.
Just a week after November’s election, the reader who emails me about civil war accused my newspaper of following the methodology of Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda of Nazi Germany, adding that the abuse inflicted by my colleagues was “beyond the pall” (sic).
“As with Herr Goebbels, eventually justice will strike back,” he wrote to me.
What does “justice” look like to the devoted followers of a corrupt and malicious leader?
We saw signs of it during the insurrection. One of the rioters scrawled a message on a door in the Capitol.
“MURDER THE MEDIA,” it said.