When I first broke into the U.S. government consulting business, in 1981, I worked briefly on the continuity of government (COG) program. In particular, I worked on the part of it that was concerned with maintaining the presidential line of succession.
I was impressed with the number of statements I signed promising not to breathe a word of what I worked on, but I don’t think it’s a damaging national security disclosure to point out that the government spends a lot of time – and money – worrying about the security of the line of succession. At the height of the cold war, even a threat to the person who stood 12th in the line of succession, was a matter of significant national security concern.
A Soviet “decapitation strike” – or any other event – that took out significant portions of the line of succession – especially those near the top – was considered a national security threat nearly equivalent to a massive Soviet land attack in Germany or an attack that threatened our nuclear retaliation force.
A lot of words to make the point: the line of succession is a serious matter. Yet, on January 6, 2021, the country’s commander in chief, who swore an oath to protect the country against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” abetted a mob that intended to decapitate the top three people in the current line of succession (vice president Pence, speaker Pelosi, President pro tem Grassley) and the same three positions in the upcoming administration (vice president-elect Harris, speaker Pelosi, and President pro tem in waiting Leahy). All five were in the Capitol that day and all five were in danger.
In our history, there has only been one decapitation plot as dangerous as January 6: the Good Friday 1865 plot which killed president Lincoln, severely wounded Secretary of State Seward, and failed to attack the third target, vice president Andrew Johnson.
The traitor who led that attack was the subject of a nationwide manhunt and was found and executed within two weeks. Donald Trump, the traitor who posed the gravest national security threat to this country since the Cold War hasn’t been clapped in irons nor lost the support of his base.
We’ve had all manner of presidents, some good, some bad, most pretty mediocre. But among the first 44 presidents, we never had one who wasn’t at least a loyal patriotic American who wanted the best for the country. Even James Buchanan, arguably the worst of the first 44, tried hard. He often caved to the southern states but that was because he was trying to hold the Union together. Even Richard Nixon, the biggest threat to the Constitution among the first 44, never made war against the United States. With the events of January 6, Trump left the peer group of James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, and George W. Bush and has joined the company of such as Guy Fawkes, Caligula, and John Wilkes Booth.
Leon Reed, freelance reporter, is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a seven year resident of Gettysburg, where he writes military history and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, chaired the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and is on the board of SCCAP and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 3 cats, and 5 grandchildren.