I had an odd experience once upon a time when I was interviewing for a job.
I had applied for a position writing for a big city newspaper in Texas (name withheld to protect the guilty). When I showed up at the paper’s office building, a security guard in the lobby verified my appointment and issued me a visitor’s pass to the Human Resources department up on the fourth floor.
After the interview, I jumped off the elevator on the second floor to check out the newsroom. I was intercepted by a very polite armed guard who explained that I wasn’t authorized on the second floor and escorted me out of the building.
I didn’t get the job, but I had already decided that I didn’t want to work for a newspaper that needed armed guards to protect its staff from the people they were writing about.
I can’t help but think about that experience nowadays when I see news video of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. surrounded by chain link fences topped with barbed wire and guarded by National Guard troops.
I covered Capitol Hill for Army, Navy and Air Force Times back in the late 1980s. In those days, the biggest hassle involved with that job was parking and finding someone to talk to in the maze of halls and offices associated with the House of Representatives and the Senate.
But now the seat of our government seems to be guarded like Ft. Knox. What’s the purpose of all that security? It’s apparently needed to protect our elected representatives from all of us.
On Jan. 6, Congress got a taste of the same lawlessness that many American cities have dealt with since May of 2020. But was the government really in danger of being overthrown that day? It seem to me that the Capitol Hill rioters were more interested in taking selfies than staging a coup.
In the aftermath of numerous riots nationwide, the majority of Americans have shrugged their shoulders and gotten on with their lives. Congress, on the other hand, seems to have gone completely paranoid.
According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 25,000 National Guard troops were deployed to Washington immediately after the Jan. 6 rioting there. At last count, the number of troops is now down to about 5,000, but their deployment has been extended through mid-May. That translates to about 10 soldiers for each of the 535 members of Congress and will cost taxpayers an estimated $500 million.
But some members of Congress say they even want to be protected from their own colleagues.
After freshmen lawmakers Lauren Boebert, R-CO, and Madison Cawthorn, R-NC, asserted their right to defend themselves with legal firearms, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN, told reporters from the inside-the-Beltway journal Roll Call that “it was tense trying to work in an environment where you’re not sure you’re secure.”
Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, an avowed anti-gun advocate, has demanded that Congress adopt a protocol banning its members from carrying any weapons.
Capitol Hill security concerns are so high that members of Congress now have to pass through metal detectors before entering the House and Senate floors. Evading that precautionary check draws a $5,000 fine and that penalty has already been applied to Reps. Louis Gohmert, R-TX and Andrew Clyde, R-GA.
Rank-and-file members of Congress earn $174,000 a year. The salaries of soldiers and Marines sent to bravely fight and die in the Middle East over the past 20 years have seen considerably less than that.
The United States of America is supposed to be “the home of the brave.” But does that description still apply on Capitol Hill?