WASHINGTON — Days after pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, a group of veterans is working to clean the hate out of their beloved city.
Navy veteran David Smith is still grappling with the horrific images from Wednesday's insurrection.
“It almost brings you to tears," he said. "It’s terrible.”
He said it was especially disconcerting to hear some rioters claiming to be veterans as they broke into the citadel of democracy.
“They’re yelling 'I served!' as if somehow that gives them impunity and they can just storm the Capitol, which is not right," Smith said. "To support and defend the Constitution. That’s what we’re supposed to do, not a man, not a president, but the constitution.”
Smith served in the Navy from 2007 until December 2020, only recently grappling with the lack of freedom some Americans experience regularly. This summer, his perspective changed.
He said watching federal forces clear out crowds peacefully protesting in the name of Black Lives Matter with tear gas and rubber bullets propelled him into action.
He founded the organization Continue To Serve, a group of veterans committed to advancing social justice initiatives, like Black Lives Matter. Since then, he said they've been protesting regularly at Black Lives Matter Plaza, with the motto "remember your oath."
“What we’re doing now is probably the most we’ve ever done for our country, including our military service," he said.
Smith said it's taken time, but they've gradually built a relationship with other social justice organizations in DC. He said he saw a stark contrast between law enforcement's response to the domestic terrorists Wednesday versus the protesters who have been demonstrating peacefully for the past six months.
“We’ve been on protest marches on a Saturday afternoon with 50 protesters and we would have over 100 cops, at least 50 or 60 on bikes. At least 10 to 12 cruisers. We’d have a paddwyagon with us at all times," he said. "What happened on January 6, there was no escalation of force. Yeah, they did use a little bit of gas, but man ... They shouldn’t have even been able to get in there, and if that had been a BLM event, we wouldn’t have been able to get in there, because they would have already had all those. They would have had the wall … they would have had all that security already in place."
To try to remove the stain of this riot from the city, Continue to Serve plans to do a clean sweep of Capitol Hill Sunday afternoon, picking up refuse from the riot and cleaning up any defacement of BLM murals. They're meeting at McPherson Square at 1 p.m.
“We want this country that we fought for, that we lost people for, we want it to be the country it’s supposed to be," Smith said.
He said he hopes their initiatives inspire other veterans to get involved in activism — because it's completely changed his mindset.
Smith said as Inauguration Day approaches, they're working on another event to unify the community. Details are forthcoming.