Spooked by the threat of anti-Biden trucker convoys heading to Washington, high fences will reportedly return around the US Capitol in the coming days. When President Biden gives his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, he will have no fears of hearing any caterwauling from average Americans who are being impoverished and injected thanks to his policies. Hundreds of National Guard troops will also be deployed on the streets of Washington, perhaps finally vanquishing the local epidemic of double-parking and jaywalking.
Any fence that is erected around the Capitol will be designed to protect sanctity, not safety. After the clash between protestors and police on Jan. 6 last year, Joe Biden claimed the Capitol building was a “sacred place,” while Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “the temple of democracy.” Members of Congress apparently feel entitled to impunity from protests regardless of how many laws they pass trampling the Constitution.
The fence that went up after Jan. 6 was eventually pared back and removed over the summer, and then briefly restored for the “Justice for J6” rally on Sept. 18 before being dismantled once more. It should not be erected again.
The National Guard deployment and fencing off the Capitol symbolizes the demonization of dissent that became turbo-charged since early last year, when the fence first went up and tens of thousands of National Guard troops took over Washington. Some members of Congress championed keeping the fence permanently, turning Capitol Hill into the equivalent of a supermax prison. Speaker Pelosi said every day on Capitol Hill should be a “national security event” — thereby supposedly denying Americans’ access to Congress in perpetuity.
But there has been pushback even from staunch Biden supporters. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), one of the most liberal members of Congress, complained last year that the fencing “makes the United States look like a totalitarian regime trying to keep its own people out.” Even the American Civil Liberties Union recognizes that Congress hiding behind a fence projects “the kind of message that heads of autocratic regimes send by cloistering themselves away from their populaces in armored fortresses.”
Nowadays, any threat of “domestic extremism” can apparently justify the preemptive destruction of freedom of speech. Last year, on Inauguration Day, only two mini-protests with 100 or fewer participants each were allowed at spots far from the Capitol.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser justified the crackdown: “We have a special responsibility: that there is a peaceful transition of power in our country.” After four years of endless howling that Trump was literally Hitler, Biden took power with a level of suppression of dissent and a display of military force that resembled an old-time Kremlin May Day Parade more than a traditional American inauguration. Instead of a massive throng of citizens watching the swearing in, only a smattering of Washington elites were permitted at the ceremony. In lieu of a live audience, Biden spoke that day to 190,000 flags surrounded by daunting fences.
Last year, Pelosi kept the fence and the National Guard long after any viable threat existed to the Capitol. Perhaps the menacing trappings were designed to help Biden prove that he needed a new domestic terrorism law to prevent Trump supporters from conquering DC. Will a resurrected fence spur Biden to appeal to Congress for a new law repressing his political opposition?
If Congress can fence out the American people any time there is a rumor of a pending protest, will school boards follow suit and erect barbed wire around buildings prior to meetings? That would burnish the Biden-FBI effort to treat parents’ harsh complaints against school board members as terrorist threats.
Maybe members of Congress can get a detachment of Capitol Police with bayonets and a roll of barbed wire to escort them to their home districts and keep constituents at a safe distance during public meetings. The Capitol Police already announced plans to set up “branch offices” in California and Florida, and their operations far from DC will be secret — thanks to their exemption from the Freedom of Information Act that applies to other federal law enforcement agencies.
Tolerating the banishment of protestors from Capitol Hill is especially unwise after the harrowing example of Canada. After angry truckers converged on Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided that honking horns was the legal equivalent of hijacking airplanes and declared martial law. The Washington Post portrayed the subsequent police crackdown as “largely restrained,” even though police used pepper spray, stun grenades and “other anti-riot weapons” on peaceful protestors.
If it happens in Canada, it could happen here — especially since much of the American media despises anti-Biden protestors. A poll found that 65% of likely Democratic voters approved of Trudeau’s brutal crushing of the trucker protest. This epitomizes how policies that were considered authoritarian prior to Biden’s election are now welcomed by many voters who feared that Trump was hiding under their bed.
Members of Congress may be comforted by a high fence that keeps angry Americans far from their cherished turf. But they should remember what heavyweight champion Joe Louis said before fighting a fleet challenger: “He can run but he can’t hide.” Congress can duck protests on Monday but plenty of members will be knocked out on Nov. 8, the midterm Election Day.
James Bovard is the author of 10 books and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors