The House January 6th Select Committee Hearings [Episode 1]

[ Posted Friday, June 10th, 2022 – 17:24 UTC ]

[Program Note: Our regular Friday column has been pre-empted to provide our review of last night's January 6th committee hearing. The committee has not fully released their schedule for hearings, although next week will reportedly see one each on Monday morning, Wednesday morning, and then a little later in the day on Thursday. Early hearings will be covered here the same day they air, since (being on the West Coast) it still leaves enough time to do the actual writing. Primetime hearings will be covered the next day. So any Thursday hearings for the next few weeks which air in the evening will also pre-empt the regular Friday Talking Points column. Any week without a Thursday evening hearing will mean Friday Talking Points will appear as normal. Just wanted to give everyone a heads-up.]


Public hearings of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol [Episode 1]

I should begin by saying that that should really be "Episode 2," since last night was technically the second public hearing the committee has held. The first took place on July 27th of last year ("The Law Enforcement Experience on January 6th") and featured four of the police officers who defended the United States Capitol against a violent mob attempting to interfere with the peaceful presidential transfer of power. I reviewed that hearing back when it happened, and the next day had to write a followup article titled "In Praise Of Liz Cheney." But due to the gap in time, I am going to consider that first hearing the "pre-season" and start numbering the hearings beginning with last night's.

Last night's hearing was meant to be an overview of the upcoming miniseries season. The next seven hearings were outlined, which will expose what Representative Liz Cheney called Donald Trump's "seven-point plan" to overturn a free and fair election. Next week, we will get at least two and possibly three more hearings (the official January 6th Committee website only lists the first two (as of this writing), on Monday and Wednesday mornings, but it is being widely reported there will be a third next Thursday at 1:00 P.M. Eastern time). That's a fairly fast pace, and it looks like the next two weeks will be chock full of hearings. I am assuming that at the end there will be a final hearing in primetime which will wrap up the entire storyline and present the full case to the American people about what went on, who was responsible, and what we should do now to ensure that it never happens again.

That is the real point of these hearings. To fully expose what happened, in brutal detail. And to make recommendations to prevent it from ever happening again. These hearings are not intended to achieve some political goal, as the two Republicans on the committee keep reminding us. These hearings are necessary, they are not designed to somehow have some political effect. History demands we know what happened, plain and simple.

Only four people spoke live last night, two of them members of the committee: the chair of the committee, Bennie Thompson, and the vice-chair, the most important Republican on the committee, Liz Cheney. The other two were the witnesses who appeared in person. Interwoven throughout were video clips of other testimony from other witnesses, which were used at appropriate moments to make individual points far better than Thompson or Cheney could have done on their own.

For the most part, the story was told by Trump's own people -- his advisors, his cabinet members, and even his own daughter and son-in-law. This was very effective, and I expect many more such clips to be shown during each upcoming hearing. The narrative was presented in "true crime" style, by first giving an overview of the crime that was committed, after which each individual aspect of the crime will be scrutinized.

It was not explicitly outlined in the hearing, but one committee member later told the media what each of the points were in Trump's seven-point plan:

  1. President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to the American public claiming the 2020 election was stolen from him.
  2. President Trump corruptly planned to replace the acting attorney general, so that the Department of Justice would support his fake election claims.
  3. President Trump corruptly pressured Vice President Pence to refuse to count certified electoral votes in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the law.
  4. President Trump corruptly pressured state election officials, and state legislators, to change election results.
  5. President Trump's legal team and other Trump associates instructed Republicans in multiple states to create false electoral slates and transmit those slates to Congress and the National Archives.
  6. President Trump summoned and assembled a violent mob in Washington and directed them to march on the U.S. Capitol.
  7. As the violence was underway, President Trump ignored multiple pleas for assistance and failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol.

So that's what the committee will lay out, step by step.

