National Post (Latest Edition)

Armed soldiers wander halls of U.S. democracy


- Ben Riley-smith

At first glance, the members of the National Guard posted in the Capitol building Wednesday were the picture of nonchalanc­e. Some had their eyes closed, grabbing rest while they could. Others scrolled on their phones. But their nonchalanc­e stood in stark contrast to the significan­ce of their presence, dressed in camouflage with guns propped against walls.

Above one handful of soldiers sat the gleaming bust of Abraham Lincoln.

A plaque nearby commemorat­ed the troops who quartered themselves in that very building 160 years earlier, a reminder of how fragile the union once was. Others gathered below a statue of George Washington, the country’s first president, who, by giving up the role willingly, set in train the peaceful transfer of power on which the u.s. political system depends.

A week earlier, that statue had been topped with a red cap bearing a single name in capitals, TRUMP, by the mob that had caused mayhem in the building, now ringed by the military.

In the ornate Capitol rotunda, 20 soldiers slumped on the cushioned benches normally used by tourists to take in the vast oil paintings depicting scenes from American history, or were relaxing on the polished marble floor.

The Capitol, the heart of American democracy, looked like occupied territory. historians struggled to think of a time when so many of the National Guard had been stationed there. yet the deployment was entirely understand­able.

One reason was that another moment for the history books was happening Wednesday.

Just 13 months after his first impeachmen­t, donald Trump was set to become the only u.s. president ever impeached twice, an indelible black mark placed next to his name just a week before he leaves office.

Another reason is that any illusion of the inherent security of the Capitol, on a hill overlookin­g the long sweep of the National Mall, disappeare­d last week in the violent clashes played out in Trump’s name.

hints of the destructio­n were still to be found inside the Capitol Wednesday. Windows boarded up with wood. Marks on the walls where scuffles had taken place.

The most obvious reminder could be seen before you even reached the site. The imposing seven-foot black chain fence around the Capitol installed just after the riot had been expanded to include the whole centre of Capitol hill, including the Supreme Court.

huddles of National Guard members were found there, too, groups of half a dozen manning the perimeter with face masks on and guns in hand.

It emerged Wednesday that as many as 20,000 troops from the National Guard could be stationed in Washington for the presidenti­al inaugurati­on of Joe Biden on Jan. 20. That is four times as many u.s. soldiers as are stationed in Afghanista­n and Iraq combined. Political commentato­rs said that was a bigger security footprint in d.c. than in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which had launched those wars.

The National Guard protecting the Capitol reportedly have been given permission to carry lethal weapons. yet the threat they face, unlike 9/11, comes not from outside the country but within, from extremists riled up by the president himself. To even get to the house of representa­tives, where the impeachmen­t vote was to be held, congressme­n, aides and journalist­s had to go to a few select entrances to penetrate the defences.

Inside the Capitol, the troops appeared relaxed. Some were in the cafeteria, pouring black coffees and sharing jokes.

Others wandered round National Statuary hall, one of the best-known parts of the building, a circular room housing statues of prominent Americans.

Many troops were young, perhaps in their early 20s, sent in from states right across the country.

For those hoping to enter the house chamber there was another step: going through newly installed metal detectors. house members were reminded in a memo on Tuesday night that any guns they had should be left in their congressio­nal offices

When proceeding­s finally began a few seconds after 9 a.m., a prayer was said. Twenty house members, socially distanced and wearing masks, stood with heads bowed and hands crossed.

Margaret Grun Kibben, the house chaplain, asked God for guidance over “today’s momentous decisions.”

She said: “While yet unsettled by the events of this past week, we find ourselves seizing the scales of justice from the jaws of mobocracy.”

“Almighty God, wield your sword, and penetrate the confusion and discontent of our country.”

In the silence that followed, a congressma­n in a blue suit made the sign of the cross.

 ?? STEFANI reynolds / GETTY IMAGES ?? Members of the National Guard with rifles rest in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as security has been increased
throughout Washington leading up to the presidenti­al inaugurati­on nest week.
STEFANI reynolds / GETTY IMAGES Members of the National Guard with rifles rest in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as security has been increased throughout Washington leading up to the presidenti­al inaugurati­on nest week.

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