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For Some New Americans, Capitol Attack Was An Echo Of Turmoil They'd Hoped To Escape

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier on Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Julio Cortez
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier on Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Earlier this week, 34-year-old management consultant Rhazi Koné was taking a walk through his Washington, D.C., neighborhood when he noticed an unusual group of people.

"I think maybe four men and two women and they didn't have any masks on," he recalls. "And I walked past them, and noticed that two of them had jackets on which said 'Proud Boys.' "

The letters were in yellow on black jackets — the colors of the Proud Boys, a violent gang of self-described Western chauvinists that have become a staple at pro-Trump demonstrations. It was Tuesday, the day before the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Koné's apartment is only about 15 minutes away from the Capitol. The next day, as he was watching the news, it began to dawn on him that something big was happening. He went to the rooftop of his building — he could see the Capitol from there.

"It looked just like madness. Just looked like a movie," he says. "And it just really felt like something terrible was happening.

For many Americans, this week's attack were shocking. But for the millions of Americans born in countries with a history of political instability, the event has carried a different resonance.

Koné grew up in the Ivory Coast, a country that's been marred by civil war, but he makes clear that while he was running away from war, he wasn't a refugee. He was a 17-year-old who wanted more opportunities — a wider choice of colleges and to live someplace where there was hope.

Today, Koné is a permanent resident and on the way to becoming a U.S. citizen. So standing on the roof on Wednesday afternoon, watching the attack on his adopted country unfold, he says he felt a multitude of emotions.

"I really felt sad. This is exactly what I ran away from and here I am again, experiencing the same thing," he says. "I just always thought that America is better than that."

Koné says never in his wildest dreams did he think an attack like this could happen in America. But Nelly Miguel, another American with roots in a country with a history of political upheaval, was less surprised.

"When you've seen something up close, then you know it's possible," she says.

Miguel is in her early 60s. She's the assistant head of a private middle school in New Jersey. But she grew up in Venezuela. She left home to study in the U.S., where she has earned three masters degrees. After finishing her second masters, all of the sudden there was rampant inflation and no jobs in Venezuela. Facing uncertain prospects back home, she decided she wanted her future to be in the U.S.

"I am American now. But I'm not in the sense that I see Americans think that what they have is inherited and doesn't need to be nurtured, and it can't change."

Miguel says she has some advice for Americans who haven't previously experienced the kind of political upheaval that descended on the nation's capitol this week. Believe in our rules — in the Constitution.

"If you lose that, then it's only a set of papers that say a few rules," she says.

Koné says Americans need to show curiosity about each other, and a willingness to listen to the other side. He says America has been very focused on trying to spread democracy outwards. Now, he says, it's time to focus on what's needed at home, though he's not sure if Americans are ready to do the work it will take to repair the country.

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