As part of their job in screening visitors to the U.S. Capitol (should the complex ever re-open to the public, that is), U.S. Capitol Police often rummage through backpacks and purses. Lately, they may also be rummaging through more than that: your tax records, real estate holdings, and social media posts. All without your knowledge.
Besty Woodruff Swan and Daniel Lippman broke the details this week of a new Capitol Police initiative that involves deep dives into the speech, background, and lifestyle details of who members of Congress are meeting with, including donors, Hill staff, mayors, state legislators, and other Americans exercising their First Amendment right to petition their government.
In one example Swan and Lippman cite, a donor meeting attended at a private home by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, meant the homeowner and attendees had their social media scrutinized and evaluated for foreign contacts by Capitol Police. A donor meeting with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House Republican whip, received similar treatment. The Capitol Police were directed to “search for any information about event attendees, including donors and staff, ‘that would cast a member in a negative light.'”
In both cases, the lawmakers and the attendees were unaware these checks were taking place.
All of this is occurring under the guise of the “enhanced security measures” deemed necessary after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. However, it is unclear how such measures would have actually prevented the Jan. 6 events in the first place.
The Capitol Police have provided no detailed justification. Nor have they said what they are doing with the records, how long those records are being stored, or what other purposes they have. The agency is only subject to congressional oversight — not to public records requests.
One can imagine how easily these searches could become politicized: Personal details on Capitol Hill staff, state legislators, or donors are dispersed to partisans and suddenly leaked at an opportune political moment by some agency conveniently immune to the Freedom of Information Act and subject to limited oversight. After the aggressive leaking, spinning, and shaming that bureaucrats engaged in during the Donald Trump years, we’ve seen what’s possible.
This practice also comes dangerously close to burdening the free exercise of political speech, which includes the right to petition the government “for a redress of grievances” without fear of reprisal. As Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., a former criminal defense attorney, pointed out to Swan and Lipmann, these measures also walk right up to the line of “spying on members of Congress, their staff, their constituents and their supporters.”
“Anybody involved with implementing this without making it known to the actual members of Congress should resign or be fired immediately,” Armstrong went on. “And I’m not big on calling for resignations.”
Intentionally Keeping Voters at a Distance
Subjecting American citizens to a virtual cavity search in exchange for petitioning the government they elect in the buildings they pay for is more than just a one-off, however. It is yet another hurdle thrown up by the Democratic regime in Washington to separate the rulers from the ruled.
The Capitol, as well as the House and Senate office buildings, remain closed to visitors as they have been since early spring 2020, the longest stretch in the country’s history. It’s been longer than any closure for the Civil War, or even the 1918 outbreak of Spanish flu.
Football stadiums all over the country are packed, lawmakers fly to and from the Capitol on full flights and attend in-person events and fundraisers, and the Senate still votes in person (the House is still shamelessly proxy voting). But the corridors of self-government remain closed off to the people to whom they belong.
In addition to being transparently unnecessary, this undermines the nature of our self-government. Access to and interaction with those we elect is central to our representation. One of the qualities that makes America exceptional is our citizen legislature. That those we elect do not sit higher than us, but equal to us.
Placing heavier and heavier burdens on entry to the U.S. Capitol — the seat of our democracy — as well as access to those who represent us strikes at the heart of that relationship, and a central feature of republican government. It changes the detachment of our representatives from their constituencies from merely a rhetorical formulation into a literal one.
But perhaps that is the point. Security and safety theater in and around the Capitol keeps out the engagement that is part of accountability. It ensures the hoi polloi don’t accidentally get to interact with the people they elect. It keeps the participation of the masses of unwashed voters and the accountability they might bring at a healthy distance.
A Physical Hierarchy of the Ruling and the Ruled
Limiting access to the halls of our representative government is, in this way, a physical manifestation of the hierarchy that we now see all around us: between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, the people who follow The Science and those who have the gall to question it, between the corporate class and the underclass. Using theatrical excuses about Covid or Jan. 6 is a convenient proxy to further remove the political elite from the rabble they would rather rule than represent.
But this is our reality now. Working-class employees around the country are fired for rejecting a vaccine and blocked from going to restaurants and bars (including in the nation’s capital, which is overseen by Congress), “wrong thinkers” are cut off from the financial system, and bad social credit gets you cut out of the digital public square. The IRS is now requiring Americans to submit facial recognition data to access their tax records.
The hierarchy is here. Republicans in Congress should aggressively fight the new class system wherever they find it. And they should start within their own house.
Shut down the Capitol Police surveillance and re-open the Capitol, House, and Senate. Welcome Americans back into the seat of their democracy and the buildings that belong to them. In doing so, restore at least a modicum of the equality and access that has always been the hallmark of American self-government, but is now so desperately missing from D.C. and the rest of the country.