The first hour last night was devoted to both the overview of the crime that had happened and a less-explicit outline of what the committee will be presenting in the upcoming hearings. Bennie Thompson took the lead explaining the gravity and seriousness of what had happened, while Liz Cheney outlined the upcoming hearings.

The second hour of the hearing dealt with the two in-person witnesses, Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and documentarian Nick Quested. Edwards was kind of a throwback to the initial public hearing of the committee (from last July), and told her gut-wrenching personal story about what she did and witnessed that day. Quested was filming a documentary and following around the leader of the Proud Boys, which gave him incredible access to what happened, including witnessing (and filming, although in the crucial points the microphone did not pick up the conversation) a meeting in a parking garage the night before January 6th between the leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. Quested spent January 6th trailing the Proud Boys as they first reconnoitered and then attacked the Capitol, which also provided some rather stunning footage.


The first hour

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson opened the proceedings by recounting his own personal history and the history of the oath of office all members of Congress and the federal government must swear to. He presented a handwritten letter from Abraham Lincoln (a letter Lincoln had had his cabinet members sign onto, sight unseen), which explained how and why -- in the case of Lincoln losing re-election -- Lincoln would dutifully turn over the reins of power to his duly-elected successor, no matter what he thought that might mean for the country. This was a poignant reminder of how the peaceful transfer of power is supposed to take place -- even during a civil war. It was also a reminder of the petulance and narcissism of Donald Trump -- the only president in United States history who did not honor that constitutional transfer of power.

Thompson spoke of the effect of the Civil War, and how the oath officeholders must now take reflects that in the wording (which he heavily stressed, repeatedly): to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

He then laid out how Donald Trump was told, by some of his closest advisors both within his administration and from his own campaign, that he had unequivocally lost. The most striking of these came first, when Thompson rhetorically asked "Don't believe me?" and then presented former attorney general William Barr's video testimony, where Barr dismissively said of all the claims of election fraud: "I told the president it was bullshit. I didn't want to be part of it." Barr also explained how Trump was free to challenge the results in the courts, which he did, but when all the courts ruled against him, "in this country, that's the end of the line." Or it should have been, at any rate.

Thompson wrapped up with a simple conclusion: "Donald Trump was at the center of this conspiracy. And ultimately, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy."

Thompson's presentation was delivered very soberly, in his Southern drawl, and set the tone for the entire evening.

After speaking for 15 minutes, Thompson then turned things over to Cheney, who took up most of the rest of the opening hour. Cheney went straight at Donald Trump and introduced more video clips, from Barr, from Jason Miller, from Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, as well as others. Here is just some of what she had to say:

[A]ware of the rioters' chants to "hang Mike Pence," the President responded with this sentiment: "maybe our supporters have the right idea." Mike Pence "deserves" it.

. . .

Tonight and in the weeks to come, you will see evidence of what motivated this violence, including directly from those who participated in this attack. You will see video of them explaining what caused them to do it. You will see their posts on social media. We will show you what they have said in federal court. On this point, there is no room for debate. Those who invaded our Capitol and battled law enforcement for hours were motivated by what President Trump had told them: that the election was stolen, and that he was the rightful President. President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.

. . .

On the morning of January 6th, President Donald Trump's intention was to remain President of the United States despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his Constitutional obligation to relinquish power. Over multiple months, Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power. In our hearings, you will see evidence of each element of this plan.

. . .

As you will see in great detail in these hearings, President Trump ignored the rulings of our nation's courts, he ignored his own campaign leadership, his White House staff, many Republican state officials, he ignored the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump invested millions of dollars of campaign funds purposely spreading false information, running ads he knew were false, and convincing millions of Americans that the election was corrupt and he was the true President. As you will see, this misinformation campaign provoked the violence on January 6th.

. . .

In our final two June hearings, you will hear how President Trump summoned a violent mob and directed them, illegally, to march on the U.S. Capitol. While the violence was underway, President Trump failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol.

. . .

