The United States of America was moments from collapsing and drifting toward totalitarianism on Jan. 6, 2021.

Not since the Civil War has the United States come so close to thwarting the democratic principles on which the country was founded.

When riotous insurrectionists attacked and breached the U.S. Capitol, every American citizen should have felt the horrifying attack.

Here is a reminder from National Public Radio of what took place:

Early on Jan. 6, 2021, protesters arrived at the National Mall to attend a Save America Rally where politicians and former president Donald Trump were scheduled to speak.

Speakers, including the president, perpetuated lie after lie that the 2020 election was stolen.  At one point, Trump declared, “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Trump even suggested that Vice President Mike Pence refuse to certify the election that was scheduled to take place later that day in the House chamber.

By 1:00 p.m. EST, protestors made their way to the Capitol building.

Within minutes of their arrival, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gaveled to order a joint session of Congress to begin the certification process.

At approximately that same time, the former president finished his speech with the following, “We’re going to the Capitol. We’re going to try to give them (Republicans) the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Back in the joint session of Congress, some Republican Representatives and Senators began to object to the certification. Outside, the crowd was swelling. Watching numbers grow, Capitol police began to see a weakness in their plan to protect the Capitol and maintain peace.

By 1:30 p.m. EST, the first group of protestors overpowered a Capitol police barrier surrounding the Capitol. Thirty minutes later, protestors arrived at the Capitol building, breaking windows and doors.

Quickly, they breached the Capitol; they moved from being protestors to insurrectionists.

Immediately, the joint session was suspended and leaders were escorted away for their protection. Many elected leaders remained in the House chamber, fearing for their lives. Outside the chamber, chaos and violence erupted.

At 2:24 p.m. EST, the former president tweeted, “Mike Pence did not have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution…” Minutes later, he encouraged the crowd to remain “peaceful,” but the damage had already been done and the violence continued.

Capitol Police and insurrectionists continued to clash. Police were attacked with flag poles, baseball bats and chemical sprays.

Over the course of the next two hours, insurrectionists moved through the Capitol, vandalizing and stealing property. They continued with their violent rhetoric, even chanting at one point, “Hang Mike Pence!” Outside, with dramatic effect, the crowd erected a hangman’s noose to solidify their point.

It took an astonishing two hours after the first insurrectionists breached the building for the former president to order the National Guard to the Capitol. Across the country, Trump supporters began arriving at state capitol buildings chanting the same insurrectionist language heard in D.C.

Shortly after 4:00 p.m. EST, president-elect Joe Biden addressed the nation, asking the president to condemn the insurrection and issue orders that would bring about peace. Instead, the president released a video on Twitter sympathetically talking to his supporters and encouraging them to go home.

Nearly two hours later, the Capitol Police finally started clearing out the building. Not until after 8:00 p.m. did Vice President Pence reopen the Senate. Senators, one by one, denounced the violence and, in some cases, the actions of the former president.

At 11:32 p.m., the joint session was brought back together. Then, at 3:24 a.m. on Jan. 7, the election votes were finally certified, declaring Joe Biden president-elect.

American democracy hung in the balance that fateful day.

Each and every day, citizens of this great country maneuver through their routines and schedules, never thinking about the destruction of our democratic system. However, on this one day, our system of governance teetered on the brink of collapse.

If it were not for the brave men and women of the Capitol and D.C. police, the committed Representatives and Senators willing to follow their oaths, and Vice President Mike Pence for denying his boss and following the Constitution, the fabric of our democracy would have been compromised.

Margret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, offered, “The fabric of democracy is always fragile everywhere because it depends on the will of citizens to protect it, and when they become scared, when it becomes dangerous for them to defend it, it can go very quickly.”

One year after the attempted insurrection, the country still has much to do to preserve our democracy.

Many of our fellow citizens still believe President Joe Biden is not the legally elected president.

During the pandemic, those same citizens acted – and continue to act – in ways that caused illness and death to spread. Some even cling to a white Christian nationalistic ideology that advocates the supremacy of the white race.

More than any other time in our nation’s history, people of good faith need to stand up and speak out. Democracy is too fragile a system to permit a vocal and violent minority to dominate the conversation and agenda.

Actor and playwright Sam Shepard offered this seemingly prescient statement on U.S. democracy in a 2004 interview with The Village Voice: “Democracy’s a very fragile thing. You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible for it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it? It’s something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.”

The time is now for decent and thoughtful people to rise up, denouncing the movement and people that brought about the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

The opportunity is before us to dream of, and work toward, a better and stronger America, one that truly is the land of the free and home of the brave.

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