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Upset by veterans who stormed the Capitol, vets clean up the mob's trash from D.C. streets

"To support and defend the Constitution. That's what we're supposed to do, not a man, not a president, but the constitution," a Navy veteran said.

Upset by veterans who stormed the Capitol, vets clean up the mob's trash from D.C. streets
Cover Image Source: Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Days after the violent pro-Trump assault on the U.S. Capitol building, a group of veterans set about cleaning the hate left behind by the mob. David Smith — who retired less than a month ago after serving in the Navy for 13 years — rallied a group of fellow veterans and volunteers to clear racist and fascist symbols and messages strewn around the streets of downtown D.C. after he learned that some of his fellow vets had participated in the insurrection. "That was a dagger to the heart," the former combat medic told The Washington Post.


The Navy veteran had been distributing hand-warmers to homeless people a short distance from the U.S. Capitol on January 6 when the siege started. "It was pretty gut-wrenching to see," he recounted of watching the menacing mob storm the building. Smith said it was particularly disconcerting to hear some rioters claiming to be veterans as they broke into the citadel of democracy. "They're yelling 'I served!' as if somehow that gives them impunity and they can just storm the Capitol, which is not right," he told WUSA. "To support and defend the Constitution. That's what we're supposed to do, not a man, not a president, but the constitution."


On his way back home to Germantown, Md. after the disturbing events of last week, Smith spotted remnants of the riot strewn around the streets. Trash littered Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent areas while hateful markings were "all over the place," he recalled. His call to action was answered by close to 200 volunteers on January 10 as they congregated at McPherson Square with trash bags in hand. The group fanned out across the area and spent two hours collecting "Stop the Steal" and other pro-Trump trash from the streets. They also used scrapers and adhesive remover to peel off signs and stickers featuring logos and symbols from various neo-Nazi and alt-right groups.


"There was so much good energy, especially in the fallout of something so negative," said Smith. "It was like a massive street sweep. We left no stone unturned. It was amazing." Smith put out the call for the cleanup operation through his organization Continue to Serve, which he founded in June last year to create a community of veterans who stand up for justice and equality. "We want to empower like-minded veterans to get busy in activism and community service," he said. "What we're doing now is probably the most we've ever done for our country, including our military service."


Smith revealed that Continue to Serve was created in response to the racial unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. "When I saw Lafayette Square get cleared, I broke into tears. I couldn't believe this was happening in America, and that [law enforcement] would attack peaceful protesters," he said. "We've been on protest marches on a Saturday afternoon with 50 protesters and we would have over 100 cops, at least 50 or 60 on bikes. At least 10 to 12 cruisers. We'd have a paddywagon with us at all times," he said.


"What happened on January 6, there was no escalation of force. Yeah, they did use a little bit of gas, but man... They shouldn't have even been able to get in there, and if that had been a BLM event, we wouldn't have been able to get in there, because they would have already had all those. They would have had the wall... they would have had all that security already in place," Smith added. Continue to Serve has many plans for the future, including monthly gatherings, cleanups, food drives, and other events to bring the veteran community together. "We want this country that we fought for to be the place it's meant to be."


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