A Country Divided: Interview with Mr. Lyons on Capitol Riots


While watching the inauguration of a new Democratic president and the first female vice president, one can’t help but notice the change happening in our country. Just weeks ago, our Capitol was being violently stormed under our former president, who was serving the end of his four years as the first president without any political experience. And now, history is being made with great steps toward equality. However, while the future is being changed, it is important to reflect on the past, especially the events of the past few weeks. History Teacher John Lyons has made it a mission to present the facts of the insurrection and the general unrest as well as his opinions on these times. It is important to recognize and analyze the upsetting events of this January so we may learn from them and prevent them from ever happening again.


What were your first thoughts or reactions when you heard of the events of January 6th?

I’ll tell you a story about 9/11. When 9/11 happened, I remember a sense of shocked amazement. It was on a Monday morning, I remember exactly where I was when it happened. I came in to teach US history class, and one of my advisees came in and asked if I had seen the TV. And I remember going through the rest of that week in a fog. And then on a Friday night, I turned on PBS NewsHour, and they were scrolling through names of people who had died, and there was a name of a woman from Groton, Mass. So it became closer to home and all of a sudden I had waves of emotion. I think there was such shock that there was just this overpowering feeling of emotion. So on January 6th, I just felt stunned and amazed. And then, there was an element of the sadness there was on 9/11. But there was just an overpowering feeling of rage. How did we get to this point? Who is it that feels that they can do this? And there is a lot of fear about, you know, what is happening to the Republic? These kinds of politics are all the kids these days know. I have been coming into class for four years, saying, whenever somebody brings up something in the news, “this is not normal. This is not normal. Hopefully we can get back to normal.”


How would you respond to Trump’s video telling his voters to go home but also that they are “loved and are very special”?

Rage. Horrified. Trump talks about strength, but I think he’s an emotionally very weak person. And he constantly, constantly needs and craves attention. And there’s just something really bizarre about his psychological makeup. But we’ve known that since the 1980s, when he was a real estate developer in New York. Probably the most dangerous place to be in New York or in Washington was between Trump and a microphone and camera, because he’s gonna plow his way through anything in order to get attention. 


The last time the Capitol was stormed was in 1814 by the British. What do you think it says about our society at this point in time that our very own people have stormed the Capitol?

Well, we’ve always had violent anti-government groups, where they want their freedom or they don’t want to wear a mask. Those are the people with shoes and a t-shirt going into a store, but they won’t wear masks. And it became totally politicized. What does it say? It says we are in a bad place, and we are profoundly divided. The vast majority of Trump voters are not people who are going to wear horns and animal furs and storm the United States Capitol. They would think that’s a bad idea too. But there are a lot of nuts. Look at what happened with Michigan or with the murderers in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. There are more of those. And by the way, COVID just serves as an accelerant. They grow lonely, they’re watching the internet, they’re spinning down into rabbit holes of conspiracy theories. We need to fix the COVID thing and move to the other side of it, then address a whole bunch of issues.


Since Trump has already been impeached, do you think he should be tried and convicted after Biden takes office?

There are people who think this will fuel the Trump supporters’ view that this is a lost cause, that they’ve been wronged, etc. Listen, five people died in the United States Capitol, which was being ransacked by a mob of zealots of all sorts, anti-government nuts, white nationalists, people who embrace wild conspiracies like QAnon. So should he be tried? Yeah. Before you can have any kind of peace, there has to be justice. And I understand that the stakes are pretty high. Joe Biden comes into office facing more challenges than any president, at least since Franklin Roosevelt, if not Abraham Lincoln in 1861. He has a huge chunk of the economy in freefall. He’s got a once a century, maybe more than once a century pandemic. He’s got political division. He’s got a climate that’s on fire. He’s got a global community that’s looking at the United States as though it has lost its mind. He has a lot to do, and simply can’t have a president incite a riot that leads to death, destruction, etc and not have accountability for it. And guess who agrees with me? I think Mitch McConnell! He said on January 19th that the riot was inspired by the president of the United States. And the people were told a bunch of lies about the election outcome. 


Do you have any other remarks on Trump, this insurrection, the general unrest, or any other current political matters?

I will be really interested to find out more information about that day, who was involved, and how they came to be involved. There’s a member of the House, Mikey Cheryl, who has wondered about an inordinate number of tours the day before. Maybe it was the people who were involved in the insurrection, to get the lay of the land inside the Capitol. Were members of Congress involved with it? What will happen to the 147 members of the House and Senate who voted not to certify the election? Authoritarians have a playbook: attack the press, the fake news media, the enemy of the people. They also begin with little lies, and then little lies become medium lies become big lies. Here is a little lie: Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US. Who perpetrated that? Donald Trump. Here’s another: My inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s. Donald Trump. The big, big lie? This election was stolen from us, and this was the greatest electoral theft in world history. As we go forward, how is America going to grapple? I don’t know. We don’t know anything yet. But we do know that the big lie was certainly part of the inspiration for this. This was nutty, tragic, and awful.