The Greeks tell us that on the way to his 11th labor, Heracles ran across Antaeus. A nasty customer, Antaeus was—a giant, son of the Earth goddess Gaia and sea god Poseidon, he drew his power from contact with Mother Earth. He loafed by the road to the Garden of Hesperides, where he’d challenge passing simpletons to wrestling matches. Every time a foe wrestled him to the ground, he got stronger. Next to the road, Antaeus dedicated a temple to his father. It was made from the skulls of his victims.
On Jan. 6, 2021, a motley band of Divorce Dads, MAGA Zombies and other Upper Aryans ransacked the Capitol. At least two U.S. Capitol Police officers died from the coup attempt. Dozens of others were wounded, and their horrifying screams continue to echo through Washington’s halls as Congress and the federal courts weigh who did what, and to whom. It was the single biggest failure of the U.S. security state since 9/11.
The investigations continue. But we already know that the Capitol Police will come out stronger for the failure. CNN’s Jim Sciutto got a look at the Hill’s “security review” and recommendations include adding another 1,000 officers, a “Quick Reaction Force composed of National Guard” and “retractable barriers around the Capitol.”
Antaeus should sue for infringement.
Injuries (and insults)
We live in an insulting age (one in which “giving offense” is not just considered a worthy reply but a mortal blow to one’s ethics) but this one is a many splendored thing, so it’s worth savoring.
First off, it’s hard not to notice that whenever cops blast or torture some unarmed Black guy, we the Big Public are always urged not to “rush to judgment,” to let the investigation play out, &c. Certainly, the U.S. Capitol Police found that a convenient line when they and their pals in the U.S. Secret Service’s uniform division shot down Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn., who’d just happen to take a wrong turn at the White House. Yet, even as the investigations into the coup attempt drag on, those same agencies can tell us with absolute certainty that the problem is they didn’t have enough money, manpower and authority to begin with. Nice work if you can get it.
Second, it’s certain to seal off our Congress from the people it’s supposed to serve even further. There are currently 1,700 sworn officers in the U.S. Capitol Police department. They have a $500 million-per-year budget (including, often, a “black budget”) and are—like so many other departments—armed to the teeth. (Back in the early aughts, the department was so flush with cash that it spent $1 million for a command van—despite having a beat that consists of, um, Capitol Hill—and so overloaded it with surveillance equipment and weaponry that the first time they rolled it out of the garage, an axle broke. The thing sat on blocks for years, and may still be at the Government Publishing Office’s lot to this day.) Before the coup attempt, it was impossible—literally impossible—to make your way through the House or Senate without being accosted for your identification.
Which brings us to yet another insult: The fetish for security cosplay generally, and IDs specifically. We know for a fact that the ratbag fascists who stormed the Capitol Jan. 6 thought they were acting on the instructions of their commander-in-chief. How will any more good guys with guns—let alone One Fucking Thousand more—stop a bad guy with Presidential authority?
Evil of banality
A friend works for a back-bench Democrat on the Hill. Last summer, after Trump’s Bible Riot, I urged her—begged her, really—to convince her boss that Congress had to make a show of force over its subpoenas. Send the marshals, said I, declare folks in contempt, force a confrontation. Let a judge quash you if need be, but make sure The Big, Wet Guy—and his pick-nose band of thwarted Comic-Con gauleiters—know that they’ve pushed far enough.
I claim no prescience here. One of the awful things about fascism is how trite it is. Its script is tired and tiring, its only pathos (at least in the early stages) from the low comedy it generates. It minces on, toggling between boredom and hysteria. It’s usually hilarious—right up until it’s not. On Jan. 6, my friend and her fiancé and their friends, coworkers and even bosses, cowered under their desks, praying that the locks on those doors held while Trump’s 401(k)-bearing freikorps hooted and howled for them.
It is certainly possible that more cops might have kept that obscenity from happening. But preventing that obscenity would have almost certainly left another obscenity in its place: Piles of wounded, possibly dead, Americans at the doors of Congress. What’s needed is not more cops, but better ones: Cops who recognize that the U.S. doesn’t have a security problem, it has a democracy problem.
