Officer Alan Carr was among a few Capitol Police officers seen patrolling at the Maine State House on Sunday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — As I write this, it’s a quiet Sunday afternoon outside the Maine State House. Like the other media folk scattered about in their cars, I’ve been here for several hours in anticipation of the anti-government protest – and maybe worse – that law enforcement officials feared might break out at state capitols all over the country today.

Here’s the good news: Nothing happened.

The police are here, patrolling the capitol campus in cruisers, walking the perimeter of the State House on foot.

The press is here, with nothing to do but watch the police.

But the protesters – be they seditionists like those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, or the small groups who have met here frequently in recent months to decry everything from the November election to Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 response – are nowhere to be found.

That, as we enter this week of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, is a good thing.

I can hear the online chatter already. Self-professed tough guys chortling at how we all wasted a perfectly good weekend afternoon waiting for them to make good on all their talk. They sure fooled us, right?

Actually, wrong. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that nobody here today wanted anything to happen.

The police gathered to protect the seat of Maine’s government. The press came because our job is to bear witness to what happens, whether it’s a local planning board meeting or a right-wing revolution.

As the Maine Sunday Telegram reported, some Mainers still clinging to Donald Trump’s Big Lie warned one another that this was all a setup, a trap set by the FBI to lure them here and then arrest them and confiscate their guns.

The Facebook page “Maine Trump Rallies” posted that there are no rallies planned and even if there were, “there will NEVER be any that promote violence.”

But how can they be sure? It was their own demagogue, after all, who dispatched the mob to Capitol Hill less than two weeks ago with marching orders to “fight like hell” in their quest to overturn a legitimate, fraud-free election.

Thus, there was a reason for all the blue uniforms today. The phalanx of cruisers lined up discreetly behind the Maine State Police Troop D headquarters were there not to flex the muscle of an authoritarian government, but to be close by should the need arise to protect and defend the people’s house just across the Kennebec River.

A few minutes ago, a car with three young people – two men and a woman – pulled up.

I asked if they were here for “the protest.”

“My friends are,’” the woman behind the wheel replied, pulling up her mask.

Technically, she was correct. But then one of her friends, 18-year-old Sam True of Whitefield, explained to Portland Press Herald reporter Rob Wolfe that actually he’d come to talk with the protesters, to better understand the source of their fever.

“I think it’s important to talk to the other side and listen to what they’re saying,” he said. “I’m kind of happy that no one’s here. It shows that not many Mainers are willing to go along with the idea that this election was stolen.”

Sam and his friends stayed for a while, but eventually left. Anticlimactic? Sure. Still, he said, the calm around the Capitol meant “at least we didn’t go over the edge today.”

We need more Sams. We need young people, especially, to watch closely what’s happening during these troubled days and recognize the insidious danger that lurks behind collective denial, the blind rage that jump-starts a mob, the absence of critical thinking that has divorced so many from reality.

We need lots of other things, too. An honest and comprehensive re-examination of the role social media play in steering our most turbulent civic currents. Accountability, from Donald Trump down to his sycophants in Congress who sowed the seeds for this month’s insurrection – and it was very much that. Justice for the police officers in Washington, D.C., who were injured or died in the line of duty.

But most of all, we need truth. And peace.

A contingent of Maine State Police troopers just emerged from the Cross Office Building just behind the State House, packed their shields and other riot gear into a dark, high-roof van and departed. Moments later, an Augusta police cruiser, blue lights flashing for the first time all day, removed a towable “parking” sign that stood by the entrance to the largely empty lot behind the State House complex.

Everything is quiet now. The Maine and U.S. flags still flutter in the breeze. The large wooden doors to the State House – the same building Joshua Chamberlain defended from angry mobs 141 years ago – remain locked and intact.

History, which feeds on our highs and lows, our celebrations and our calamities, will not remember this day in Augusta, Maine.

And that, fellow Mainers, is a good thing.

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