The Experiment Podcast: Protecting the Capitol One Year After January 6

Nearly a year after commanding the D.C. National Guard during the January 6 insurrection, Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker is helping ensure that the Capitol will never be attacked again.

Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker addresses the media at the Pentagon. The image is set into a frame featuring The Experiment’s show art.
Lisa Ferdinando, Department of Defense

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On January 6, 2021, William J. Walker was head of the D.C. National Guard. He had buses full of guardsmen in riot gear ready to deploy in case Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally turned dangerous. But when rioters violently stormed the Capitol building, the Guard was nowhere to be found. Walker says he was forced to wait for three hours before his superiors allowed him to send in his troops. “My soldiers were asking me, ‘Sir, what the hell is going on?’” Walker says. “‘Are they watching the news? Are they watching what’s going on at the Capitol?’ And I had no answer. I don’t recall ever being in that position, where I did not have an answer for my soldiers.”

Now, almost one year later, Walker is the sergeant-at-arms of the U.S. House of Representatives—the first Black man to ever hold that office. The Experiment’s correspondent Tracie Hunte and producer Peter Bresnan visit Walker in his new office at the Capitol to ask him about what happened on January 6, and what he’s doing to make sure it never happens again.

Further reading: The Man Who Could Have Stopped an Insurrection,”Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” “Are We Doomed?,” and “What the GOP Does to Its Own Dissenters


Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment@theatlantic.com.

This episode was produced by Tracie Hunte and Peter Bresnan with help from Alina Kulman. Editing by Emily Botein and Jenny Lawton with help from Julia Longoria. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman with additional engineering by Joe Plourde. Transcription by Caleb Codding.

Music by Keyboard (“Over the Moon,” “Water Decanter,” “Mu,” and “Small Island”), Arabian Prince in a UK World (“The Feeling of Being on a Diet”), Water Feature (“Ancient Morsel”), Laundry (“Laundry”), and Column (“Aerolove”) provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional audio from C-SPAN, The Untouchables, the FBI, and Forbes.


A transcript of this episode is presented below:

(Distant chanting resounds. Walkie-talkies beep, horns blare, and a small handful of voices yell indistinctly. Clips from the January 6 attack on the Capitol play throughout: as rioters enter the building, “Members will take their seats. The House will be in order,” and moments before that, ”And it will stay in recess until the call of the chair,” and “Protesters are in the building. Thank you,” followed by chants of “USA! USA! USA!” A blip later, and the cacophony cuts out.)

Julia Longoria: We’re coming up on the anniversary of January 6, 2021, when there was an attack on the nation’s capital.

Tracie, where were you when that happened?

Tracie Hunte: Um, you know, I—I actually wasn’t paying attention to the news much that day. Um, but then I went on Twitter, as you do. And I saw this photo of the House of Representatives. And in this picture, I saw law-enforcement officers with their shoulder braced against the door and their guns drawn. And it was just, you know—I was just like, “What!? Like, what is going on here?” And then, you know, I looked—read some more, and I realized the Capitol was under attack.

(The mayhem of the attack plays up for a moment. Another blip and the sound is gone, replaced by the soft, sustained drone of a synthesizer.)

Hunte: Okay. What are we coming up on, on our left?

Peter Bresnan: There’s the dome. So I think those are actually … That’s the door they broke in from this side.

Hunte: Yeah, they went straight up the front steps!

Hunte: I think part of the reason why it was so shocking to see that was because it just didn’t seem like there were enough people there to stop them. You know, we saw all these protests against police brutality, and we saw the police sometimes violently put these protests down. And the juxtaposition of those scenes compared to what we saw that day at the Capitol just left me with a lot of questions.

So I wanted to talk to somebody who might have some answers.

Major General William Walker: I am Major General William Walker, the commanding general for the District of Columbia National Guard, affectionately known as “Capital Guardians.” I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you … (Fades down.)

Hunte: So William Walker, on January 6, he was the head of the D.C. National Guard. And his plan was to bring guardsmen to the Capitol that day. You might have seen Walker testifying about this day in front of Congress.

(The music fades down.)

Walker: I would have sent them there immediately. As soon as I hung up, my next call would have been to my subordinate commanders: “Get every single guardsman in this building …” (Fades under and out.)

Longoria: So what did you want to know from him?

Hunte: General Walker was in a position where he should have been able to protect the Capitol, but he wasn’t able to. And I wanted to know what happened that day for him.

(A bubbly, sunny wash of electronica plays.)

Hunte: And since January 6, he actually has a new job. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appointed him to be the sergeant-at-arms, which means he protects the House of Representatives at the Capitol.

