My wife and I left the National Capital Region of Washington, DC, in 2004, after 23 years of working in and out of the region for 23 years, in large part because the city had become an armed camp after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
After more than two years of driving by armored personnel carriers with machine guns manned by military personnel on the road by the Pentagon and a portable missile battery on the National Mall, we decided to bag the town that had been our home for more than two decades.
Today, as we watch the videos of armed troops behind a razor-topped fence that now surrounds the Capitol, we realize our move was timely. DC just wasn’t the city we used to know.
On Thursday, those soldiers were on high alert because of a perceived threat that surfaced on social media and the dark web, saying those who still think Donald Trump actually won the election where voters sent him backing and were set to try and return him to office on Mar. 4th.
Like Trump’s claims that he won the election last November, the threat was a mirage.
The angst stemmed from another misguided belief within QAnon, the extremist ideology that claims Trump has been working in secret to overthrow a cabal of blood-drinking, Satan-worshiping Democratic pedophiles. After repeated unfulfilled prophecies, the group’s supporters declared in recent weeks that Trump would retake office on March 4, the country’s original Inauguration Day.
That, of course, did not happen, but on Wednesday, the U.S. Capitol Police announced it had identified a potential plot by a militant group to breach the Capitol, as hundreds of insurrectionists did on Jan. 6. The threat apparently was credible enough for the House to suspend a Thursday session, though the Senate still convened. And it came just before the Capitol Police sought to extend the Guard’s mission by two more months.
“It doesn’t make sense anymore. I think people are overreacting,” John Kabre, an event coordinator who works at 101 Constitution Ave., told the Post.
Samantha Broaddus, came to the Capitol Hill area Thursday for a dentist appoint and said she felt like it had become a fortress.
“It’s more sad than nerve-racking,” she told the newspaper while walking on Second Avenue, NW, with her daughter. “DC used to feel so accessible to everyone. Now it’s starting to feel like another country.”
When I arrived in Washington in 1981 to become an assistant to Cong. Paul Findley (R-IL), I walked unimpeded into the Rayburn House Office Building to began my day, nodding to the Capitol Police Officer at the desk in the lobby. No metal detectors back then, no searches of briefcases.
The ID issued by the House Sgt. of Arms was carried in my wallet and did not hang around my neck.
If I took the subway in from our condo in Arlington, VA, I walked into the basement entrance to the Canon House Office Building, often stopping for a cup of coffee before traversing the underground tunnel that led to Rayburn. If I drove, an officer waved when I drove into the building’s parking garage and caught an elevator up to my office.
A bomb that exploded outside one of the party cloakrooms of the Capitol a couple of years later brought tougher security that increased each year. By the time, I left Capitol Hill to take a position with the National Association of Realtors as Vice President for Political Programs in 1987, we had to pass through metal detectors, wear ID badges around our necks and were subject to searches.
I had left political work and was back working as a photojournalist when 9/11 hit and spent most of that horrible say photographing the destruction at the Pentagon after one of the hijacked commercial jets crashed into the massive building. Larry Dowling, a Reuters photographer and friend, commented that “our way of life in this country is forever changed.”
Yes, it had. When I arrived home in the wee hours of the long day of photographing the terror, I found a card from a Criminal Investigative Service agent from the Navy Yard, asking me to call him.
He was following up on a report that my Wrangler, with the top down, was spotted on the street by the Navy Yard while I photographed Marines standing post at the locked down facility.
I had an alibi since one of those photos was in the Post that morning. I had noticed the lockdown while waiting for a stoplight to change as I headed for the Pentagon after a note on my Blackberry said: “Explosion! Pentagon!”
In 2003, after returning home from an assignment in Afghanistan, I was offered an embed with the troops headed for Baghdad, but my wife asked me, for the first time in our marriage, not to take an assignment.
“I had a bad feeling about you going over there,” she said. Such feelings, I had learned over our years together, were often valid, so I turned this one down, and we began talking about maybe it was time to leave.
Columnist and friend Michael Kelly died in Iraq in a crash involving a Humvee. Another friend, David Gregory of NBC, got up one morning and collapsed while walking a short distance where he was encamped with a soldier over there. A blood clot had formed in his leg while had crouched in a vehicle for several days and had traveled to his brain. He died from a pulmonary embolism at age 39.
They were just two of too many journalists to die in that questionable military action. It was time, we decided, to leave Washington.
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