I wrote the following short fiction piece early in one of my Creative Writing classes at California State University, Long Beach.
The call from Herman B. (not his real name) came at one-thirty in the morning on Thursday, less than twelve hours after the takeover of the Capitol building. Herman wanted to explain why the seizure happened to the senior reporter for Infamy’s leftist website. “We went in with a plan, but other people got carried away. It was the rush of the moment.” He told Jeff Burrows that he should understand. “You protested in the sixties. You guys did crazy things.” Burrows retorted defensively that he never took over the capitol building, although it didn’t mean they hadn’t considered it. Herman wouldn’t let it go. “You guys rioted and burned buildings. You all blew up shit. You all wanted to launch a revolution.” Herman was convinced. “Well, the only difference between you and us is that our revolution is to take back America.” Jeff was silent.
Finally, Burrows pressed him, “Can we meet somewhere so you can give me the details?” There was shouting in the background at the other end of the call. Burrows strained to make it out. Herman had placed his hand over the phone to smother the voices. He finally came back on. “Look, we’re getting set to get out of town. My men don’t want me talking to you. We think they’re coming for us.” Burrows figured the “they” would be the FBI or Virginia State Police, D.C. Police, or all of them. “How do you know?” Herman laughed at the question. “Don’t you think we have friends in law enforcement? They’re standing with us.” The statement offended Burrows, whose brother was a former FBI agent, but he knew it was probably true. It didn’t surprise him. He’d met his fair share of right-wing sympathizers through his brother.
“Look, I can come to you. I can get in your car, or you can get in my car and do a quick interview.” Burrows could still hear people arguing in the background. This time Herman B. didn’t cover the phone. Whoever they were, they cursed him for trusting a reporter, especially one from a left-leaning website. At one point, someone shouted, “Fake News!” “Stop it,” Herman screamed at the shouter, “He’s okay with me.” Herman turned back to Burrows on the phone. “The Virginia Inn on Dixie Boulevard near Fort Meyer. Call me when you get here.” Burrows was tired. He had only gotten an hour of sleep when Herman called, but this was too important to worry about sleep.
The Virginia Inn is where tourists go when they don’t want to pay the high rates of the District across the Potomac River. It doesn’t stand out along the string of low-cost motels along the boulevard. Herman B. told Burrows last week that they were on their way and would only stay for two nights. They didn’t care that the place was run-down. The five men, all Arkansas New America Militia members, weren’t there for the ambiance. It was just a place to gather, plan, and sleep.
Burrows had been talking to Herman for a few months before Wednesday. The thirty-six-year-old mechanic from Witches Fork, Arkansas, was an ex-marine and an Iraq war veteran. Herman wanted everyone, including the leftist media, to know that a reckoning was coming. “This is bigger than one man or one movement,” Herman had told Burrows during their first phone call, “I’ve been reading your stuff. You have a following. I figured that you might be good enough to warn them.” Burrows quizzed him about who “them” was. Herman just snickered on the phone at the question. “I’ve read your stuff. You know who the real enemy is.” People like Herman fascinated Burrows. They both shared skepticism of big government but looked at government through a completely different set of eyes. For the right wing, the government was anyone who didn’t believe as they did.
Burrows wasn’t scared of Herman. He felt sorry for him. They had finally met in person on the Tuesday morning before the mall rally at the restaurant next to the Virginia Inn. After the first couple of calls with Herman, he told one of his partners, “This guy is not dumb. He sounds delusional.” Neither Herman nor any of his men wore masks. Burrows was laughed at for wearing his. The interview with Herman went fine. It was the one with his men that went downhill quickly. They couldn’t get off Burrows wearing a mask and refused to talk to him. “What are you hiding?” one kept repeating. Another got up in his face, “I don’t talk to men behind masks.”
Herman and his people from Arkansas weren’t the only ones staying at the Virginia Inn. The group was packing up their pickup trucks when Burrows finally arrived. The parking lot looked like a big truck rally. The license plates in the parking lot told the stories of journeys to the capital from as far west as Oregon and Arizona to Michigan, Mississippi, Alabama, New York State, and Maine. They were all here to “take back America,” as Herman had told Burrows months ago when they had begun their correspondence. Now, they were in a hurry to leave after the debacle at the Capitol. News of deaths and injuries had started to filter out through the news.
Burrows caught up with Herman B. as he was settling into the driver’s seat of his pick-up truck. “I thought we were going to talk?” The other men in the car with their leader started shouting at Burrows. “Shut up!” Herman called back as he exited the truck without turning off the ignition. He grabbed Burrows’ arm and pulled him away from the group. “What now?” asked Burrows. Herman leaned so close into Burrows that the reporter had to pull back to find a healthy distance without offending the man. “Don’t worry. We’ll be back. Real soon. The people that betrayed us?” he paused, “They’re going to get theirs.”
