Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol: this terrible moment — and the road ahead
By Glenn Blumhorst
Photo: Guarding the chamber door while extremists storm the Capitol. From video shot by Rep. Dan Kildee
Yesterday was a horrific day for our country. A violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, smashing windows and looting offices. They sent members of Congress and their staffs scrambling for their lives, barricading into offices and chambers and huddling beneath chairs. Explosive devices were found. One of the extremists who stormed the building was fatally shot. Three other people have died in other incidents. And on Thursday night an officer with the Capitol Hill police died of injuries he sustained during the assault.
We condemn these acts of violence and chaos in the strongest possible terms. The Peace Corps community is committed to building peace and friendship. When we are sworn in as Volunteers, we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This was an attempted coup by domestic terrorists.
Symbolically and literally, democracy itself was under assault. What do we take from this moment? It’s profoundly clear that the work of building peace needs to start here at home. Many in the Peace Corps community have observed this fact as well: These extremists who took part in the attack and paraded through Congress with Confederate flags were treated far differently — and with nothing like the force — that would have met — and has met — Black protesters. It underscores once more that we need to address racial justice as a root issue in our society.
The terror hits close to home: Dozens of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers serve as congressional staff. Their lives were at risk.
We stand in solidarity with the public servants who were terrorized by these acts of violence. That includes not just members of Congress but the many staff who work behind the scenes — especially those who are people of color. In this respect, the terror hits close to home: Dozens of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers serve as congressional staff. Their lives were at risk. Our hearts go out to them. But that is not enough.
Amid all the horrors of yesterday, it is reprehensible that among the violent mob that stormed the Capitol is one man who served in the Peace Corps — and later undertook basic training in the Marine Corps before being discharged. A CBS affiliate interviewed him afterward; he gave his name and home state of New Jersey. “We tore through the scaffolding and flashbangs,” he said. “We stormed into the chambers inside.” He described witnessing the death of the woman who was shot — and clearly felt the actions by him and other violent extremists were justified. His identity has been reported to the FBI.
What we must do
We must be unequivocal: Violence and hatred have no place in the Peace Corps community. Those who took part in these violent acts — and those who incited them — must be held accountable.
I sincerely believe that the Peace Corps community can and will play a pivotal role in the U.S. re-engaging with the world. And during these months of crisis, we’ve seen many take inspiration from the model of the Peace Corps in looking for solutions to big domestic problems. This moment also underscores once more that, as we undertake the work we do, we must do it with a sense of humility and solidarity — and a sense of what’s at stake, not just for the Peace Corps, or even for our country.
“The rule of law & democratic procedures need to be restored as soon as possible,” wrote the foreign minister of Ukraine — a country that is home to one of the largest Peace Corps programs in the world. “This is important not only for the U.S., but for Ukraine and the entire democratic world as well.”
I want to give a special thanks to those who have given their support to work for the Peace Corps community in recent months. With your time and effort, and your commitment, we will ensure that the Peace Corps and the values it is meant to nurture can play an important role in the great unfinished task ahead of us.
Story updated January 9, 2021 at 10 a.m.
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91.