OPINION: Fear and Loathing in Walter Reed

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Photo by Rowan Williams.

The Washington D.C. capitol riot on Jan. 6 was a national tragedy for most, a day of divine retribution for some, and an absolute win for the internet trolls who want to watch the world burn. As a journalist, for me, it was amazing. I got a surplus of interviews, footage and pictures. I could impress my peers in a way I could only dream of before, because I was there.

And I wonder if God knew how I felt. On Jan. 7, my father suffered a heart attack after receiving a COVID-19 test.

He only got tested because he accompanied me to the protests. While I saw opportunity and a chance to prove myself as a journalist, he witnessed hatred and fear. I contemplated if he felt like that in Afghanistan. 

I wasn’t convinced Trump supporters were all that bad. Lied to? Sure, but domestic terrorists? White supremacists? Some, maybe. The media tries to divide us. Sell us. Just like how so many in this country hated Black Lives Matter without attending a single protest, how could I judge if I’d never been to a Trump rally?

What I saw there was something else entirely. They came from every corner of the country, from around the world. It was a motley crew. Some appeared better dressed for a Ted Nugent rock-a-thon than a protest. Others came with their whole families wearing their Sunday finest. There were Black men and women wearing MAGA hats next to neo confederate paramilitary men. There were a surprising amount of south Asians, mostly Anti-communist Chinese, and southern Vietnamese who left their country as refugees. They see Trump as a key ally in their struggle.

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There were fire and brimstone preachers rocking “Homosexuality is a Sin!” shirts alongside LGBTQ+ people rocking pride flags. These symbols of pride were few and far between the myriad of American, confederate, Christian and Trump 2020 flags. Other than flag waving, the only thing that united these people is their shared love of Trump.

Photo by Rowan Williams

While many of the people I talked to were pleasant, I was accosted by a Benedictine monk who demanded I take my mask off, shouting about the end times and how COVID-19 was fake. My favorite interview was with a woman from northern California who stopped at the same hotel my dad had to find a restroom in. She was waiting outside sipping hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. She told me Vice President Kamila Harris wanted to abort babies up to an hour after they were born. We then proceeded to have a lovely conversation. 

What struck me about every single person I interviewed was they believed they were not violent themselves, that no violence was to break out that day due to being the party of law and order. But the day of reckoning, of civil war and revolution, was to come.

Conversely, my father  believed in something similar. Time and time again, he told me, as a Jew, he would not live to see it happen here. Never again. He’s a fighter; he has bodies on him. It’s a burden that I couldn’t even imagine.

The dad I knew my whole life was nowhere close to the man I saw on Jan. 7. The man standing in front of me was pale, delirious, slow. He was fragile in a way I’ve only seen a few times before in my life. This time I didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again. 

I never truly believed that something like the Holocaust could happen here until I saw what happed on the Jan. 6. While the main march was on the Capitol mall, there were several smaller rallies on the streets adjacent. There were preachers and internet pundits on megaphones, parked mega RV’s blasting trump speeches, and a group of young men with tight haircuts waving “America First’’ flags. They were shouting something I could not understand at first, but later didn’t want to believe. Plain as day, they were chanting genocide. My father looked at me with a face I will never forget.

Now inside Walter Reed, the same military hospital where president Trump received COVID-19 relief, I couldn’t help but break down outside by the vending machine. The hours were late, the halls were empty and in the twilight specters began to appear. I had never felt so alone. So worried about my dad, my country, my people, because there are those who I see now, who would wipe us out. People who until now I was unprepared to kill. People I might not know but human beings I love all the same.

When I was at the riot, whenever people told me they think the war is inevitable, I asked them if they were prepared to kill their friends and family, soldiers and cops, the very people they champion. I was met with non-answers and diversions. But for men like my father, there is nothing they wouldn’t do for the people they love.

I’m writing this on Holocaust Memorial Day. An event none other than those who experienced it could accurately imagine. In the United States, a country where everything is handed to them, people don’t understand what it is to have the will to live. When life comes at the cost of pimping out your daughters for security from the guards, when the cost of breath is stealing bread from your sickly father, when the kingdom of night and fire reigns supreme, life and death hold no meaning. To men like my father, never again means just that. Not because it couldn’t happen, but because he refuses to live through it. He would rather die in the trenches. More importantly, he’d take out as many Nazis as he could before he did.

Strange, terrifying and miraculous things occur in those early morning hours when drugs, alcohol and meaningless conversations aren’t provided as I had been accustomed to in college. My father was released around 3 a.m., waking my mother up as I was resting on her shoulder. They told us they couldn’t identify the problem. While it wasn’t COVID-19 related, the best cause they could come up with was stress.

As we left the hospital, a herd of deer greeted us. While they are native to the wooded areas of Maryland, and live around the country, I had never seen them so up close. As they approached my hand, I could not help but wonder: how did they get into a supposedly secure area?

For more exclusive coverage of the Jan. 6 riots, check out Bear News.

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