The reporter wanted to know if the taking over of the Capitol building had been planned as he implied or spontaneous. “All I’m going to say is that we knew what we were doing.” Burrows pressed him, “Was this coordinated? Did the President know? Was he pulling the strings?” Herman turned to him, laughing, “Why does everybody think we’re being controlled? Did it ever drop on you people that it’s maybe us who are doing the controlling?” Herman pulled a letter-size envelope out of his pocket and handed it to Burrows. “Here, take this. This will be a start to understanding what is about to happen.”
He looked back at his men shouting to get in the truck. From the corner of Burrows’ eye, he saw one man pushing a gun through the rear driver’s side window. Herman suddenly put himself between Burrows and the man, staring the man down. The gun retreated into the cab. “Look, I’ll send you more stuff through that encrypted email folder you sent me. I want all of them to know that this shit hasn’t finished. Not by a long shot.” Herman turned back to his truck and jumped in. Burrows could hear him cursing the other men in the dual cab. The car pulled away from the motel, joined by other trucks in a caravan heading back out onto Dixie Boulevard.
Burrows was walking back to his car at the far end of the parking lot when he saw flashing lights on Dixie racing toward the motel. It took a moment to realize that they belonged to police cars, many police cars. There were no sirens. He turned to see if Herman’s truck and the others had left the parking lot. There were police cars, at least twenty more, boxing in the caravan. A man wearing a green-colored flak jacket had jumped out of the back seat of Herman’s pick-up truck carrying what looked like an AR-15. He started firing at the police cars advancing on the group from my side of the parking lot. Burrows fell behind his car and closed his eyes, but he couldn’t shut off his ears from the thunderous volley of gunfire raining down on the Virginia Inn parking lot.
He could almost hear the bullets jumping around the motel and street. Burrows couldn’t see the action, but he knew this would be bad. Five minutes of shooting ended with shouts of “We surrender!” and screams of agony. Burrows waited. Sirens, more lights reflected in the motel windows, and more screaming, but no gunfire. He slowly raised himself to see what had happened over the trunk of his car. There were uniformed FBI SWAT officers, Virginia State Police, Arlington Police, and D.C. Police advancing on the caravan of pick-up trucks. Their AR-15 rifles and big handguns pointed wildly as they shouted orders, turning over bodies to see if they were still alive.
Herman’s head was lifelessly hanging halfway out his driver’s side window, blood streaming down the left side and onto the truck’s exterior. All the windows were shattered. There was blood everywhere. The first man who had jumped out of the rear cab with the AR-15 lay halfway between the parking lot and the sidewalk, his legs crushed between the back wheels of Herman’s pick-up. Burrows figured Herman had probably tried to back up from the police cars before him and accidentally ran over the man with the AR-15.
Burrows started shaking. He had never been in a gunfight. A riot, yes, but never anything quite like this. His journalism instincts kicked in, and he pulled out his phone and started shooting videos. He kept shooting video until his battery had run low. Everyone was too busy with the carnage to notice him. Burroughs decided against interviews thinking it would only raise questions about why he was there this early morning. Instead, he returned to his car and found an alternative exit into a quiet residential street behind the Virginia Inn.
The early morning sun was already breaking through the blinds in his office in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington as Burrows finally opened the letter-size envelope that Herman had given him. While he scanned the pages, he was also listening to network anchors on the television on his desk with breaking news: Big shoot-out in Virginia. White Nationalist militia. Law Enforcement. Multiple dead and injured. Handwritten at the top of the motel’s stationery, Herman had written a Declaration of Independence. What followed was atwo-page rambling and threatening manifesto about what would come on January 20 and the months ahead. “When democracy fails us, revolution is the only answer,” Herman had written.
The manifesto was spread out on the desk, and Burrows thought about what would have been if the police had not shown up. He was sorry to have seen Herman dead. While he couldn’t have disagreed with him more about his politics, he understood his frustration. At some point, Herman began to feel that he was forgotten. He used the word “betrayed” a lot in their conversations. When Burrows would ask him who had betrayed him, he would reply with comments like the swamp, Government, and Corporations. Herman had told Burrows that he and his people just wanted to be remembered for their contributions to America. In recent phone conversations, he had told Burrows that White people had been pushed to the background and that the New America militia was just one of many groups across the country who were getting ready to “take back this country.” Herman even used the phrase “by any means necessary.” Burrows found that ironic.
Re-reading the manifesto and thinking back to all his emails, texts, and phone conversations with Herman, Burrows remembered that the name of the President of the United States was never mentioned. He did remember the last phone conversation before he came to D.C. for the rally. “This will not be the last time, and we will not be the last ones.” Now that Herman was gone, Burrows thought about those words. The inauguration was less than ten days away. He put the letter down and returned to the story on the computer screen. He wrote the first words, “The threatening of America continues….”