After Biden’s swearing-in at noon, a few hundred people gathered near a fence on the north side of the Capitol—both Biden and Trump supporters. Some held signs calling for Biden’s impeachment, and another held a sign calling for an investigation into fraudulent ballots. Police in riot gear tensed and moved closer as they saw some large groups yelling at each other, but the spats quickly calmed as a man pulled a wagon full of inauguration merchandise into the middle of the conflict: “Caps! Programs!” he shouted. Roller skating through and around the tense crowds was a man filming everything on his phone.
One man who didn’t want to be identified came wearing a pith helmet and a can of pepper spray strapped to his chest. The Jan. 6 riot worried him, so he wanted to be prepared. He said a truck with the far-right militia insignia of the Three Percenters pulled up at his hotel this week.
Secret Service Agent Matt Miller, who leads the Washington field office, said ahead of the inauguration the FBI was investigating a “great deal of very concerning chatter” among “a number of extremist groups.”
“It’s not as if someone is raising their hand and saying, ‘We will be there,’ but we are preparing as if they are,” Miller said in the week leading up to the inauguration. Trump’s former acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, members of Congress, and some think tanks are concerned with rising domestic terror threats. A recent report found two-thirds of domestic terror attacks came from far-right extremists in 2020. But violence is also rising on the far left, leading to more escalation.
Rev. Bob Pardon, who remembered his days of extremism in the late 1960s before becoming a Christian, said “a lot of this is reminiscent to me, but on a larger scale.” He recalled doing some “building takeovers.”
“There really is a mob mentality … a craziness that takes over,” he said. “My hatred of ‘the establishment’ was intense.”
Pardon thinks talking about “objective truth” is an important antidote to society’s current ills. The nature of truth and the importance of truth-telling was a theme in Biden’s inaugural speech, as well as in recent speeches from Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies,” Biden said. “Each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders—leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation—to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
Two weeks ago, in condemning the violence at the Capitol, Romney said, “The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership.”
Now comes the question of how warring views of truth among conservatives and liberals can be reconciled. But for people like Pardon, such a “societal discourse” has been decades in the making. And despite the tension on the streets of D.C. and between parties, the inaugural ceremony was a redeeming display on the same steps where rioters had threatened lawmakers two weeks earlier.