Boomer Voices: Has Washington become Baghdad on the Potomac?

How does our country respond to an attack or insurrection in Washington? With fences?? Are we that predictable as a nation? As a Boomer Voice, BoomerCafé’s publisher and co-founder David Henderson says that shouldn’t be an issue, but it is. And the photos he shot recently in the nation’s capital drive the point home.

There is such dark symbolism in the tall fences topped with razor wire that now form a perimeter more than a quarter of a mile out from the United States Capitol. Inside the fences, behind concrete barriers, troops with automatic weapons still walk patrol… National Guardsmen and women from around the country.

The closest you can get to the Capitol building is one-third of a mile. Inside the perimeter are troops, military vehicles, and temporary toilets.

The other day, I looked at the Capitol building from the Washington Mall and thought about my years working there as a young reporter. The Capitol was then and still is a place of reverence, inspiration, and respect. It’s the legislative seat of the government of America.

As I stood there, looking through the fence, a Marine, out for a walk with his wife, stopped nearby. “It reminds me of Baghdad,” he said to me, remembering his deployment to that war zone. Then, he added, “Baghdad on the Potomac.” I nodded.

Is this on the US-Mexican border, or in the nation’s capital?

Sadly, I thought, that Marine is right. Washington has taken on all the look and feel of a war zone. Life and business in the city was disrupted by the pandemic, but this is, too, is serious, and no one seems to know… and maybe no one can even say… when it might return to a semblance of normal.

The fence was built after the violent invasion of the Capitol on January 6th insurrection by a group of armed militants, and hooligans… a mob inspired by President Trump’s lies about the election. He was impeached for giving them the idea of attacking the Capitol building after months of fiery, partisan rhetoric, and then, when he pumped them up at a rally, earlier that day, in person.

When the attacks of 9-11 occurred nearly 20 years ago, I remember that fences, barricades, and walls went up across Washington and forever limited freedom for all of us. Foreign terrorists caused 9-11. Today’s domestic terrorists might be more threatening and dangerous to our democracy. Fences are not the answer.

The only other time the Capitol was attacked… by British troops in 1812… I doubt our forefathers built a fence around the place afterward. No, they were smarter than that. They set about building a nation.

Fences are offensive, manipulative symbols. Like walls, fences are often built to divide us… to create separation and fear. Fear, division, and separation have no place at the citadel of our nation – the United States Capitol – or anywhere in the heart of America’s democracy.

But, fences have gotten to be so predictable, so expected, so troubling by what they signify. Today in Washington, not only is the Capitol surrounded by fencing but the White House as well. So are a park and several city blocks adjacent to the White House.

The fenced perimeter around the White House extends for a half mile. A half mile!

The White House with what’s left of historic Lafayette Square in the foreground, now all fenced off.

Even historic Decatur House, built in 1818 and located two blocks north of the White House, is fenced off. Decatur House was a dusty Naval museum where I have fond memories of exploring as a boy and the place where I got married as a man. Today, it’s behind Secret Service barricades.

Nearby Lafayette Square, a once-pristine seven-acre park that dates to the late 1700s, had beautiful walks lined with flowers and benches beneath a canopy of trees. Today, it’s a sad, fenced-off muddy wasteland, strewn haphazardly with temporary trailers and vehicles… all in the name of defense, I guess. Washington has sadly come to this.

And the world watches.

The barricade around Lafayette Square and the ground strewn with trash.

In my view, such fences are an overreaction, a defensive, fearful knee-jerk to cover up incompetence, excuses, finger-pointing, and lack of intelligent planning. Rather than getting smarter about granting permits, screening large groups more carefully, and having adequate staff on hand— in other words, rather than using principles of intelligent security— fences are put up. Fences like those at the many prisons across America.

Decatur House, built in 1818, as a Federal style house.

Big fences and police armed to the teeth in the heart of our nation’s capital make us look like an authoritarian nation, so not-who-we-are-as-Americans.

The world watches.

