Kueppers: “Shocked but not surprised”

The attack on the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 has impacted all Americans — regardless of your age and background.


by Henry Kueppers

In the eighth grade, my class took a field trip to Washington to learn about history … and I suppose, just because we could. When we visited the Capitol building, we had to pass metal detectors and security guards before entry. We were informed that any and all belt buckles would set off the metal detectors and therefore were instructed to take them off. Of course, my belt came with my cargo shorts purchased at American Eagle, leaving me to believe they were impervious to any and all security protocols. So, you can imagine my surprise when four security officers came down on me with the fury of God when I set off the metal detectors. Reprimanded in front of my entire class, they made me take off my belt and desperately cling onto my American Eagle cargo shorts, lest I wish them to fall off my skinny, eighth grade waist.

After “Belt-Gate,” I walked into the Capitol rotunda thinking, “Man, they really take security seriously in this place.” However, between the time when my middle school self was almost tried for treason to today, it would appear that things have changed. Because on Jan. 6, hundreds of people bullied their way into the Capitol, with both weapons and belt buckles, and wreaked unimaginable havoc and destruction on our nation’s Capitol and reputation. To me, the events of Jan. 6 were despicable and representative of everything that is wrong with our country. Yet, with news outlets and social media users all giving various perspectives and rhetoric, I wanted to talk to a couple Americans and see if their views on what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 would differ based on their ages and backgrounds.

Gary Berg, born in 1947:

All right Gary, what happened at the Capitol? Some news sources are referring to it as an “insurrection.” Some people are calling it a “coup.” Others are just calling it a “protest.” What would you describe it as?

I guess I would say it was an insurrection. That’s what the House is using in their resolution during the impeachment trial.

What was your first reaction or emotions seeing the insurrection?

Well, given my background, I was pretty amazed and disgusted with the whole thing. I was a member of Minnesota National Guard, Air National Guard, for 17 years and active duty for four years. And I’m pretty much a staunch citizen of law and order and what our country has stood for all these years. So, I was just dazed. When I saw what was going on, it was just amazing to me.

Do you expect more things like this to come? More insurrections in different cities, or do you think this is a one-and-done deal?

I think there’s going to be some minor disturbances around the country. This group is pretty determined that they can take over the government, which is pretty amazing for just a group of citizens. … I use the word “citizens” loosely here.

Tom Wareham, born in 1965:

What would you call the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol? A “protest”? “Insurrection”? “Coup”?

I think it’s more than a protest. I’m not sure I would put it in the category of a “coup.” So, I think “insurrection” would fit the best.

I’m kind of curious what your first gut feelings were when you saw this. Was it a shock for you? Anger? Horror? What do you remember feeling?

I think there was sort of a shock. Not a surprise so much.

Do you think there is anyone responsible for what happened at the Capitol?

I think there are multiple people responsible. I think certainly the rhetoric that comes from President Trump and his, you know, his minions and all the people that spoke that day are responsible. Don Jr., Giuliani, their rhetoric has been going for four years and kind of building and building to this. It was a build up of all the violent rhetoric they’ve used in the past.

When we switch from Trump to Biden, it’s not just automatically going to be perfect and things will just be better because those people will still be around. So, my final question for you, Tom, is how can America move forward from this insurrection?

In the impeachment hearing, there were a lot of calls from the right [Republicans] for unity. They keep saying, “Oh this impeachment is gonna piss people off.” Too bad, so sad! I think unity has to start coming from the right at this point. They need to acknowledge kind of that, “Hey, Trump lost.” And some have; they’ve acknowledged that he lost … but they have to acknowledge they were part of what got us to this point.

Ash Diggs, born in 1994:

What would you call what happened on Jan. 6 at the Capitol?

I would definitely say the word that I’ve been using, and what immediately jumps to mind, was “coup.”

Do you mind explaining why it’s a coup to you?

Well, it feels like the culmination of a number of things that we’ve seen being played out over the weeks since the election. In my opinion, we’ve heard the President say that, you know, he didn’t want to leave office, and he was publicly leading people to think that there was election fraud. Plus, we’ve seen him say other comments to white supremacists like, “stand back and stand by.”

And then suddenly, we have a group of people, a lot of whom proudly identify as Proud Boys, storming the Capitol with the intention of taking folks hostage, and — according to some people’s social media posts — possibly looking for blood. All those things together sound more like a coup to me because it just seems like a calculated attempt to keep this president in power and stop the democratically elected president-elect from being inaugurated.

Do you think Trump is solely responsible for the coup?

I do believe that the events of the sixth are not solely Trump’s fault. I believe it was a combination of Trump as well as online conspiracy rhetoric, specifically QAnon.

Were you surprised by what happened on the sixth?

Definitely shocked but not surprised. Because, again, as I kind of said, my perspective is that there’s been a ton of rhetoric and actions and inaction leading to these results. I didn’t want it to happen, obviously, but when it did happen, it was less that I couldn’t believe it and more, well, you can’t just keep laying out dominoes like that and not expect them to tip over at some point.

Cat Grimm, born in 2001:

Cat, if I gave you the words “protest,” “insurrection” or “coup,” what do you think would best describe what happened at the Capitol?

I think the best option would be to call it an insurrection. It wasn’t a protest because that’s generally when a group of people have a set of demands or a cause that they want to raise awareness of. And I don’t think it was a coup because they didn’t really seem to have a really concrete plan.

Who do you think is responsible for the events at the Capitol? Trump?

I don’t think he’s the sole person to blame. Because everything that’s been happening is bigger than him. I think he’s a really good person to point out if you’re looking at who embodies a lot of these notions. There’s definitely blame on his plate and on his shoulders for how much he has said and encouraged white supremacists. I think it’s hard to say who is to blame, specifically because it really comes down to institutions that our country is unfortunately founded on.

How can America move forward? Do you think there are things Joe Biden, the government or just regular people like you and me could do?

I think the problem that we’re facing right now is that society acts like, “Oh, let me pass like a few laws and call it a day” will fix everything. When in reality, it’s more like the fact that as citizens of the United States, everybody’s kind of lost touch with each other. So, even if you were to pass the laws, that’s not going to fix things because you’re not fixing the actual social issues, and you’re not addressing the actual ideology that creates such a big divide in the first place. So, I’m not 100% sure what’s going to be unifying. I think it’s really going to come down to individual effort and what individual effort ends up looking like when it snowballs into something larger.