The sight of a Capitol coup may have been new, but the smell of democracy’s decline certainly wan’t.
Last week’s harrowing episode reeked of the odor that arises whenever bad actors have been exposed in politics or law enforcement.
Ignore the stench of institutional rot! defenders of crooked cops and corrupt politicians have always told the public. Institutions shouldn’t be judged by a “few bad apples!”
Until they turn into terrorists, I guess. And even then …
In many accounts of the Capitol siege, the small army of fanatical followers of a wanna-be tyrant were often described as invaders. Except that implies that the threat was only coming from the outside.
In fact, it was already inside, wearing law enforcement uniforms as they pushed gates aside for their co-conspirators, waving them through, posing for selfies and providing them with directions to lawmakers’ offices as if directing a middle-school field trip.
(A video has surfaced showing that weeks before the Capitol siege, a Republican lawmaker let in right-wing rioters who stormed the Oregon Capitol.)
The investigations are still ongoing — even as lawmakers brace for assassination attempts — but already several U.S. Capitol Police officers have been suspended. Five people are dead, including a Capitol police officer after he was overpowered and beaten by rioters.
At least one Secret Service officer is under investigation after posting comments on Facebook expressing support for rioters and accusing lawmakers who formalized Biden’s win of treason.
In Philadelphia, as my colleagues have reported, a police detective — and an apparent QAnon enthusiast judging by her Facebook profile — has been temporarily reassigned after a tip that she attended the rally in Washington.
Jennifer Gugger, who worked for a unit that performs background checks of potential recruits, also took to Twitter to call Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor and a cabal operative” after he condemned the violence and mourned an officer’s death.
On Monday, FOP President John McNesby defended Gugger, saying she had attended the rally on her day off and “exercised her First Amendment rights to attend an event.” (Meanwhile, Philadelphia Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Outlaw assured the public of a full and thorough investigation, a hard assurance to swallow given the weak accounting of the epic mishandling of the racial protests this summer.)
“We strongly condemn the violence and loss of life at the Capitol and hope those responsible will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” McNesby said.
Let me help: A treasonous president tops the list of those responsible. But so do lawmakers and law enforcement officers who have spread the disinformation that has chipped away at public trust for years.
Long before a Philadelphia detective decided to take a day off to watch democracy nearly crumble, the Plain View Project database laid bare offensive and threatening pubic Facebook posts and comments by police officers from several jurisdictions across the United States, including Philadelphia.
After an investigation in 2019, the Philly police department fired 15 officers and suspended seven for 30 days. Another 150 or so were given “command-level discipline,” which sounds a lot like a slap on the wrist.
You’d think it might have taught police officers to keep their thoughts to themselves, or at least off of social media.
(Here’s a thought: Maybe instead of sharing social media posts of cops dancing or playing ball with kids or, you know, working for those they are charged to protect and serve, the good apples can turn in the bad ones for posting trash online.)
Of course, many Philadelphia police officers have demonstrated that they have no problem showing us who they are in real life.
In June, following the protests over police killing George Floyd, Philly cops chummed up to white vigilante groups wielding bats in Fishtown — not unlike the treatment given to the mob at the Capitol.
A month later, Philly police officers were seen happily mingling with the Proud Boys, a hate group, at the Philadelphia Fraternal Order following Mike Pence’s visit to the city.
McNesby didn’t have anything credible to say about their presence. But I do remember something said in one of our accounts by Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer and director of the Center for Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino:
“At a time when police-community relations are particularly strained, it’s bewildering that anyone associated with law enforcement would want to be in the same room with these folks,” he said.
Here’s what we need to come to terms with, and fast: Many of those sworn to uphold and defend our laws are “these folks.”
Nothing to see or smell here folks, just a few bad apples.