Yet, it is predictable behavior that happens in the United States when something shocking and sudden happens. Things are locked down and police take command with fierce firepower. They wheel out the fencing. And, it is always after the fact, after the event. ALWAYS.

Following the 9-11 attacks, authorities even locked down Arlington Cemetery, a favorite place in the Washington area, with its winding roads for bicycling and walking. But, it is still restricted, with guards. Nearly 20 years later, I still don’t understand that.

Arlington National Cemetery.

The world watches…

What kind of America do we want the world to see? A land of fences with high-powered automatic weapons deployed to keep the peace? For what purpose? Again, it only masks incompetence and ineptness and a lack of knowing what else to do by so-called “leaders” inside the buildings surrounded by high fences…

And, the world watches…

All photos ©2021 David Henderson.

14 Comments

  1. What took place on January 6, 2021, in our nations capitol was appalling and scary as to what it was and represented. That the National Guard troops are still present with fences and concertina wire around many areas raises even more questions? The country witnessed protests, demonstrations and riots for almost the entire summer across the country in city after city with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage and people injured and killed and for calls to send in troops that in most cases did not happen. We witnessed a violent “demonstration” across from the White House with over 60 Secret Service members and national police injured. Enough is enough. The first amendment protects our right to protest, but sometimes we forget it specifically states peaceful assembly. There is no right to take violent action. That said, where is the evidence of a continued threat to our capitol to justify maintaining troops and keeping fences and concertina wire up in the peoples capitol? What is actually going on? Thank you David this is important.

    1. Where is the evidence of a continued threat?

      Read today’s Washington Post article about how the Capitol is braced for another potential attack by right-wing domestic terrorists today.
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/capitol-police-march-4-threat/2021/03/03/32a24e86-7c42-11eb-85cd-9b7fa90c8873_story.html/.

      “The U.S. Capitol Police said Wednesday that they have information regarding a possible plot by a militant group to breach the Capitol on Thursday [TODAY], a date that some followers of the QAnon extremist ideology falsely claim will mark former President Donald Trump’s return to the White House.

      “In response, the House canceled a scheduled Thursday session, instead wrapping up planned votes late Wednesday. The Senate, considering President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, planned to remain in session Thursday. Members and staff were encouraged to take precautions such as parking in underground garages.”

      “Melissa Smislova, the acting undersecretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday that her agency, in coordination with the FBI, issued a bulletin very late Tuesday or very early Wednesday about ‘extremists discussing March 4th and March 6th’.”

      “The Homeland Security and FBI bulletin sent late Tuesday warn broadly that “militia violent extremists” pose a threat throughout 2021 and that domestic violent extremists generally have probably been “emboldened” by the events of Jan. 6, according to a person familiar with its contents.”

      “Researchers hold out the possibility that individual attacks or acts of violence could be planned on closed, encrypted channels that are far more difficult to monitor than the open platforms, such as Parler and TheDonald.win, that hosted much of the planning ahead of Jan. 6.”

      “Last week, acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman warned lawmakers that members of extremist groups involved in the Jan. 6 riot “want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible” during Biden’s address.”

      That said, Democratic members of Congress have expressed concern about the fences–but agreed that for the moment, sadly they seem necessary. In my view, we have Trump and his enablers to thank for this. That this twice impeached President is still embraced by segments of the Republican Party, and that Hawley and Cruz are part of the investigation of the Jan 6 events rather than defendants illustrates the problem.

      “…members of Congress reacted negatively to the idea of maintaining expansive physical barriers to the Capitol. Both Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the Jan. 6 riot was largely a failure of intelligence, rather than infrastructure.

      “The idea of just making a permanent fortress or a permanent fence is too much of a knee-jerk solution,” Van Hollen said.

      Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who has been pushing for removal of the fencing around the Capitol, said Wednesday that in light of the new information, the barriers and increased police presence “may have to be there right now. I think they have to respond to the intelligence.” But she said that she was encouraged to see that some fencing had been reduced earlier in the week and that she will continue to advocate to “return the people’s house to the people.”

