These Epiphany visitors did not come bearing gifts

December 7, 1941
September 11, 2001
January 6, 2021

Just when we were finally “looking in 2020 hindsight,” a day of one of the most horrifying visions in recent history garnered our attention. Coupled with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the dual attack on the World Trade Center and US Pentagon, the siege of the US Capitol by domestic terrorists represents one of the most shocking days in our history.

I visited the Capitol for the first time in 1981, joined by several dozen juniors and seniors and chaperones from my high school. The memory of the photograph of our group, with our local Congressman Tom Petri, on the steps of the Capitol that spring day is ingrained in my mind. Since 1981, I visited the Capitol several times a year in the early 2000s, participating in lobby days for the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering and Ecumenical Advocacy Days. From 2011-2015, while living in Washington, D.C., I strolled the halls of the Capitol and legislative office buildings more frequently, lobbying on behalf of any number of faith based organizations. And I biked around the Capitol to and fro work, walked around it while returning home from baseball games, and spent other afternoons in peaceful demonstrations around the Capitol and White House.

Never did I imagine a takeover of the Capitol by domestic terrorists.

I did a quick survey of national Catholic leaders’ responses to the siege. Franciscan Action Network Executive Director, Stephen Schneck’s response was particularly balanced:

Today was one of the most shameful days that I can remember in the history of  our country.  What we have witnessed is an insurrection against the laws, the Constitution, and the democracy that is the United States. With all faithful Americans, I also call on President Trump to cease abetting such behavior, and to respect our laws and Constitution, to accept the peaceful transition of power, and to support the norms and processes of our sacred democracy.

Was the day a culmination of four years of bubbling hatred and division in our country?  What can we learn as a result of yesterday’s activities?  What were the common denominators of the insurgents? What drove the men and women to such spite? 

Language does matter; the thousands of insurgents would not have invaded the Capitol if they had not been inspired by weeks of post election dog whistling by the President of the United States.  Less than hours before the invasion, President Trump appeared before them and delivered his marching orders for them to move from the White House to the Capitol.  It is obvious that Facebook and Twitter realized that language does matter; both companies banned President Trump from using their platforms this week after the siege.

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who walked into a very tense capital city less than 16 months ago after being transferred by Pope Francis from Atlanta, remarked, “…We are called to be a people of democratic values that respect the opinions of others, even when we disagree with them. As people of faith seeking to bring our Lord into this world by how we live, we must acknowledge the human dignity of those with whom we disagree and seek to work with them to ensure the common good for all.”



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