Bresnan: (A little out of breath.) So we are just walking up to the south gate. Someone will meet us there, so we just have to tell the police officer we have an appointment with the—the sergeant-at-arms.  

Longoria: This week, correspondent Tracie Hunte and producer Peter Bresnan visit our nation’s capital one year after it was attacked, to speak to the man whose job it is to protect it. They ask General William Walker what happened on January 6, 2021, and what he’s doing to make sure it never happens again.

(The music fades out.)

(The sounds of a metal detector and footsteps—Hunte and Bresnan are in the Capitol.)

Hunte: When it’s finally time for our interview, some Capitol Hill guards let us inside the building. And we go through the metal detectors, we make a sharp right, went down this hallway, past paintings of old, dead white men and into Walker’s office. His office is spacious and beautiful. It has this high-domed ceiling and beautiful chandelier. And underneath is a huge desk and then in front of that is this long wooden table.

Hunte: Okay. [Asking.] We’re going to set up here? Alright, thank you so much.

Hunte: And then the door behind the desk opens.

Walker: Hi. How are you?

Bresnan: Hi, General. It’s nice to meet you.

Walker: Ah, it’s nice meeting you. I’m sorry. Appreciate your patience.

Hunte: Walker is tall. He’s got gray hair, and he’s wearing a suit.

Walker: Just had one of those, uh—as you saw in the news, yesterday was a long, long day.

Hunte: And the day before we met him, the House had this marathon session where the Republican minority leader filibustered President Biden’s big infrastructure bill for almost nine hours. Walker got home sometime around 4 a.m.

Walker: Okay. But no—this is not photos, though, right?

Hunte: No, there’s no photos! No.

Walker: Because I’m exhausted. My eyes are baggy. Okay!

Hunte: Um, I was wondering if we can start with just, like, you introducing yourself?

Walker: So I’m William J. Walker. I’m the sergeant-at-arms of the United States House of Representatives. I’m the 38th person to have this position.

(Plunky, plodding percussion and a twangy synthesizer fill the background under the conversation.)

Hunte: Can you tell me kind of what block you grew up on and, if you can, paint a picture of what it was like—

Walker: Well …

Hunte: —when you were a kid? Yeah.

Walker: I’ll just say the South Side of Chicago. So I still have family in Chicago.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: And as you can—hopefully can—imagine, as a DEA special agent, I, uh, arrested a lot of people.

Hunte: He spent most of his career working for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Walker: Danger, excitement, and adventure. [Hunte laughs lightly.] I put a lot of people in prison.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: Not jail, prison.

Hunte: Mmm.

Walker: So, uh, some of them are probably getting out right about now.

Hunte: Ah.

Walker: So I’m kind of evasive about—

Hunte: Yeah, yeah. Okay.

Walker: Exactly where I lived and my family.

Hunte: Walker doesn’t share much about his personal life, but he’s very public about his faith in God—and his love for a TV show called The Untouchables.

Old-timey announcer voice: (Over dramatic music.) The Untouchables!

Walker: You’re too young to remember The Untouchables, but—

Hunte: Yeah, yeah. Yeah!

Walker: —these were the exploits of uh, federal, uh, prohibition agents.

Announcer: (Over yet more dramatic music.) Relentlessly driving on to face new dangers from the never-ending cavalcade of criminals who follow in the bloodstained footsteps of those who defy the law!

Walker: And they were men of, um, character and unimpeachable integrity. They were fearless. They were fearless. And—and they were—they were needed.

Elliot Ness: (From the show, over the roll of a timpani.) Federal officers—stay where you are! This is a raid!

Criminal: It’s Ness! Get ’em! (Gunshots fire.)

Hunte: What—in what ways was being an actual agent matched up with your vision from that TV show?

Walker: Almost completely. [Hunte laughs.] Almost completely.

Hunte: Really?

Walker: So this might sound weird, but I—you can still catch reruns of The Untouchables. And I binge-watch it. [Hunte laughs.] And I get the same adrenaline rush that I received when I would effect an arrest, conduct a search warrant.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: Um, yeah. It was just—it was thrilling. And you knew you were doing something meaningful, that you made America—quite frankly, the world—a safer place.

Hunte: Walker started working for the DEA in the early ’80s.

Walker: (Whispering.) You know, only African American in my class, when I became an agent.

Hunte: Wow. Really?

Walker: I got the photo. [Hunte laughs lightly.] Only African American in my class, devastated when I got there, thinking, Where is everybody?

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: “How come there are no Blacks here?” And every day, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Well, every day, they thought I wasn’t gonna make it, but I knew I was.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: But it was—it was hard. It was hard. Deliberately. It just was a tough job to get if you were Black. (Fades under.)