  2. Eric Mondschein asks “where is the evidence of a continued threat to our capitol to justify maintaining troops and keeping fences and concertina wire up in the peoples capitol? ” The evidence is that Donald Trump is still embraced by the Republican Party. What irony! Washington is turned into a war zone because of the actions of one man and his enablers, and yet the prospect for continued violence and insurrection by Trump and his sycophants has been left totally unchecked.

  3. Fences may make for good neighbors, but not good nations–especially those nations that endeavor to promote themselves as free and open democratic societies. As David says in his piece, “fences are often built to divide us… to create separation and fear.”

    Fences certainly don’t express the common good, unity, stability, peace and prosperity we’d like to project to the rest of the world, especially when our nation’s capital is the backdrop for our unrest.

    I have felt for a number of years that our nation is at a tipping point. Currently, I feel it’s tipping in the wrong direction.

    We need to bring sanity back into our politics, our culture, our government institutions, our policies that have created enormous wealth and income disparities, our racial angst, our financial institutions and, yes, our religious institutions, before it’s too late.

    BTW–Thanks for the great–but disturbing–pix, David. We’ve managed to turn Washington into a veritable fortress.

  4. Excellent article and photographs. Thank you for writing this. I look forward to the day when the barricades and fences we have built, literally and figuratively, come down. That day is coming. Stay safe, healthy, and happy.

  5. Thank you for sending this article with the shocking photos! I am happy that we made our visit to Washington DC before those fences were erected. Your photos give a good impression what it’s looking like now. It’s such a pity and probably it will take a long time until they will be removed.

  6. David,

    FYI–Inspired by your photos and story regarding the literal lockdown of the Capitol, my wife and I drove downtown yesterday afternoon to witness it for ourselves.

    The scene was far more depressing than we had imagined. We drove around the entire fenced perimeter and it was hard to estimate how many miles of fencing and barbed wire has been installed to protect both the Capitol and White House, complete with weapons-toting National Guard personnel placed at strategic internals, A worse thought was how long will they and the fencing remain?

    Our beautiful city looks more like a Third World capital under siege. And all because of what? A relatively small group of conspiracy-theory crackpots who deserve whatever their maskless faces inhale.

    It’s infuriating.

    1. Larry,
      Seeing the fortifications at the Capitol and White House leave me speechless. What signal does it send to the world? Can the U.S. not defend itself… against itself?
      Thanks for commenting.
      David

  7. @Larry: “We need to bring sanity back into our politics, our culture, our government institutions, our…”

    Unfortunately, the word and practical application of “sanity” would be impossible in today’s social climate. There are far too many subjective view points on the net of what constitutes “sanity”.

    I.E.: Where a massive quantity of otherwise intelligent and educated adults who now fully believe the Earth is flat, how can “sanity” possibly and effectively be applied?

    We have reached a point in our Western culture where sanity, fairness, open discussion, broad-minded academia and proven, quantitative demonstrable facts are fully rejected if they don’t meet the criteria of ( and I’ll put this in all caps), “THE NARRATIVE”. And as an aside and qualification of my statement, “The Narrative” has a a real-world, dollar value attached to it, as it is inexorably fixed to advertising dollars.

    Try applying “sanity” in a world like that!

    1. If I may summarize your point, Elliot (and correct me if I’m wrong), sanity is relative to the narrative. And I might add, it’s been that way throughout history.

      The Romans thought it sane to throw those other than themselves to the lions. In America it was thought that the submission of and abject cruelty to Black people was a sane means of reaping profits. And the Third Reich thought it had a handle on sanity by slaughtering millions in defense of its own race and nationalism. And if you didn’t agree, YOU were the heretic, or among the insane.

      I don’t believe that the narrative is only about $$$; I believe it’s fundamentally about identity. And I’m afraid there are many among us who can not separate the narrative from their personal identity–and ultimately from their sanity. Critical thinking has been blown to bits. It’s now a game of follow the leader, no matter how insane he or she may be.

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