By way of introduction, my name is Adam Johnson — but most people know me as “the Lectern Guy.” On Jan. 6, 2021, I kind of broke the internet after I was photographed smiling and waving as I was carrying then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s podium through the Capitol rotunda. Suffice it to say, the authorities did not look kindly on what I did, and I was later arrested.
Eventually, I was transferred to a courtroom after four days in isolation to be met by Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Scruggs for my arraignment in Tampa. I had the opportunity to brush my teeth and shower for the first time in days that morning and was hoping to make a good impression. His freshly pressed suit and American flag pin fixed to his lapel evoked a sense of due respect. I was the criminal here today.
The magistrate read the complaint, while I sat contrite. Scruggs was adamant in his insistence that “Everyone should be held accountable for their crimes.” It seemed reasonable enough to me. I had made the inexcusable decision to enter a building through open doors and carefully move furniture without permission. For these transgressions, Scruggs implored the magistrate to set conditions of my release to match my supposed crimes.
My firearms and passport were confiscated, I received a nightly curfew, and I was ordered to wear an ankle monitor, be drug tested at random, and not travel beyond a few select counties in my state.
At the time I was unsure if it was excessive. I was just happy to be back home with my family. I might have even been thankful. This man, Patrick Scruggs, had deemed me worthy to reside with my family and be among the public.
He must be one of the good ones, I thought.
But on Sept. 26, 2023, Patrick Scruggs was arrested and charged for brutally attacking a motorist with a deadly weapon during a road rage incident. He allegedly stabbed another motorist with a pocket knife. Within 24 hours, Scruggs posted bail with no conditions set for his release.
These days, I can’t help but think about Rome a lot. For instance, the personification of justice has historical roots reaching back to Emperor Augustus in 27 BC. It was manifested in sculpture.
She is our Lady Justice, the Roman goddess Justitia, blindfolded to bias, scales in balance to establish a constancy to her obligation, and a double-edged sword to carry out swift justice.
Her effigy is displayed internationally, but her real significance is the universal truth of what she represents; there is a moral contract with which we hold each other accountable. The details of the contract have long been debated, and multiple revisions have been reworked, replaced, and repealed. And while most provisions for change within the contract simply come from progress, there are moments in history that alter justice suddenly and irrevocably.
These events seem to emerge spontaneously, but the succinct response by the captors of Justitia paints a different story.
Most of us are likely familiar with the phrase “never forget,” probably in the context of 9/11. But I’ve always interpreted it to mean that if we want to preserve the idea of America, lines may need to be redrawn. Specifically, the lines where our rights and our security meet.
It seemed like a fair trade; my civil liberties and assurances would be restored once we got the bad guys. We were all in this together, after all.
The line between citizen and terrorist had been blurred and those lamenting from soapboxes not fortunate enough to have the talking stick were ridiculed for their lack of patriotism and adorned with foil crowns.
The canary in the coal mine fell on deaf ears, and justice became malleable in the name of national security. Some rebuked the invasion, most didn’t care, and the rest flagrantly celebrated it. The social credit score of knowing you are morally superior has its perks — for a time.
We were the good guys. We had our time in the sun, resigning with men acting as gods, forever in their favor. Call it naiveite if you want, but we were never meant to dine on Mount Olympus. “Never forget: The Sequel” would be released less than 20 years later.
But on Jan. 6, 2021, a group of unarmed “terrorists” managed to shut down an entire nation by walking through hallways, praying in gathering spaces, and moving furniture.
These new bad guys didn’t hide in caves or plant explosives in public spaces, with the exception of one shadowy figure who would adopt a legacy akin to the Sasquatch. Terrorism had a new face, and this time he wore Cabela’s and questioned a school board’s decisions to include pornography in libraries meant for children. An inquisition would ensue, and the ivory tower that once stood as a beacon of light for all nations would turn its gaze upon the very citizens that reinforced the bricks of its foundation.
More than 1,000 individuals have been charged as a result of the events on Jan. 6. Their homes were raided, their livelihoods destroyed, and their reputations dragged out like the entrails of field-dressed prey. Bail was denied, they endured months of isolation, and the Geneva Conventions was violated.
The inquisitors were hailed as heroes of democracy, despite the fact that most of the crimes committed were nonviolent misdemeanors that had historically resulted in fines and probation, when they were prosecuted at all.
Protesting in D.C. was not a novel occurrence. In fact, it not only has a lengthy history, it has a contemporary one as well. Storm a building during a Supreme Court justice confirmation hearing? Not a problem. Set fire to a church, injure Secret Service members, and cause the sitting president to be ushered to a bunker for safety? Why that’s just democracy in action.
Move a lectern 20 yards for a photo opportunity, however — well, that’s now “terrorism.”
Multi-decade sentences were recommended and administered to some of the participants that day. Moving a fence became tantamount to insurrection, resulting in a 17-year sentence, while Rene Boucher, who broke several of Sen. Rand Paul’s ribs during a lawn dispute, received a mere nine months! Not even the powerful were immune from this new breed of power!
As complex and nuanced as the justice system promotes itself to be, it is rudimentary at its core: You are either a facilitator of it or a victim of it.
Three years ago, I didn’t want to believe this. My worldview was anything but nihilistic, and I believed that once I had a chance to be seen and heard, the misunderstanding would be laughed off.
But the plot thins. The veil slips. The shroud is lifted. We have seen the man behind the curtain, and we are at an impasse.
If we have learned anything over the past two decades, it is this: Any power we are willing to give away so our enemies might be smitten will inevitably be used against us as well given a long enough timeline.
To restore our Lady Justice, we must honor the principles she once stood for. Scruggs will have his day in court, but no single case will restore equilibrium.
As I said earlier, I think about Rome a lot. The fall of an empire can’t be attributed to a singular event, much less a singular person. Nero was blamed for starting the fire that reduced more than half of Rome to ashes, but the citizens were content with bread and circuses.
The mob cheered as their neighbors were persecuted and slaughtered by Nero. Justice had become bloody retribution to entertain the masses. Sound familiar?
Our rulers and persecutors may be acting like Nero, but it doesn’t mean we have to be their mob; we cannot meet injustice with more injustice.
Justice is not demanding we prosecute vindictively. She is blindfolded to narratives, balanced without bias, and consistent in punishment. If the least of us agree to this moral contract and if we choose to believe in equal justice under the law, we can begin to restore our nation.