I first visited Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1975 when my family traveled from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. It was on that trip that I made my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery and saw the graves of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert. We also visited a horse ranch in Virginia where Black Jack spent his final years. Black Jack was the riderless horse at President Kennedy’s funeral, symbolizing a fallen leader. We also drove past the White House and went to Ford’s Theater where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
What stands out most from my first visit to the District 46 years ago is not seeing the Kennedy graves, petting Black Jack or seeing the White House. Rather, it was touring the U.S. Capitol. At age 12, I was instantly mesmerized. I decided then that one day, I not only wanted to live in the nation’s capital but wanted to work on Capitol Hill. I was blessed to work for three members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Congressmen Louis B. Stokes, William H. Gray III Charles B. Rangel.
Whether I was walking through the Rayburn, Longworth or Cannon House Office Buildings, or attending a meeting in the Capitol, every day elicited the same kind of excitement I experienced on that initial visit with my family. Attending Hill meetings still excites me. You see, Capitol Hill in general, and the U.S. Capitol in particular, have always been “sacred grounds.”
Until the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, I assumed that all Americans viewed the Capitol as “sacred grounds.” I believed that this was the case despite our pollical differences. I was wrong. On that day, I watched the events unfolding on live television not only in disbelief but in utter disgust and pain.
The definition of an insurrection is “a violent uprising against an authority or government.” Similarly, an insurrectionist is defined as on who facilitates “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” Make no mistake: Ashli Babbitt and the hundreds who illegally stormed the Capitol that afternoon were insurrectionists participating in an insurrection against the U.S. government.
Aside from Ms. Babbitt, who was killed by law enforcement that day, all of the insurrectionists who entered the Capitol should be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Such accountability should be extended to former President Donald Trump and other administration officials as well as members of Congress and congressional staffers.
More than 570 insurrectionists have been arrested, over 200 indicted and six sentenced in what prosecutors have called “the most complex investigation ever conducted by the Department of Justice.”
Thankfully, steps are currently underway to not only hold them accountable but to also examine and expose all who played a role in carrying out the events leading up to and on that fateful day.
Under the able leadership of Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chairman of the bipartisan House Select Committee on the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, I am confident that many, if not all, of our questions will be answered. Efforts to have this investigation carried out by an independent commission of national security experts were repeatedly thwarted by the House Republican Leadership and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In July, I listened in anguish as four police officers testified before the committee about the physical and verbal assaults they faced. One testified, “For most people, January 6th happened for a few hours. But for those of us in the thick of it, it has not ended.”
Recently, Lt. Michael Byrd identified himself as the officer who shot and killed Babbitt. Although an unfortunate incident, I was proud to hear him say that he did so only as a last resort to defend members of Congress, regardless of their party affiliation. He also said he would have done the same had President Trump come under assault while at the Capitol.
Like me, Lt. Byrd views the Capitol as “sacred grounds” – the Citadel of Democracy. This was not the case for those who stormed the building to overturn the will of the American people as expressed during the last presidential election. The work of Chairman Thompson’s committee is a necessary first step towards making our democracy whole again. The American people deserve answers.
And the excitement and reverence of the Capitol that a 12-year-old me from Cleveland felt must remain intact for future generations.
Cooper is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.