For almost eight years, Capitol Hill and the U.S. Capitol complex was my family’s home. I walked daily across the Hill to my office in the Hart Senate Office Building, where I worked as an aide to Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe. Like any job, there were good days and bad, but there was never a day I didn’t feel a deep respect and awe for the place, its history and our country.

Flying the so-called “Kek” flag, supporters of President Trump storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The flag mimics a Nazi war flag and is the purported banner for a fictional country that was created by far-right extremists and racist internet trolls. Photo for The Washington Post by Evelyn Hockstein

My colleagues and I would often make excuses to take the long way back from the House office buildings so we could pass through places like the Rotunda, the Crypt and Statuary Hall. There, the ghosts of history are palpable. The softly worn marble staircases and gleaming mosaic tile floors bear imprints of the literal and figurative footsteps of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy; Chase Smith, McCain and Obama. The quiet back hallways are equally resplendent, silently overseen by busts and paintings of American heroes, with all their merits and their flaws.

In the Senate chamber itself, I intuited more than learned the customs of conduct. Staff entered from the doors behind the dais, but it was taboo for any of us other than pages and parliamentarians to set foot in the well where senators congregate to vote and conduct private conversations. To meet your boss at his or her desk was to walk the long way around, down from the back, no matter the urgency of your errand. It was never a hardship because doing so allowed us to spend more time in the inner sanctum.

I remember mounting the gently sloping steps up the side aisle, carpet plush under my feet. Once, I realized too late that I had forgotten to change out of my L.L. Bean boots and into dress shoes. I decided my Mainer of a boss wouldn’t mind, but my grandfather the shoemaker would be rolling over in his grave.

And above all, the soaring Dome and the Rotunda itself. I will never forget standing alone in that space late at night, surrounded by silence, just breathing in the enormity of what our forebears created and holding even a tiny fraction of the responsibility to pass that legacy to our descendants.

The grounds themselves were our son’s first playground. He crawled, scooted and biked all around the building. On a bluebird day after a massive blizzard, he rode his first sled down Capitol Hill. He got his first haircut from James at the Senate barbershop and took some of his first steps at our office Christmas party – right into the arms of Sen. Snowe. We had a family rhyme that we used to chant whenever we spotted it: “The Dome! The Dome! The Dome is close to your home!”

All of this was desecrated Wednesday. Armed American terrorists, bedecked in emblems of racism, anti-Semitism and hate, brought violence and gunfire into these halls. They made a mockery of our most sacred chambers, rummaged through offices, whooped and chortled in the Rotunda and passed desk drawers, lamps and lecterns out broken windows – looted trophies for the seething mob. These images are now forever etched in my memory and our history.

We can and we must identify and prosecute every last one of them. But no punishment can atone for this crime. These insurrectionists somehow justify their actions as “patriotism” or “defending the Constitution.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

In an 1838 address to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, U.S. Rep. Abraham Lincoln said, “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

On Wednesday, a riotous horde, egged on by the dying convulsions of a narcissistic, seditious president, shoved us closer to that precipice. The responsibility must now fall on all of us to lead the way back from the brink, starting with unsteady, toddler steps and grasping the guiding hand of unity and justice that created our own shining temple on Capitol Hill.


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