Maybe it’s the Kansas in me.
Of all the horrible elements involved in the Capitol insurrection earlier this month, the thing that sticks with me is this:
They were flying the Confederate flag at the United States Capitol.
The mob that broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 broke windows, killed a police officer, smashed up offices, and made off with Nancy Pelosi’s lectern. They smeared their own feces around the building. Seriously. A Capitol Police officer who was born in Manhattan killed himself a few days after being in the middle of that battle, likely an indirect victim himself.
We’ve learned a lot more about what happened that day in more recent news reports. There’s an enormous trail of evidence from photos and videos taken by the criminals themselves; some of the mob evidently never considered the idea that the cops might find them that way. Anyway we now know that the attack was organized and coordinated, and that the insurrectionists had zip ties, bear spray, bats, crowbars and knives. They threw bike racks and fire extinguishers at the cops. Federal prosecutors say they intended to kill somebody.
I’m disgusted at so much of this, it’s hard to know where to start. I’m disgusted that Donald Trump incited this crowd into doing what it did. I’m disgusted that the cops weren’t better-prepared. I’m disgusted that the good name of the Republican Party — the party of Abraham Lincoln — has now been forever smeared with the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, kook fringe. I’m disgusted that members of Congress — I’m thinking of Josh Hawley and Lauren Boebert, the gun-totin’ screamer from western Colorado — seemed to be in league with the insurrection. I’m disgusted that our own Roger Marshall still voted to gum up the works of the election AFTER the mob came within minutes of tying up his colleagues, or worse.
I could go on. But the image that will linger with me, I suppose, is of an insurrectionist striding through the halls of the Capitol with the Confederate battle flag.
This is the symbol of racism, the battle flag of the confederacy that seceded from the Union in order to protect the practice of white citizens owning other human beings as slaves. That symbol, that battle flag, was being flown in 2021 in the very halls of the center of power of the Union that persevered, the Union that bound up its wounds and continues to struggle to live up to its ideals. It’s not a perfect Union, but it really is dedicated to the right values.
America is an idea, not a clan or a tribe. We’re about freedom, plain and simple. We didn’t live up to the promise of that idea, at least not initially, and that’s what the Civil War was about. The right side won that war.
And yet, nearly 150 years later, there was the flag of division, the flag of white supremacy, soiling the halls walked by Lincoln himself. Lincoln and Kennedy and Reagan and Obama. And LBJ and George W. Bush, and Colin Powell and Martin Luther King, and John Lewis and Nancy Kassebaum and Bob Dole. Eisenhower. FDR.
In one image, the man is carrying the Confederate flag right between portraits of Charles Sumner and John Calhoun. Calhoun, a vice president, was a staunch defender of slavery; Sumner, a Reprensentative, was an abolitionist. Surely the goon didn’t understand the symbolism, but it was powerful. Sumner was once beaten after giving a speech in favor of Kansas entering the Union as a free state. In another, the rioter carries the flag in front of a portrait of James Morrill, a Vermont representative who was also a prominent abolitionist. Morrill, in the event you don’t know, is the man for whom the Morrill Act is named. That legislation was responsible for the creation of land-grant colleges; in other words, it’s responsible for Kansas State University.
In Kansas, we had the opportunity to choose. We rejected that flag. We picked freedom. It’s not a crime to fly that flag, nor should it be. It is a crime to break into the Capitol, though, and the man carrying the flag has been arrested. I hope they throw the book at him. I hope that the book they throw at him includes the Gettysburg Address, the Constitution, the Sermon on the Mount, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, Martin Luther King’s speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and, just because I’ve got a rooting interest, a full-page rendering of the mural of John Brown from the Capitol in Topeka. That’s a good start.