Hunte: In spite of all this, Walker ended up staying there for 31 years.

Walker: Thirty-one years—the fastest 31 years of my life. [Hunte chuckles.] Yeah. Twenty-five when I became an agent, 57 when I, uh, had to turn the toys in.

Hunte: But Walker didn’t stop working. Throughout his career, he also served in the National Guard. And in 2018, he was appointed head of the D.C. National Guard. And so, on January 6, 2021, as protesters from the “Stop the Steal” rally were heading over to the Capitol, Walker was preparing his soldiers for the worst-case scenario.

Walker: When you saw the number of people all massing at the Capitol, you know, it became readily apparent that the crowd size was [Exhaling in incredulity.] just huge. It was massive. And then if it didn’t stay peaceful, it was beyond the capability—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —beyond the capacity of the United States Capitol Police to deal with it, if the crowd became unruly.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: And so I already had riot-control gear—

Hunte: Mmm.

Major General Walker: —in the vehicles just in case. My command sergeant major had, um, had brought the buses inside the armory.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: And had the soldiers with their gear ready to go. So you think about, uh, how prepared we were on January 6—because we had the summer  to prepare.

Hunte: And during the summer was when there were, like, a lot of protests about police and that sort of stuff.

Walker: We had the riot equipment, the shields, the batons …

(The unsteady tremolo of a synthesizer note wobbles up and down over sirens.)

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: The protective gear, just in case.

(Audio of the attack plays.)

Hunte: Around 1 p.m., rioters broke through the barricades. They knocked down police officers, climbed the steps of the Capitol, and started banging on the doors and windows.

(More audio. Rioters yell.)

Hunte: And while all of this was happening, Walker was just a few miles away at the D.C. Armory, watching it all unfold on TV.

Walker: And I’m thinking the phone’s going to ring.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: And somebody is going to call and ask for the National Guard to respond.

Hunte: Right.

Walker: And so I’m just waiting. And at 1:49, the phone did ring, and it was from the chief of the United States Capitol Police.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: And he told me he needed every available guardsman. He told me where he needed us to be as quick as we could get there. If we didn’t get there immediately, he was in fear that the Capitol would be breached.

At that point, I notified the senior leadership of the call and told him, you know, “We need to get there to support the United States Capitol Police.”

Hunte: How long did you wait?

Walker: So—so, we waited over three hours for the green light, the go-ahead to respond to the Capitol.

(The tremolo is replaced by the sound of a vacuum, sucking up all the air, growing louder and louder until it implodes in silence.)

Hunte: Do you know what was behind the wait?

Walker: No, I really don’t know. Here’s what I was told:

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: That the secretary of the Army was trying to reach the secretary of defense.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: That’s what I was told, that the senior leadership was trying to develop a plan—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —for the National Guard to respond. And one of my colonels, he established contact with the leadership of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: And they kept asking him, “Where’s everybody? Where are the troops?”

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: And he’s calling me. And I said, “We don’t have approval yet. We don’t have permission yet.”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: “But hold where you are. I’m sure it’s coming.” My soldiers were asking me, my airmen were asking me, “Sir, what the hell is going on? Are they watching the news? Are they watching what’s going on at the Capitol?”

Hunte: Mhm.

(A hum plays, somber and sinister.)

Walker: And I had no answer. I don’t recall ever being in that position, where I did not have an answer for my soldiers and airmen—my guardsmen.

(A moment with just the hum.)

Hunte: What happened next is still being investigated. The DoD and the Pentagon’s inspector general say there was no improper reason for the delay. But according to Walker, as rioters stormed the building, and as senators and congresspeople sheltered in place, Walker just had to wait. For three whole hours.

Walker: It’s like a fire.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: The longer you wait, the fire spreads, and it—it gets more intense.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: I—I thought that, um, if we could have got here—we would have been here early, early—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —I believe we could have been a deterrent to those. You see the National Guard there. You see—in, in—

Hunte: In their uniform—

Walker: —in their uniforms, getting off these buses with full gear …

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: I believe that would have sent a, um, a clear message. I believe we could’ve made a difference.

Bresnan: Could I ask, um, what did it feel like to see on TV what was happening at the Capitol? As people were, you know, um, breaking through the windows—ike, what did it feel like to—to watch that?

Walker: To watch crime in progress. That’s what it was like, to watch criminals. So that’s … To witness that, you know, that was—that was troubling.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: It’s troubling.

Hunte: And to be on the outside of that, not being in a position—at that moment—to help.

Walker: Yeah. I mean, you—you—you clearly saw policemen being battered.