In our final hearing, you will hear a moment-by-moment account of the hours-long attack from more than a half dozen White House staff, both live in the hearing room and via videotaped testimony. There is no doubt that President Trump was well aware of the violence as it developed. White House staff urged President Trump to intervene and call off the mob. Here is a document written while the attack was underway by a member of the White House staff, advising what the President needed to say: "Anyone who entered the capitol without proper authority should leave immediately."

This is exactly what his supporters on Capitol Hill and nationwide were urging the President to do. He would not. You will hear that leaders on Capitol Hill begged the President for help, including Republican Leader McCarthy, who was "scared" and called multiple members of President Trump's family after he could not persuade the President himself.

Not only did President Trump refuse to tell the mob to leave the Capitol, he placed no call to any element of the U.S. government to instruct that the Capitol be defended. He did not call his Secretary of Defense on January 6th. He did not talk to his Attorney General. He did not talk to the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump gave no order to deploy the National Guard that day, and he made no effort to work with the Department of Justice to coordinate and deploy law enforcement assets. But Vice President Pence did each of those things.

. . .

And you will hear from witnesses how the day played out inside the White House, how multiple White House staff resigned in disgust, and how President Trump would not ask his supporters to leave the Capitol. It was only after multiple hours of violence that President Trump finally released a video instructing the riotous mob to leave, and as he did so, he said to them: "We love you. You're very special."

. . .

In our country, we don't swear an oath to an individual, or a political party. We take our oath to defend the United States Constitution. And that oath must mean something. Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

Finally, I ask all of our fellow Americans as you watch our hearings over the coming weeks, please remember what's at stake. Remember the men and women who have fought and died so that we can live under the Rule of Law, not the rule of men. I ask you to think of the scene in our Capitol rotunda on the night of January 6th. There, in, a sacred space in our constitutional republic, the place where our presidents lie in state, watched over by statues of Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant, Eisenhower, Ford and Reagan, against every wall that night encircling the room, there were SWAT teams, men and women in tactical gear with long guns deployed inside our Capitol building.

There in the rotunda, these brave men and women rested beneath paintings depicting the earliest scenes of our Republic, including one painted in 1824 depicting George Washington resigning his commission, voluntarily relinquishing power, handing control of the Continental Army back to Congress. With this noble act, Washington set the indispensable example of the peaceful transfer of power. What President Reagan called, "nothing less than a miracle." The sacred obligation to defend this peaceful transfer of power has been honored by every American president -- except one.

Cheney's presentation was also given in sober tones, although her voice did have an edge to it. This is understandable, considering what her own party has done to her for faithfully upholding her oath of office. I know it sounds astonishing (coming from me, as it does) but I couldn't help but think of Dick Cheney watching his daughter last night, and how she must have made him proud. She obviously inherited the steely backbone he so often showed -- even when doing so enraged people like me. As Liz said, this is above politics. This is about preserving the American way of government, and all those who are faithful to the Constitution are on the same side in this fight.

Cheney's presentation ended with a video (which ran a little over 10 minutes) showing new footage of the attack on the Capitol from various different angles and viewpoints. This was a recap of the first hearing, from last July. It was just as brutal as all the other footage the public has seen (both on the day it happened and since). The production values were superb, the video was seamlessly stitched together to provide a narrative of what happened, and didn't even contain some of the worst of the rioting -- what happened when the mob actually gained access to the chambers of Congress. But it was enough. It reminded America of what we all went through that day, watching at home. And it set the stage for the next hour of the proceedings, which began after a 10-minute break.


The second hour

The second hour was somewhat abbreviated, starting 12 minutes after the hour and wrapping up five minutes before the top of the next hour. This was the portion of the program with the two live witnesses, a Capitol Police officer and a documentarian who had been shadowing the Proud Boys on the day of the attempted insurrection.

