My brother-in-law has been deployed a few times throughout the years and each deployment brings a new unique set of stress, fears, and patriotism for my family. But his most recent deployment, this time to Washington, D.C., has been drastically different from the previous ones. No doubt we are still proud of him, but we can’t say we are proud of our country. This is perhaps the most challenging call of duty for him yet, and his perspective deserves to be known.
The media has done a great job crafting the protests to look peaceful. But, from the perspective of the men behind the picket line, it is anything but that. For his first shift, my brother-in-law was stationed outside of the White House and behind the perimeter fence that had been set up after protesters set fire to the guard station. Protesters threw anything they could find, including bricks. At one point, some got hold of wire clippers and begun to cut holes in the fence in an attempt to climb through. Tear gas was released in an effort to keep them from storming the property.
The next couple of night shifts were more stressful because, instead of being stationed behind the line, he was out patrolling the surrounding blocks. He was not issued a weapon but was given a face shield, baton, and body shield to protect himself. They were instructed to avoid escalating any situation no matter how provoking. This was one of the more challenging parts of his mission because throughout the night he had bodily fluids thrown at him, was spit on, and was followed by groups of protesters as they yelled some of the most horrific and baiting slurs at him. Homemade devices were crafted to disperse tobacco sauce and urine in the eyes of those patrolling. Mortar fireworks (commercial grade) were set off to explode at him and his comrades. Worse, he was wearing deployment patches and protesters looked up information on the internet about the badges and discovered the state he was from and attempted to find personal information about him and his family.
The media is not reporting the widespread use of drugs by protesters either. The air was filled with thick smoke from weed and other harder drugs. He mentioned that some areas are so awful that the guards became ill and had to be taken off duty. The “peaceful protesters” openly used because they knew arrests wouldn’t be made unless immediately necessary. Between shifts, the guards dedicated their time cleaning off the defaced national monuments and picking up the trash left behind.
The most infuriating moment came when my family received a text that my brother-in-law and his unit were being kicked out of their hotel. It was 3 a.m. on the East Coast, and his unit had just finished another long night. When they returned, they were informed that instead of getting a well-deserved nights rest, they would need to pack up their belongings and wait until they could find new lodging. They waited and waited. Finally, at some point in the afternoon, they were bussed to a motel outside of the D.C. area and were able to get a couple of hours of rest. The relocation was blamed on a “budget complication,” but I don’t buy it. If it were a budget issue, are we really supposed to believe that it couldn’t be resolved? The guardsmen had to be completely relocated out of D.C. city limits, even though hotels still have frighteningly low occupancy levels due to COVID-19?
It is simple: They were kicked out of the very city they were protecting and cleaning. I am frustrated with the local D.C. officials who prioritized politics over American heroes who were there to serve their city. I am also appalled by the hotel for not standing up to the local officials, working to overcome whatever “budget issues” there may have been, and giving my brother-in-law and his unit the night’s sleep they deserved.
It’s worth mentioning that the final day of protesting turned out to be a beacon of positivity for the soldiers. After days of harassment and exhaustion they were relieved to find that peaceful protesters showed up and personally policed the bad apples from escalating to rioting like the previous nights.
Our nation is in turmoil over an important conversation. But I assert that the very core of what makes the United States one of the greatest countries in the world is the heart of patriots. Nothing is more unifying. There are no greater patriots than military men and women. They have seen and done things that we will never know or appreciate, so that we can keep our constitutional rights to hold these protests. But as soon as we start disrespecting the men and women who have fought for our right to show up and protest, we lose what level of influence we had to start.
Shame on those who spit in the face of a military member who left their spouse and children at home to keep us safe. Those who threw their own bodily fluids on the uniform of a soldier are a disgrace, for they may as well have done that to every military person who has ever sworn an oath to defend and protect them. That’s not America, and that’s not patriotism.
When I look back at the riots in Washington and the rest of the country over the past several days, I can’t hear the message the protesters were trying to make because it is drowned out by the heartbreaking cries beyond the picket line of every person who has served to make this the greatest country in history.
Machi Johnson is a Utah native and a second-year law student at the University of Kentucky.