America The Usual

By Jeffrey Sterling

Though the assault on the Capitol was over two months ago, I continue to be haunted by not only what I saw in the news reports, but also in the overall meaning that was on stage for the world to see. Much more than a horrible insurrection and assault on democracy, what I saw, and have been continually reminded of, was that what happened on that fateful day was America, the usual.

I was trying to be fair in the aftermath of that horrendous scene and attack, I thought I would see substantial and meaningful action by our elected officials, the same ones who were nervously taking cover behind their protectors in the Capitol, to hold those responsible for the assault accountable. A glimmer of reasonableness was shown to me as the House voted to impeach Mr. Trump as the inciter of the attack (the fact that Mr. Trump is the first president to be impeached twice speaks for itself with regard to his suitability as president during his tenure). However, the failure of our elected officials to convict Mr. Trump and the overall response before, during, and after the attack on our Capitol and democracy have left me with an all too familiar feeling of disgust and frustration with where this country not only stands on race but also accountability. As the drama has unfolded, the powerful words from James Baldwin linger in my mind when he said “How much time do you want for your progress?”

The attack on the Capitol struck home with me with regard to so-called dangers to America and how our government and nation react to them. My own personal experiences have been testaments of how this country really sees African Americans. When I had the audacity to sue the CIA for racial discrimination, the government and the courts felt such a trial, an African American fighting for his constitutional rights, would be a grave threat to national security and therefore not allowed to go forward and destroy the country. Furthermore, I was wrongfully put on trial as a threat to the national security of this country. My experience was nothing more than what has been standard operating procedure for America. Think about the numerous so-called race riots, officially sanctioned lynchings of African Americans, the firehose and dog attacks upon protesters during the Civil Rights Movement, and just about every official response to racial uprisings. The all too recent heavy-handed and militaristic responses to protests related to Black Lives Matter all over the country are proof enough that the shameful trend continues of branding African Americans as threats to national security.

What took place at the Capitol was a public display of the other side of the national security coin. That wild, angry, and inflamed mob did not face the same preparation and heavy-handed response from law enforcement as has been the case with just about every African American movement for justice and change throughout American history. That mob was the right color, or more likely the wrong color that embodies a threat to national security. As clearly demonstrated by the mob being able to walk right into the Capitol, do their damage, and walk right out afterward, those protestors were just good white folk merely expressing their constitutional rights.

My question is, if what happened on that horrible day and the indications leading up to it were not considered threats to national security, then what is? I and African Americans in general are considered threats to national security merely because of the color of our skin, but attacking and trying to forcefully and illegitimately change and corrupt the very foundation of our nation and our democracy is not. The disparity at the time was clear, and it has been reinforced by the official actions afterward.

True, there have been some arrests, but none of the charges have been related to sedition or national security. And those who have been arrested have been given compassionate treatment by the courts. We’ve all seen the images of the so-called QAnon Shaman “expressing” his constitutional rights in the Capitol. He was arrested, but a judge ordered his transfer to another jail so he can receive organic food. I can tell you from experience in the various jails and prisons I have been subjected to, no such accommodations were made, or even in consideration. Yes, a vegetarian option was available, but it certainly wasn’t organic and certainly wasn’t palatable. Seems incarceration for those who actually are threats to the national security of this country is not the same for those who are considered de facto threats. Such empathy from our justice system has never been the case for those of the wrong color, or right color to symbolize a threat to national security.

The same holds true for the instigators. Then-President Trump incited the mob and encouraged what happened at the Capitol. His words to that angry mob were the very definition of sedition, yet he has not been held accountable and likely will never be. And then there is the honorable Senator from my state, Josh Hawley. What responsibility has he borne for also inciting that riot? None. A raised fist in the name of insurrection and sedition by an honorable, white Senator evidently is more well-received and respected than a black fist raised in the name of equal rights. And now, because he is conveniently part of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the honorable Senator is participating in the hearing on the Capitol security breakdown. I question the veracity and accountability of our homeland security with riot-inciter Hawley being on that committee. These honorable men strove to overturn our democracy and the very foundation of this nation, yet their actions have not and will not be considered the threats to national security they have been and are. Indeed, the lens of national security is color sensitive.

Like so many others, I have suffered under the wait for and weight of progress in this country. The Capitol riot has had me screaming at my country, “How much time do you want?!” It is apparent that no one who can answer that question is bothering to answer it. So many of us have and continue to be victimized by the perfidy of national security claims and there is no indication it will change any time soon. Do we as a nation really have the time to continually give those in power infinite time for progress? The longer we have to wait, the actual threats to national security can and will destroy this country.


Jeffrey Sterling is a former CIA case officer who was at the Agency, including the Iran Task Force, for nearly a decade. He filed an employment discrimination suit against the CIA, but the case was dismissed as a threat to national security. He served two and a half years in prison after being convicted of violating the Espionage Act. No incriminating evidence was produced at trial and Sterling continues to profess his innocence. His memoir, “Unwanted Spy: The Persecution of an American Whistleblower,” was published in late 2019. This essay, written for the RootsAction Education Fund, was distributed by the ExposeFacts program of the Institute for Public Accuracy.