Officer Caroline Edwards, who was the first of many police officers to be injured that day, told her story in gripping emotional terms. She recounted not only what happened that day, but also what she had to listen to about herself: "They dared to question my honor, they dared to question my loyalty, they dared to question my duty." It was clear from her voice how offensive this was to her (which is entirely understandable). At the end of her testimony, she was asked what her most searing memory was of the day and Edwards responded:

I can just remember my breath catching in my throat, because what I saw was just a war scene. It was something like I'd seen out of the movies. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos. I can't even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think as a police officer, I would find myself in the middle of a battle.... I'm trained to detain a couple of subjects and handle a crowd. I'm not combat-trained. That day, it was hours and hours of hand-to-hand combat.

This is why her testimony was presented last night -- because first-person impressions are a lot more powerful than a dry recitation of the facts. Edwards was knocked to the ground by the rioters, passed out when she hit her head on the concrete steps, and then later woke and rejoined the fight, only to be hit in the eyes with caustic spray from the rioters. Her performance of her duties that day was not only admirable, it was downright heroic.

The second witness was the documentarian, Nick Quested. He was filming a movie on the political divisions in America, and had close access to the leader of the Proud Boys. Quested recounted driving this leader around to various places on the night of January 5th, one of which was a meeting in a parking garage between a few lawyers and the leaders of both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, two violent extremist groups that have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their roles in January 6th. The meeting and the rest of Quested's testimony showed that the two groups were not only aligned, but had planned in advance the attack on the Capitol. This was not just some spontaneous demonstration that "got out of hand," it was preplanned and premeditated.

This segment (and the hearing itself) closed with a video of multiple members of the Proud Boys saying what most people who stormed the Capitol echoed that day: they came because Donald Trump asked them to. If he hadn't, the attack on the Capitol never would have happened.

This was all reportedly a teaser for revelations to come later. The committee has other evidence tying together these violent extremist groups with people in close communication with Donald Trump. We didn't get any of that communication last night, but have been promised it later on.



Last night was a good opener to what will unfold in the next few weeks. It got incredible ratings (Nielsen's preliminary figures put the audience watching live at 19 million). People watched, and most of them watched from beginning to end (viewership didn't noticeably drop throughout the whole two hours).

Fewer people will likely watch the hearings next week, since they will happen in the middle of the day. But remember that this figure doesn't count people who will watch via other methods (streaming it later, when they have time to watch, for instance). The fears that "nobody cares anymore" (which was the story Republicans were desperately trying to push before the hearing started) are obviously unfounded. America does care about what happened, and they do want to see some conclusions and consequences for all of the bad actors.

Last night's opener set exactly the right tone. In a word, it was righteous. It did not descend into raw emotion or rage, but it conveyed both more than adequately. What happened is, above all else, offensive. It was wrong. And that came through quite clearly last night.

The next episode of this continuing series will be aired next Monday, at 10:00 A.M. Eastern time. The plan is for it to examine the first of those seven points: how "Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information" even though he knew he had lost the election.

Wednesday's hearing will show Trump trying to influence and replace people at the Department of Justice, so they would give his Big Lie an official imprimatur (which, thankfully, never actually happened, due to so many administration lawyers threatening to quit if it did).

Last night's hearing set the stage for weeks of further exhibits and testimony. It was well-presented and it never got boring or bogged down in the weeds of minutiae. And, importantly, it was not hijacked by bloviating or conspiracy theories -- they way it would have if Nancy Pelosi had allowed Jim Jordan a seat on the committee. That alone was a gigantic relief.

All of this bodes well for the episodes which will follow. We seem to have the makings of a summer blockbuster on our hands.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


Waiting For The Show To Start

[ Posted Thursday, June 9th, 2022 – 15:57 UTC ]

I am reminded, listening to all the hype and buzz building about tonight's House January 6th Select Committee's nationally-televised primetime hearing, of the lyrics of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's "Karn Evil 9" ("Come inside the show's about to start / Guaranteed to blow your head apart"). But maybe that's just me.