All may only be mostly lost. In the hours, weeks and days since the Beer Belly Putsch, the FBI has been leaking like crazy and making all kinds of noise about “domestic terrorism.” Don’t take any of that at face value, of course. Few agencies have done more to stunt the Republic’s growth than the FBI. But it’s an agency that will pay any price, bear any burden to protect its appropriations: that its satraps and flaks are now “warning” us about American fascism tells you that Congress, at least, is stirring.
The problem is that Congress types, like most who’ve been woken suddenly, can’t tell whether they’re still dreaming. For at least three generations, every American politician who wanted to be taken seriously understood that whatever the problem was, the answer was always, throw more cops at it. Those who govern us must learn to despise their dream and turn away from their former selves.
That’s hard to do for the Democrats, a crowd of ill white hairs so bewitched by their own ineptitude that all they really have to offer is what David Roth calls “performative disappointment.” (Many of them are still convinced that they under-performed at the polls last year because certain shandevs were banging on about Defunding the Police in front of the goyim—and not, say, because they can’t put together a modern fucking mailing list.)
So here they stand, poised to empty even more buckets of cash, weapons and power to an already spoiled and horribly mismanaged police department in the District of Columbia. Antaeus must be drinking straight from the bottle. This brings us to…
The final insult
There are bad things about living in the District and less-bad things. One of the bad things is this: It is one of the most heavily policed places on Earth. The Metropolitan Police Department (the one that reports to our fragrant Mayor) has about 3,900 sworn members. It’s the third largest department in the U.S., behind only New York and Chicago. Count only their ranks, and the District has 57 cops per 10,000 citizens. The next closest city is Wilmington, Del. with 43 cops per 10,000 citizens.
But wait, there’s more. The MPD is one of some three dozen police departments in and around the District. We’ve already canvassed the Capitol Police’s 1,700; then there are some 460 Metro cops. The U.S. Park Police adds another couple of hundred. The FBI and Secret Service have uniformed departments of their own. Ditto the GPO, and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. There’s a special department just for Amtrak police, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Smithsonian, the Post Office, and the U.S. Mint. Pray don’t neglect the D.C. Housing Authority and the Department of General Services.
One could go on, but the bottom line is this. If you live in the District, it is all but impossible to go through your day without running into a cop. Have a meeting at the International Trade Center? Wait in line for the metal detector, single file, and empty your pockets. Curious about the Cumming Family collection at the Portrait Gallery? Backpack worn in front, please, and prepare to be searched. Want to talk to your District Council rep about potholes or police brutality? Let’s see some ID. If you lined up every cop here shoulder-to-shoulder after a rain, you could walk from to the Palisades to Hillcrest and back without getting your feet wet. The question to ask is not why crime goes up or down in the District—the question is, how does crime happen at all?
Of counts and accountability
The sheer density of cops here is a political expression, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the politics of these outfits are almost parodically rotten. The rank-and-file is (often) professional and astute. Their leadership is… something else. The “system,” such as it is, is designed not so much to hide accountability as it is to vaporize it. For example, the MPD has rules against using tear gas in riots. But the U.S. Marshals, the Secret Service, &c. have no such compunction. So when the MPD kettled a bunch of unarmed protesters last summer, they were doing it under the cover of someone else’s gas. The MPD isn’t supposed to chase suspects: The U.S. Park Police stands by as the outsource.
That’s not the only way we see “interagency cooperation.” Because of the overlapping jurisdictions, the chiefs are really good at hiding crime. If someone commits a robbery at the Farragut North Station, for instance, it’s logged on Metro police’s books, not the MPD’s. If that same suspect is tackled by MPD cops as he runs across K Street, though, the arrest is logged on MPD’s books, not Metro’s. So the MPD takes credit for solving a crime that it doesn’t acknowledge as having occurred. Let Antaeus fuck with that.
Heracles eventually figured out Antaeus’ trick, but it was a close thing. Finally, he lifted Antaeus into the air, and there crushed him. The metaphor’s a bit labored here, obviously, but we have to find some way of getting the security state away from the nutritive contact that results from its own hopeless pratfalls. Until then, we should see the fetish for more police for what is: a cop out.