🔒 Devin Scillian: 1 year after Jan. 6 riot, still hard to make sense of it

A variety of flags carried by rioters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, that were left behind outside one of the entrances on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Anniversaries and birthdays always baffle me a bit.

In fact, my birthday is next week and it strikes me as strange that as the clock moves from one day to the next, in that passing of a single second I’m somehow one full year older. There really isn’t anything significant about the passage of a month or a year or even ten. And yet it’s so very human to try to create psychic file cabinets in which we can arrange the events of our lives into some orderly narrative.

And so it is now that we try to contemplate the events of Jan. 6 one year ago. And yet the passage of a year has not been enough for me to make any orderly sense of it at all.

In my nearly 40 years in television news, I have covered quite a few horrendous days for America.

There was 9/11, of course. And as I was living and working in Oklahoma City at the time, I’ve long considered the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 the worst day of my life. I’ve covered way too many natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, floods.

I’d long hoped to avoid ever having to cover a school shooting, but on Nov. 30 of last year, I had to grievously and reluctantly check that box.

And as the moderator of a Sunday morning news program, I’ve covered plenty of shameful government scandals, everything from Iran/Contra to the fall of Kwame Kilpatrick and so many in between.

But I’m hard pressed to think of a day that can compete with January 6th for its disgrace and sheer dysphoria. And just as unsettling, the emails and social media messages that still arrive that reveal faith in and support for the noxious lies that led to the whole godawful mess.

I’ve long felt a personal relationship with the United States Capitol. In 1976, we moved to the Washington, DC area when my father was assigned to a job at the Pentagon. It came with the added bonus of being in the capitol city during the massive bi-centennial celebrations. And my parents created a reverence in me for the business that was tended to in that building that so often popped into view.

Years later as a reporter, I relished each and every trip to the Capitol. In the National Statuary Hall, I would stare into the eyes of Will Rogers, a hero of mine. I would run my hands along the worn brass railings and wonder at how many luminaries had placed their hands in the very same places. And as family outings go, the day that John Dingell walked my four children through the Capitol hallways, telling stories and urging them to raid the desk drawers of the Pennsylvania delegation (because there were always Hershey’s kisses stashed there) was a tough one to top.

My daughter now works there, as a staffer for a member of Congress from Minnesota, which makes me proud enough to burst. (A few years ago, I was on the Hill for a series of interviews that were scheduled impossibly close together and I only made it to each one because Madison knew all of the shortcuts.)

So yes, I’ve long felt a connection to that glorious building that feels quite personal. And I know (and hope) that many, many other Americans feel the same way, even if they never had the luck that I had in walking its historic hallways. I guess that’s what I remember most about the events of January 6th; it felt as if someone was vandalizing my house.

I can’t say I felt that way about the Murrah Building, even though it was so close to home. And I didn’t feel that way about the twin towers of the World Trade Center. No, I’ve never felt the way that I did on January 6th. And while I knew huge philosophical divisions separated us as Americans, I had this idea that we all lived in the same house, the one that sits along Constitution Avenue.

The courts (and Congress) will continue to deal with those who were there that day. But the poison lingers in the water. And it’s an important time to remember the attack was not merely on a building, on a structure and those who protect it; the attack was on the very ideals that structure represents, including the way we elect our leaders, and on our system of justice which I would argue is the crown jewel of American democracy.

That system properly heard all manner of complaints and claims against the 2020 elections and time and again found they had no basis. Our highest court, titled as it is to the right and stacked as it is with Trump appointees, refused to even hear the cases. (Even the chief legal proponents of the wild tangle of fraud allegations, their legal credentials now threatened, argue that their claims should never have been taken so seriously.) At a certain point, you have to respect the rule book and the referees, or you threaten the very game.

For ages, we’ve talked about “the peaceful transfer of power” without really appreciating its beauty, its relative rarity. 2020 remains for me the un-peaceful transfer of power. And in a way, those who continue to undermine our systems of voters and ballots are still trying to break windows and deface the Capitol.

The long-running PBS show offers pretty good guidance on this. This Old House deserves a lot of care.

Related: Recalling Jan. 6: A national day of infamy, half remembered


About the Author:

Devin Scillian is equally at home on your television, on your bookshelf, and on your stereo. Devin anchors the evening newscasts for Local 4. Additionally, he moderates Flashpoint, Local 4's Sunday morning news program. He is also a best-selling author of children's books, and an award-winning musician and songwriter.