Last Wednesday, acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf was a world away, on an international junket that included stops in Qatar, Cyprus and Bahrain. That morning, the same day thousands of Trump supporters descended on Washington, D.C., for a “Save America Rally,” Wolf popped up on Twitter to share photos of a meet-and-greet with Bahraini officials to discuss, among other things, “counterterrorism” and “infrastructure security.”
Two hours later, President Trump told his supporters to march to the Capitol. Five hours later, an aide interrupted a speech Sen. James Lankford was giving on the Senate floor to say that “protesters are in the building."
Wolf would later condemn the attacks as “tragic and sickening,” as almost every Republican official did. Wolf also publicly called on the president “to strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday.”
But now Wolf is gone, the latest member of Trump's Cabinet to step down since the attack.
Unlike Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Wolf didn’t mention the chaos at the Capitol when he announced his departure Monday. In a letter obtained by RealClearPolitics, he cited instead “recent events, including the ongoing and meritless court rulings regarding the validity of my authority as acting secretary.” (Wolf succeeded Kevin McAleenan, whose status as acting DHS chief was also disputed when he took over for Kirstjen Nielsen in April 2019.)
And this is another distinction: Wolf and the rest of the Trump administration had been quick to condemn violence when it was perpetrated by leftists. In fact, the head of DHS flew to Portland, Ore., this July to rally law enforcement defending a besieged federal courthouse.
“If local leaders are not going to step up and have the political will to stop this,” he told RCP in an exclusive interview before addressing officers dressed in flak jackets and fatigues, “then the president's been clear: The federal government will.”
An attack on a federal building was the same as an attack America, he added: “We are not going to abandon this seat of justice here in downtown Portland and have violent anarchists overrun it.”
What of the hooligans outside the walls of the courthouse that summer night and so many others, the ones hurling fireworks and chucking rocks at cops? Did Wolf consider, RCP asked, their violent protests an act of insurrection? "I think at some point you certainly could,” he said. “I'm not talking about it in that way at this moment — what I'm focused on is first making sure that we're protecting our officers.”
Talk of insurrection is now in vogue. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer indicated late Monday that Democrats would move to impeach the president Wednesday on charges of inciting an insurrection. Before the November elections, though, it was Republicans who were pointing to charred city blocks as an ominous warning sign. It was Trump vs. Biden in the era of mob politics, with both sides moving to distance themselves from the violent constituency no one wanted.
“They will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon,” Trump tweeted. “No one will be safe in Biden’s America.”
The president is now been banned from Twitter, and the dystopian future has come to the nation’s capital not at the hands of those who burned Kenosha or Minneapolis or Seattle but by those who thought they were storming Congress in service to Trump.
Many on the right now bristle at what they feel is a double standard. They complain that politicians who said that antifa “is a myth” and pundits who insisted that the crowds burning convenience stores in Minneapolis were “mostly peaceful” are now vociferously condemning the Trump rabble that stormed and occupied the halls of government. This does not include Ken Cuccinelli. Instead, the acting deputy DHS director sees the political violence as a continuum.
While assessing security at the Capitol the night of the attack, Cuccinelli told RCP he could see through the shattered windows and onto the floor of the House. “This is not the way we're supposed to govern ourselves in this country,” he said. “We've been saying that at DHS for six months, and we condemn violence, no matter who's doing it.”
But Cuccinelli believes that bad actors on the right learned from bad actors on the left after watching chaos go unpunished. “I remember distinctly Speaker Pelosi, instead of condemning violent protesters, condemning police by calling them storm troopers,” he said. The result: “When it's effectively encouraged by the powers that be, and allowed to go on all over the country, well, expect it to continue, and expect other people who observe that then to say, ‘Well, hey, if they can do it, we can do it.’”
While Wolf resigned Monday, Trump declared a state of emergency in Washington, D.C., and ordered federal authorities to supplement local efforts to keep the peace ahead of Biden’s inauguration. Much of that work, the president said in a statement, will be done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — a department of DHS.