Hunte: Mhm. Yeah.

Walker: You know, they could’ve been killed. So that was—that was troubling, deeply troubling. You know, uh, as a career law-enforcement officer—retired law-enforcement officer—with 31 years of carrying, uh, handcuffs, a gun, and a badge, I felt for them.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: I felt deeply for ’em. And um, you know, it was hard to—hard to watch.

Hunte: Yeah. Up until that point, had you felt like the senior leadership was supporting you?

Walker: They were saying that they were supporting me. They were saying the right thing. So—so, you know, 39 years in the Army National Guard, I trust the Army.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: I trust everything about it. The Army has Army regulations. I studied them. I knew them. I believe in the Army.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: When the Army says, “We need to do something,” I don’t question it. So I was thinking, All right, there must be a reason why somebody is not saying yet, ‘Go do it.’

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: “Go support.”

Hunte: That must have been so frustrating that day.

Walker: I have never been that frustrated during my military career about anything.

(An autoharp, metal strings and all, plays.)

Hunte: I can’t help but see that you had a situation where the National Guard was readily deployed. You guys were put into place during protests where, quite frankly, it was about Black people and police killing Black—These were, you know—those were the concerns. And then you have this situation on January 6 where it was almost 100 percent white people [Chuckles.] and there was a hesitancy to call you all. Did you make that connection? Have you thought about that connection, or … ?

Walker: Well, I’m African American. I’m a Black person.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: George Floyd could have been my brother—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —my son, my uncle, my father. George Floyd could be me. You know, uh, so it wasn’t lost on me.

Hunte: Yeah. Mhm.

Walker: And then not just George Floyd!

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: Sandra Bland, and so many others.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: It’s not lost on me.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: So—so, it’s inescapable to see the difference in, uh, you know, the response in the summer—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —and the response on January 6.

Hunte: Yeah. And that was—was that also in your mind on January 6?

Walker: It—it could not not be on my mind.

Hunte: It could not not be on your mind? Yeah, yeah.

Walker: It could not not be on my mind. And I’ll tell you something, ma’am: It was on the mind of everybody.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: Not just Black airmen and Black soldiers. It was on every guardsman. The difference was undeniable.

Hunte: Mhm. [After a breath.] What do you think that people don’t understand about January 6?

Walker: Oh, I think they understand.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: So I think it’s just willful blindness. It’s willful, um … They’re deceiving themselves.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: Anybody who says that, uh, there was not a riot here. Any—anybody who could watch the video of what occurred here and walk away from that saying that it was not what it was, then they’re—they’re self deceived.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: I mean, I was here. They’re either being deceived or they’re deceiving themselves.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: Or maybe both.

Hunte: Yeah. I guess I’m not—I’m not convinced that it’s so innocent as just denial. I think it’s lying. (Laughs.)

Walker: Well! Well—and I don’t disagree with you—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —but denial, sometimes, is a, um, a reflex.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: You know? It’s, uh, something that—“This can’t be happening.”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: “I can’t be here.”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: “This couldn’t have occurred.” That—that type of denial, which I call self-deception.

Hunte: You’re somebody who’s, like, very methodical. You believe in the chain of command; you believe in these … rules. And that was a day when, like, the rules weren’t working.

Walker: Well, the rules work, because as bad as I wanted to show up here with every available guardsman, I didn’t.

Hunte: Right. I guess the “rule” as far as, like …

Walker: And I’m, uh—I need you to know, I really wanted to come. I came very close to—to just, uh, doing something I had—which would just be so outrageous to me—

Hunte: Mhm.

Major General Walker: —and that was to come anyway. And I had my army lawyer, my command sergeant major and others say, “Sir, you—there’s no way you can just tell us to go. Now, we will go if you tell us, but you just can’t do that.”

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: So—so … Yeah. So the rules do work. As bad as I wanted to come, [Hunte laughs.] I didn’t.

Hunte: I guess the rule I’m thinking of is, you needed to be backed up. Like, it shouldn’t have taken three hours for this person to call this person to get a sheet of paper that said that you can go, you know? That was … I feel like that—there was definitely, um, a letdown there.

Walker: Yeah. So I felt let down, but—but—but more thanthat, I feel like the United States Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police, and everybody that was out here felt let down.

Hunte: Mhm. Yeah.

Walker: It was a day of disappointment as, um—that this could happen in America.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: You know, as a DEA agent, I traveled quite a bit—

Hunte: Yeah.

(A new droning sound, light and airy, plays.)

Walker: —to developing countries. And, um, I guess I—in my mind, “This—this can never happen here.”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: And it did; it was just disappointing.

