In the eight years since our first date, I’ve always bought my husband flowers and chocolate for Valentine’s Day. (Matt displays the flowers and I eat the chocolate.) But if the seditious attack on the nation’s Capitol taught me anything, it’s that I need to up my game in the Valentine gift-giving department. This year, he’s getting a bullet-proof vest.
Now that Donald Trump—who used his power, privilege, and social media following to encourage the storming of the Capitol building—is (mercifully) out of office, it may seem like the threat of insurrection is a thing of the past. But these crazed QAnon elements are not going anywhere anytime soon. Some of the cult’s most vile adherents, like freshman congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, have somehow found an elected seat from which to spew their dangerous rhetoric. It’s clear that, as Trump licks his wounds at Mar-a-Lago, we still face a reality where people radicalized by the far-right-wing internet feel empowered to take to our streets and openly threaten violence against elected officials.
Even still, my husband thinks investing in expensive combat gear is ridiculous. But I see such precautionary measures as an act of love—and a life insurance policy.
Matt and I are newlyweds; it took me 39 years and countless lapses in judgement before I found the love of my life. He works as a legal administrator in a government building in Michigan’s Capitol. Credible threats of domestic terrorism leave me terrified that our swing state’s increasingly virulent QAnon population could one day make me a widow. So I’ve found myself scouring tactical gear websites and Amazon reviews for the kinds of goods that could possibly save his life someday—pieces that can be concealed under his suit or discreetly stored in his office.
The choices feel endless. Some vests are designed to stop bullets while others are only able to protect against knives. Who knew? There’s also the option of “stab” and “spike” protection. Apparently, sharp edges and spikes are totally different things in the world of protective gear. And then there’s the issue of hard material versus soft—this selection depends on external conditions like the weather, and also personal preferences for comfort. And finally, there’s the question of multi-threat armor, forcing me to guess the myriad ways that armed, horn-and-fur-wearing radicals could threaten Matt and his colleagues when it’s time to return to the office.
Gas masks, pepper spray, goggles, and other accessories necessary to defending oneself against insurrection present even more dizzying options. It’s easy to spend an hour or more sorting through bullet-proof vests alone; I have my work cut out for me if I’m going to make an informed purchase in time for Valentine’s Day.
We are not survivalists, and I like to think that I’m not paranoid as a rule. The closest thing Matt and I have to self-defense is a dull set of steak knives. I can’t stomach the idea of owning a gun, and I don’t know anyone who could field my questions about riot and tactical gear. But I now find myself in a new world, wondering how Matt should be prepared for workplace violence fueled by hyper-nationalists with an axe to grind. What’s the best work uniform for someone who might find themselves targeted by a dangerous cult simply for showing up to work?
The Michigan Capitol Commission’s recent ban on open carry guns inside the state Capitol is also not what I would describe as soothing. I don’t think those most likely to storm government property really care about the law, do you? After all, my armed neighbors are the same people who plotted to kidnap Michigan’s governor and forcibly overthrow the government. Why did it take a Capitol takeover to bring about a modicum of common sense?
As a writer, mandates to work from home suited me just fine. It’s where I do my best work, clad in pajamas, the refrigerator and pantry mere feet away. Since orders to work from home became necessary, nothing much about my life has changed. But Matt hasn’t had the same experience, and after nearly one year of reporting to an office barely five feet from our bedroom, he’s eager to return to his professional stomping grounds. He misses face-to-face interactions with his colleagues, lunch at the local Thai joint, and—oddly enough—his collection of suits, ties, and leather shoes, now dusty from lack of use. The office gives him a sense of pride, productivity, and identity that he prefers to keep separate from his home life, to say nothing of the boost reporting to the office gives his mental health. I understand, and I want him to be happy. But his workplace address now fills me with a sense of dread I’d never known before. Thinking of Matt returning to government property to do a job he loves—a job he’s worked hard for and is damned good at—is enough to induce a panic attack.
Although it will likely be months before he’s allowed to return to his building, it’s clear that Trump-loving extremists are in this fight for the long haul, and I’ve asked Matt to follow in the footsteps of both Michigan Sen. Dayna Polehanki and freshman Republican Rep. Peter Meijer, both of whom purchased combat gear to keep on hand at work.
“I’m not wearing a bullet-proof vest to work,” Matt scoffed in bed the other night. I showed him the articles about Polehanki and Meijer.
“You don’t have to wear it to work,” I clarified. “Just keep it in your office. See? They’re just preparing.”
“Well, just don’t buy it on Amazon,” he said. “There are better websites.”
I looked at him, speechless. He offered a mysterious smile. Perhaps I’ll be unwrapping my own tactical gear on Valentine’s Day. How so very romantic. How so very sad.
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