WASHINGTON – A reddish haze colored the sky above the Capitol dome in the wee hours of Thursday morning. A huge American flag that flies in front of the building flapped in the cold wind. The streets were deserted and silent.
Few hints remained of the violence and chaos that had enveloped the physical heart of American democracy just hours earlier, when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the building intent on overturning the election of Joe Biden.
A curfew was in place. Having turned back the mob of attackers, the U.S. Senate had just finished certifying the Electoral College votes that assured Biden's election.
The morning sky, the flying national colors and the empty streets were almost enough to leave an impression that the United States had already overcome the unprecedented assault by American citizens on its democratic system.
Had it? The question lingered into the daytime hours. By midday, a few hundred Trump supporters gathered peacefully near a temporary but virtually impenetrable 8-foot interlocking metal fence that was being built, a replacement for the easily breached aluminum barriers previously in place.
"Where the hell was this yesterday?" a man driving past yelled at police officers and National Guardsmen who were taking up positions in front of and behind the barrier.
The Trump supporters mingled among themselves. They stood only a few hundred yards from the mammoth inaugural stage under construction, where Biden will be sworn in Jan. 20. The president's loyalists had lost their battle. No one was apologizing.
"I had to come back today to prove I can't be intimidated," a long-haired, middle-aged man in camouflage pants told his pals. "But I'm not going to talk to the news or anything."
Few were interested in talking on the record about whether America is a different country after the assault.
"Maybe," said one Trump supporter. "Maybe not."
"Too soon to tell," an older D.C. resident out for a bike ride said. He also didn't want to give his name, but called what happened "pathetic."
A young man on a motor-driven skateboard rode by the president's supporters. An enormous Biden flag rippled from the pole he held. But it caused no stir among the Trump supporters.
Two blocks away, another young man zigzagged around concrete barriers and past Trump supporters. He wore a Black Lives Matter face mask and a T-shirt with an obscenity aimed at Trump. He, too, attracted little notice.
Was this progress?
A sense of sadness, uncertainty and rage remained. Many members of Congress, including multiple Democrats in the Minnesota delegation, called for removing Trump from office for inciting the Capitol attack.
Inside the Capitol, a staffer knelt on the floor picking at tiny bits of broken glass among the statuary on the second floor.
The cleaning crew apparently missed these after the riot that temporarily shut down both chambers of Congress, cost four people their lives, and left the cops slugging it out with trespassers who believed they could break the democratic process.
"This is not as bad as the floor below," the employee said. "I hope we are different than we were yesterday. But I'm really not the person to talk about it."
The only one willing to chat was Don Folden. Folden, who is Black, walked through a mostly white crowd of Trump supporters pushing a cart that held a sign: "Stop hating each other because you disagree."
Folden took a folding chair from his cart and planted himself in the midst of the Trump crowd as his portable stereo blared out a Bob Marley tune.
"Let's all get together," the late reggae legend sang, "and feel all right."
Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432