Indelible images from a dark day in American history

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2021

All of us will carry in our minds for the rest of our lives images of the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the Capitol. It was that traumatic.

Someone said last week that he found the attack in some ways more painful than the 9-11 attacks. Those, at least, were attributed to foreign enemies of the United States. The Jan. 6 insurrectionists were Americans — our neighbors attacking us. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Most of us will recall the horrific images of that day sadly. Tragically, a few among us will recall them with pride. May God have mercy on those who do.

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Among the scores of video images that we have seen during the past two weeks, several are etched indelibly in my mind. One is of a Capitol police officer being crushed in a doorway, screaming for relief as terrorists chanted slogans around him and continued to push on the doors.

The second is of a yahoo parading through a second-floor room of the Capitol with a Confederate battle flag — the Stars and Bars. As children, teachers tried to convince us Southerners that the battle flag was a symbol of an honorable people fighting an honorable war to protect their “liberty.” As a teenager, I believed that tripe, but fortunately grew out of it in adulthood and came to understand that the Confederate flag was a symbol of a rebellion designed to continue enslaving people and, in the process, destroy the Union that had been forged nearly a century earlier.

To see that flag carried in a victory march through the United States Capitol was a stark and clear reminder that its use today bodes nothing good for this nation. Other photos completed the image of that flag, showing it being carried proudly down Pennsylvania Avenue alongside a Nazi Swastika — two symbols of hatred side by side.

The photo of the terrorist who came into the chamber of the U.S. Senate equipped with zip-tie handcuffs must rank among the more frightening symbols of what these people intended. Two men who were carrying the ties were later arrested and charged with violent entry into the Capitol. One is a Nashville bartender, the other a retired Air Force officer. That makes you proud, doesn’t it? Hopefully, both will have ample opportunity to ruminate on their contributions to sedition while sitting in a federal cell somewhere.

Another image that will remain with me was not even a part of the activities at the Capitol but rather was shot earlier in the day at the Washington Monument. I have always been an admirer of Arnold Friberg’s painting of George Washington praying at Valley Forge. The painting depicts the Father of his Country down on one knee, his blue and scarlet cape dragging in the snow, his loyal horse at his side — Washington alone in prayer at the low point of the Revolution.

There is no historical evidence that such a scene ever occurred, but Friberg had a vivid imagination, and his painting, unveiled in 1975 on the 200th anniversary of the War for Independence, won the hearts of Americans and has become one of the most often reprinted pieces of patriotic art.

But here was another yahoo, dressed as Washington, complete with wig and cape, kneeling at the monument, draped in a Trump flag. He thus managed to defile the memory of a man who truly understood patriotic sacrifice, as well as the flag that Washington did so much to create (not the Trump flag) and the Christian faith, all in one kneeling. Not a bad day’s work for a theatrical, self-styled, make-believe “patriot.”

These and other images need to be remembered, as are the photographs of Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers, for it is one of the darkest days in our history and the images will help us as we commit to ending attacks on our democracy.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is