For once, though (progressive rock references aside), the show that we'll all see tonight may actually live up to its billing. Because for once, Democrats are approaching it with professional help in presenting their findings as a narrative. This is more important than you might think.

Many books have been written about Democrats' general failure to present their political positions in narrative form. It is a longstanding problem for them, which is why whenever they get a standout storyteller they tend to do a lot better (Barack Obama and Bill Clinton both immediately spring to mind). In today's Democratic Party, the best current politicians in terms of presenting their agenda as a narrative would likely be Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Katie Porter (and her whiteboard). They cut through all the nonsense and legalisms and politics and tell the story in plain and relatable terms that virtually any American family can not only immediately grasp, but usually agree with.

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The GOP's Mental Health Hypocrisy

[ Posted Wednesday, June 8th, 2022 – 15:49 UTC ]

Republicans have come up with all sorts of attempts to deflect the public's attention from the enormous number and easy availability of guns in this country, some of them far wackier than others. But the more-reasonable response they've largely gathered behind is to say that all mass shootings happen because of "crazy people," and therefore we should put lots of effort into weeding those crazy people out before they can cause atrocities. That's what they say they're for, at any rate. As a way of deflecting attention, it's a lot better than what the fringe of the GOP is saying, after all.

But no matter how reasonable this may sound, their position simply doesn't hold water. Without even having the mental-health-versus-gun-control argument; even when you take the Republican argument at face value -- the assumption that beefing up our mental health infrastructure would prevent lots of shootings -- the Republicans still not only fall short, but in fact display some rather blatant hypocrisy towards such goals. In multiple ways.

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Do We Need Another Emmett Till Moment?

[ Posted Tuesday, June 7th, 2022 – 15:17 UTC ]

There is a debate currently taking place within the editorial departments of some of the nation's biggest newspapers, on the subject of what their own professional ethics and standards should be when it comes to showing the aftermath of violent mass shootings. What it boils down to is this: "Does the country need another 'Emmett Till moment' -- a photo of a child's badly-mangled body who was killed by gunfire in a mass shooting?" Which is an interesting editorial question, seeing as how the American media has gotten more and more timid over time when it comes to showing the results of any violence, really.

Before we even begin to explore this debate, though, there is something upon which everyone is universally agreed: no photo of a child's dead body should ever be published without the express permission of the parent(s) or guardian(s) of that child. Consider that one a given. If not for sheer decency's sake, then for the fact that any news organization which printed such a photo would almost certainly be sued for mental anguish by the parents who never gave their permission for it to be used. So this entire discussion is about whether the media should show such photos after permission has been freely granted, just to be crystal-clear. Emmett Till's mother was the one who demanded media coverage and photos, after all -- this is really nothing new.

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Alaska's Goldilocks Ballot Reforms

[ Posted Monday, June 6th, 2022 – 15:06 UTC ]

After a break for the holiday week, primary season will resume tomorrow. But rather than diving into the details of any of the seven states which will vote tomorrow (California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota), I'm more interested in seeing what happens later in the week, when Alaska holds a special election primary this Saturday. Because Alaska will be test-driving a new hybrid system which incorporates two ballot reforms at once: the "jungle" primary and ranked-choice voting.

Alaskans, for the first time, will face all the candidates from all parties on a single ballot, in a special House primary necessitated by the death of a state political icon. This seat -- which represents the whole state, since Alaska only has one House member -- hasn't been open for almost half a century, so it will be a free-for-all contest that hasn't been seen in generations. Alaskan voters will have a whopping 49 candidates to choose from on their ballots, from all parties. One of those candidates is ex-half-term-governor Sarah Palin, which should generate lots of media interest ("You betcha!"). Also on the ballot is a man whose legal name is Santa Claus, who hails from the town of North Pole (you just can't make this stuff up, folks). So it'll be an interesting race, one assumes.

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Friday Talking Points -- Enough!

