Correction: Due to an editing error, an opinion piece by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in Friday’s Commentary section incorrectly identified in the fifth paragraph one of the two Capitol Hill Police officers killed in a 1998 shooting at the Capitol. The officer was Jacob Chestnut.
On a mid-afternoon day in July 1998, a man walked up to the Capitol building and joined a line of tourists seeking a glimpse into the heartbeat of our nation’s history. At the same time, I was exiting the House floor with a few of my staffers and John Gibson, the Capitol Hill detective assigned to protect me.
As I got back to my office, the man — we later learned his name was Russell Weston — walked through the metal detector and set off the alarm, an often-common occurrence on a busy summer day. When asked to walk through again, he pulled out a gun and killed Officer Jacob Chestnut on the spot. In a crowd of people, gunshots began to ring out.
Weston began to run. Unfortunately, he found the closest escape route — the back door to my office.
When it swung open, Detective Gibson was prepared. A firefight ensued, leaving Weston wounded and Gibson dead. Congress would bestow its greatest honor to these brave officers, allowing them to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol.
Not a day goes by where I do not thank God that John Gibson and Jacob Chestnut were there to defend us. Their valiant defense of the Capitol, its visitors, and those who worked there are representative of the hundreds of men and women who protect Capitol Hill. These heroes risk their lives every day to protect not only members of Congress and their staff but also the founding ideals and institutions of this nation.
It has been a tough six months for all who wear the blue uniform, from the recent assault on the Capitol building that led to two more Capitol Hill officer deaths to the growing mob violence seen against police officers nationwide.
Like other societal institutions today, the police are being assaulted not only physically but intellectually.
Fueling the “defund the police” movement, armchair historians have likened police officers to slave catchers and have demanded their outright elimination. Mobs have attacked our history, traditions and institutions. Statues and monuments have been defaced and destroyed, including those that recognized America’s most significant political, intellectual and moral leaders. Private property has been violated, and small businesses struggling to survive amid COVID-19 lockdowns have been looted and burned.
Rather than denounce violence, some have contributed money to bail funds, allowing those who destroyed public and private property back on the streets to commit more wanton acts of violence. Prosecutors have ignored laws, deciding it best not to charge those committing violent acts. Cities like Portland — ignoring their citizens, police, and small businesses’ pleas for help — have lost control of their streets for months on end.
This month was not the first time bad actors have targeted the U.S. Capitol.
In 1915, a Harvard professor detonated a bomb in the Senate. In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists began firing guns indiscriminately in the House gallery. In 1983, a bomb hidden in the Senate chamber exploded, and seven were arrested and charged in the attack. On that fateful September day in 2001, I recall fleeing the Capitol when terrorists took charge of Fight 93 and sought to destroy the building.
Although it may have been less violent, the recent Capitol takeover was just as much a targeted assault on the U.S.’s founding ideals as were these past ones.
The legislative branch has a constitutional obligation to vote on certifying the Electoral College’s presidential election results. Storming the Capitol to threaten members into making their desired decision not only put our brave men and women of uniform at unnecessary risk, but it also shook the foundations of our three-branch system of government.
Sadly, it has become increasingly politically advantageous to denounce and decry America’s sacred ideals, traditions and conventions.
The Electoral College, which was designed to ensure that all Americans have a voice in selecting their nation’s leader, has been accused of being a vestige of slavery. The Senate, specifically designed to slow down legislation, has seen many attempts to turn it into a smaller version of the House of Representatives through eliminating the filibuster. It has become fashionable to demand packing the U.S. Supreme Court to advance one’s political agenda. Even core constitutional principles, such as the First Amendment, are being tossed aside today by Big Tech as politicians and journalists cheerlead for more speech restrictions.
Americans have every right to protest police brutality, voter fraud and other causes close to their hearts, both in the streets and at the ballot box. But to paraphrase the words of Martin Luther King Jr., they must adopt the means of nonviolence if their end goal is a community that is at peace with itself. Doing anything else will continue to sow division and reshape the country into something antithetical to what the Founders envisioned.
Our men and women in blue — on Capitol Hill and elsewhere — will continue doing everything they can to protect America’s sacred institutions. However, if our country is ever to heal and come together, the American people must also agree to safeguard them on their own and unite behind our core principles, share values and embrace our institutions. The fate of this constitutional republic depends on it.
• Tom DeLay represented Texas’ 22nd congressional district from 1985 until 2006. He was Republican Party House Majority Leader from 2003 to 2005.