Watching coverage of a pro-Trump mob storm the U.S. Capitol today, I saw the U.S. Supreme Court in the background and thought back 20 years, when I was a reporter in ALM’s Washington office.
A month after the 2000 presidential election, I covered the scene outside the high court as the justices and lawyers inside argued over the law surrounding a recount effort in Florida. At issue was a 537-vote lead held by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney over Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.
Walking from the Metro to the Supreme Court before the first of what would be two argument days, I recall hearing the demonstrators before turning a corner to see them. I briefly wondered if things could get dangerous—in some countries, coups and juntas decided leadership disputes, I thought. But here in the United States we went to court to resolve problems, and while messy and onerous, the events were safe.
As I wrote then, the people outside the court were “ready for a good old-fashioned First Amendment workout.”
“The Bush group, many of whom sported Sore-Loserman T-shirts, felt confident enough to taunt the Gore group by singing, ‘Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!’
“‘Count the votes!’” responded the vice president’s supporters. “‘Stay out of the Bushes!’”
“Police in riot helmets guarded the perimeter of the Supreme Court plaza and, like boxing referees, occasionally waded into the mobs to separate the sides.
“Mike Sommers, press secretary to Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), described the festivities—complete with flying confetti resembling ballot chad—as a ‘Republican Woodstock.’
“Or Halloween. One Bushie was dressed as a ballot box, while another came as Darth Vader, holding a sign decrying the Clinton-Gore ‘evil empire.’”
What I see outside—and inside—the U.S. Capitol on TV isn’t what I experienced in 2000. And it breaks my heart.