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Where were you when the Capitol was attacked? My answer: glued to the television, with eyes wide and mouth open.

How could this possibly be happening in our country, I asked myself as I watched horrified and dumbfounded. I’m sure millions of others were asking the same question. The idea that a sitting president would deny his opponent’s election victory and encourage his own supporters to stop the vote-certification process was beyond imagining, except to those ramming the doors, assaulting the cops, breaking the windows and running down hallways, taunting lawmakers and staff with threats of violence.

They looked — and acted — like animals. Who were these beasts — and how dare they?

To the list of infamous days, from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, we now have Jan. 6 — or J6, as right-wing activists have dubbed the insurrection.

Turns out the majority of those arrested and charged were what might be called regular folks, who weren’t part of an organized wing-nut cult. Some of those groups, such as the Proud Boys and neo-Nazis, were represented to be sure. But studies have shown that most of those charged or arrested were plain-old, unaffiliated, random Americans.

And look what happened. And what might have happened if the really bad guys had shown up? My guess is there are some pro-Trump, anti-government folks out there who are sorry they missed the events that day. FOMO — fear of missing out — is not limited to the younger generation. That another uprising could occur thus seems not beyond the realm of possibilities. And though the Capitol Police Department says it’s prepared this time, it also reports threat levels that are “exponentially higher” than last year.

I believe Trump had for a time planned to insert himself into the anniversary. But earlier this week he canceled his Jan. 6 news conference in Palm Beach, Fla., and said he would instead hold a rally in Arizona on Jan 15. There, he will likely continue his contention that he actually won the 2020 election. He didn’t, as courts, counters and capable election officials have supposedly confirmed.

We all know enough about mobs and combustible crowds to understand that it takes only one impatient troublemaker to turn a normal customer waiting line into a stampede or a peaceful gathering into a mob. Something clicks in one person’s brain, a shout goes out, a fever sets in, and the barbarians storm the gates.

Once contagion catches, there’s almost no turning back. At a certain point, even the angry become afraid, stimulating their fight or flight response and flooding all systems with adrenaline. Five people died as a result of Jan. 6, not counting the four officers who subsequently died by suicide. I think we all know we were lucky the number wasn’t higher.

Not so long ago, Americans shared a common understanding of how things should be. We understood — no, we believed as a first principle — that our problems could be fixed with elections. Yet today, 68% of Republicans think the 2020 election was rigged. We celebrated our democratic traditions and the peaceful transfer of power.

Now, a third of Americans think violence against the government is sometimes justified.

Something has happened to us, and we need to figure it out — now.

Then, maybe we could get back to work pursuing and fulfilling the dream we once shared.

Kathleen Parker writes a nationally syndicated column on politics and culture for The Washington Post.

Kathleen Parker writes a nationally syndicated column on politics and culture for The Washington Post.

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