[ Posted Friday, June 3rd, 2022 – 17:25 UTC ]

Last night, President Joe Biden gave only the second evening address (not counting speeches to joint sessions of Congress) of his presidency. The last time he did so was over a year ago. The subject of his speech this time was a grim one: the recent massacres of innocents in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. And all of the others which didn't receive quite as prominent media coverage, as well. He urged Congress to act, in the strongest possible terms. He pointed out that Republicans are the ones obstructing any progress whatsoever, and pleaded for some bipartisanship in the Senate.

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Biden To Give Televised Address To Nation

[ Posted Thursday, June 2nd, 2022 – 15:36 UTC ]

President Joe Biden is about to give an evening speech on national television. This shouldn't be all that rare an event, but with Biden it sadly has been. Last March, he gave such a speech on the COVID-19 pandemic response. Last March. Biden himself has reportedly been frustrated by his inability to get his message out, but he really bears a goodly portion of the blame for this himself. Where was the speech to the nation on the Russian invasion of Ukraine? How about a primetime address on inflation? Or the infant formula bottleneck? Or gas prices? Maybe he shouldn't have given a speech on each and every one of these important issues, but it would have been nice to see at least one or two of them addressed by the president, or perhaps a few within just one speech.

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Televised January 6th Hearings To Begin Next Week

[ Posted Wednesday, June 1st, 2022 – 15:25 UTC ]

Next Thursday, if all goes according to schedule, the nation will finally start to see what the House Select Committee on January 6th has uncovered during its lengthy investigation of the worst attack on the United States Capitol since 1814. This won't be a one-time show either -- there will be at least eight installments of this miniseries in June, with some of them appearing in primetime.

The date for the first hearing is not set in stone (there are no hearings currently scheduled on the committee's official web page), but this does seem to be the target for the kickoff:

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Second-Class Adulthood

[ Posted Tuesday, May 31st, 2022 – 15:26 UTC ]

In the political debate over possible restrictions on gun ownership that has followed the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, one idea has popped up which seems pretty reasonable on the face of it: don't let 18-year-olds buy assault rifles -- make them wait until they are 21 instead. But this opens up a much wider debate, one that few are talking about or even considering. Because the trend, over time, seems to be to slowly and incrementally raise the age of being considered an adult from 18 to 21 years old. If you are 18, 19, or 20, you are a sort of second-class adult, allowed to do certain things which could have life-altering consequences, but barred from doing others for another three years. Sooner or later two questions are going to have to be dealt with in a fundamental way, and so far they aren't on a lot of people's radars: "Is this even constitutional?" and: "Should we just raise the age of being considered an adult to 21 for everything?" Doing so would be a lot more legally consistent, but it would also be an enormous change for tens of millions of Americans and would probably not be very politically feasible (to say the least).

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From The Archives -- Memorial Day For Flu Victims

[ Posted Monday, May 30th, 2022 – 16:28 UTC ]

Program Note: I wrote the following article 13 years ago, for Memorial Day. It was a historic look back that was mostly prompted by a visit to Cobh, Ireland. But then it branched off into a different subject related to World War I. I ran this article again two years ago, and had really hoped that by now we'd have all moved on. Unfortunately, we're not completely out of the woods yet, so I thought it was worth running one more time. Hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day, and I'll see you all back here tomorrow when new columns will resume.


Originally published May 25, 2009

On a lonely hill outside the small town of Cobh, Ireland (pronounced: "cove"), is a mass grave marked by three somber headstones. As mass graves go, it's a fairly small one; holding not tens of thousands or even thousands, but merely a few hundred bodies. But the relative size of the grave on the scale of human misery is beside the point -- because while few, their deaths had monumental consequences for America. The dead were civilians, not soldiers (more on them in a minute). But their deaths deserve memorializing today just as much as those we remember who wore the uniform of our country. Because this is the final resting place of the people onboard the Lusitania.

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