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2021: An Inauspicious Beginning, An Unfathomable Ending


My father used to say,

“It can’t get any worse.”

It’s gotten worse, and by quite a bit. Most state capitol buildings are grand structures, deliberately so, with soaring domes, stained glass, and artwork and sculpture. New York’s is something of an outlier; the dome was never completed. The Capitol’s massive weight was causing stress fractures and the building was shifting downhill; in such a scenario, adding more weight was untenable.

Some years ago, when our son was in Boy Scouts, I joined as a parent volunteer when the troop visited Pennsylvania’s state Capitol in Harrisburg. It was one of those field trips tied to a Citizenship in the Nation merit badge. It was built at a high point for Pennsylvania industry, including iron, coal, textiles, and other manufacturing. Looking at the statuary, the art, the huge dome, it was clear that Pennsylvania intended to send a message. It might have even had a bit of an inferiority complex.

According to the official Pennsylvania Capitol website, “When President Theodore Roosevelt attended the dedication of the building on October 4, 1906, he said, ‘This is the handsomest building I ever saw’ ” The Capitol was designed in the American Renaissance style by Philadelphia architect Joseph Huston (1866-1940), who envisioned the building as a ‘Palace of Art.’

Below, scenes from the Pennsylvania Capitol. Photos / Douglas and Sheila Cunningham

Below, scenes from the Pennsylvania Capitol. Photos / Douglas and Sheila Cunningham

“Built and furnished at a cost of $13 million, the Capitol features paintings, stained glass and furnishings by some of the best artisans of the day. The building incorporates various Renaissance designs in some of its largest rooms: Italian in the House Chamber, French in the Senate Chamber, and English in the Governor’s Reception Room. It also reflects Greek, Roman, and Victorian influences in its art and ornamentation.”

And: “The Capitol’s centerpiece is a spectacular 272- foot, 52 million-pound dome inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Following its completion, the building was the tallest structure between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for 80 years.”


I can tell you, from that visit and others since, it’s a grand structure. If you’re into that kind of history or architecture, it’s worth a stop if you are in Harrisburg.

Flash to now: So, when word came on Wednesday that the United States Capitol was under siege, that it had been breached by insurrectionists who were vandalizing and damaging the building, carting off lecterns and other souvenirs, spreading feces, and ransacking offices, I thought, How could you possibly be in one of our Capitols, let alone our nation’s Capitol, and think that breaking through doors and ransacking offices and terrorizing the staff was the right and just course of action? What could possibly prompt one to think it’s OK to damage such a venerated space? And yes, on a day when the votes of the Electoral College were being counted and certified by Congress. Five people have now died in the melee, including a Capitol police officer, murdered with a fire extinguisher. He was a police officer who went to work that day planning to come home for supper at night.


It’s gotten worse, a lot worse, and by orders of magnitude my father could only have imagined. Part


One of the things that a member of Congress does, that his or her staff does, is something called casework or constituent services. It’s stuff like helping a veteran navigate available benefits or get medical care. Maybe recover a long-ago medal from World War II that should have been awarded, but never was. Stuff like helping seniors penetrate the Social Security bureaucracy and receive the proper benefits. Those papers on the floor in some of these offices, strewn about and stepped on and now in a ramshackle order after the invasion of the mob? That was important material to someone’s uncle or aunt or grandfather. It’s not just some “deep-state” conspiracy file. It’s actual stuff that affects constituents and the workings of our government.

But that would be a fine point to the hooligans who overran the Capitol, some with GoPro cameras. To record their criminality, like it’s a ski run or bicycle trip. A lark, when you get down to it. I’m at a loss. Part


One of the photographs from the day that I found especially chilling was of a gallows and a noose, constructed on the Capitol grounds by the mob. And some of the participants inside carried the plastic flexicuffs, the handcuffs now often used by police. And some of the ransackers and insurrectionists were asking where Vice President Mike Pence was, and where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was. These comments weren’t apocryphal or fake news; accredited members of the media heard them first-hand. You can hear them yourself in some of the videos from the day if you don’t believe me.

I think that these insurrectionists actually intended to have trials, trials that would end with hanging people like Pelosi and Pence.

Why? There’s a book that’s getting new attention after this insurrection, “The Turner Diaries.” It was published in 1978, and written by William Luther Pierce, under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald. I’d first heard of it in the mid to late 1980s, when covering the farm crisis in the Midwest. White supremacists operating as they do, hand in hand with the far right, the entire fringe saw the farm crisis as a prime recruiting opportunity.

The premise of the book is racist and anti-Semitic, and purports to recount a race war and revolution in the United States and ultimately the world. It’s a vile book. One of the key sections is the “Day of the Rope,” in which journalists, professors, clergy, judges, and other supposed traitors to the white race are dragged from their homes and hung, with the executions filmed.

So when the insurrectionists on Wednesday said of Pence or Pelosi to “give them the rope,” that wasn’t just an off-hand comment. That was a term of art for these people, the invaders who thought they had a free hand to remake our democracy. That noose wasn’t intended just for the cameras.

The Turner Diaries provided many of the inspirational elements for the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. And now, it’s surfaced again.

Or maybe, it never really went away. You don’t just show up at the Capitol with plywood, rope, and 4×4 timbers by accident, do you? And flexi-cuffs to control prisoners?

No, probably not. Part


I fear now that we will find a number of things as the post-mortem examinations continue.

We will find that this was planned for some weeks, at least, and in considerable detail. Down to the invasion of the Capitol and the search for some of our top leaders, like Pence and Pelosi. And this planning was not “secret.” It was done online, on Facebook, and Twitter, and Parler.

We will find that while dozens of individual police officers exhibited incredible bravery, the security failures are huge.

We will find that other countries sought to aid the insurrectionists or take other advantage of our government and democracy while this was going on, on Wednesday afternoon.

And we will find that the marauders came much closer than we now realize to endangering, seriously endangering, members of Congress and Senators. I’m talking about moments of time.

This isn’t about freedom of speech, or protest, or even counting legal ballots. This is about seeking to destroy our democracy. I hope that every single one of these traitors is hunted down by the FBI and charged. Every. Single. One.

Until next week.

Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Putnam County Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach him at 845-265-2468 (usually in the office at least part of Saturday and Sunday) or by email at

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