Hunte: After the break, Walker goes from watching the action on the outside to taking charge inside.

(The break.)

(More tape from the January 6 riots plays.)

Hunte: This is The Experiment. I’m Tracie Hunte. After the insurrection on January 6, the acting sergeant-at-arms of the House resigned, along with a bunch of other officials in charge of security at the Capitol.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi: General Walker, do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States … ?

Hunte: And later that spring, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed General William Walker to that position.

Speaker Pelosi: … So help you God? Congratulations. (Applause.)

Hunte: How did you feel when you were offered this position of sergeant-at-arms?

Walker: Amazing.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: Extraordinary.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: You know, I’m the 38th person, first African American.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: It’s hard to bundle that up. It’s hard to really, um, express that I was chosen.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: It was an opportunity to serve, to give back.

Hunte: You know, another thing I’ve been thinking about when I look at you being in this position, is that I think, um, to, you know—to be a Black person in this country, you are always kind of navigating some contradictions about this. Like, you’re the first African American sergeant-at-arms in a building that was built by enslaved Black people.

Walker: Slaves. Well, it’s not lost on me that who—who—I mean, there are photos. It’s not lost on me who constructed most of America.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: And to be the first African American—here’s what I always tell myself: “I must do such a good job—”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: “—that I’m not the last.”

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: “Or it’ll be another couple of centuries before they try somebody else African American.”

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: So—so I have that. It’s a tremendous sense of pride.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: But also pressure that I put on myself, because it’s different.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: So I have to get it right. That’s—that’s what I focus on.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: Doing the very best I can, day in, day out. Um, I focus more on that, but it’s not lost on me who—who built this magnificent complex.

Hunte: Yeah. [A beat.] Um, how do you, how do you feel having been a Black man who has given so much of your life to a country that sometimes has often, like, let us down as people?

Walker: Yeah. So—so I’m inspired by—by those who—who’ve done even more and received even less.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: So I think about, um, the Black soldiers from World War One: D.C. Guard. They served with the French because they couldn’t serve with the United States Army.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: And they were highly, highly decorated.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: The Harlem Hellfighters—they were New York guardsmen.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: So I think about them and, and I feel a tremendous sense of pride that—that—that tradition continues of service and sacrifice and self-denial.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: For a country that has not always—always, um, taken care of its servants.

Hunte: Yeah. What has changed in the last year since you took office?

Walker: So I was sworn in April 26. So we have a lot of, uh, enhanced security. We’re just doing a bunch of things that I can’t really talk about.

Hunte: Yeah, obviously.

Walker: But—but, uh, people won’t be able to climb the sides of the building—everything that should have been done, that we didn’t think would occur.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: So I’m not saying, um, the Capitol won’t be attacked again, but it won’t be attacked in the manner in which it was attacked.

Hunte: Has your, you know … Now that you’re inside of the Capitol building, is this almost—I’ve been thinking about it a little bit like, not so much like a do-over, but now you’re in a better, like, you’re—you’re in a better position to protect it. And I’m wondering, how does that feel? Like, does that feel like a chance to right what happened on January 6?

Walker: I don’t—I don’t think you can right what happened on January 6.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: Just like you can’t future-proof this complex for tomorrow’s threat.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: But you can be better prepared for it. I’m better prepared to get the resources—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —that we will need. I’m better prepared to reach out to those who can support us and help us and not be late. “If this happens, this is what we do. If that happens, this is what we do.”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: “If they both happen, this is what we do.”

(A slow, rolling drone mixes with the clack of light percussion.)

Walker: Before we wrap up, what else you got?

Hunte: Yeah. Did you have a question, Peter?

Bresnan: Yeah. I just wanted to ask one more question, which is that I think we’re living in a time when there is a lot of very vocal, um, questioning law enforcement in a really, really deep way. And—and you, um—you have such optimism about law enforcement and you hold people like Sandra Bland and George Floyd in your—in your mind. And I’m curious, like, how do you—how do you maintain that optimism in law enforcement? Like, how do you say, like, “I really believe law enforcement is the thing that’s going to solve the issues of our country,” while you’re seeing, at the same time, a lot of bad examples of law enforcement out in the world?

Walker: I don’t think law enforcement solves the issues of the country, though.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: That—that’s our elected leadership

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: That—that starts with the president, the Senate, the Congress, uh, mayors, governors, um, aldermen: that’s who solves the problems of our country. Law enforcement responds to calls for service. Law enforcement protects the citizenry from itself. Would you drive a hundred miles an hour down an expressway?

Bresnan: No.

Walker: You wouldn’t?

Bresnan: No.

Walker: Under no circumstances?

Bresnan: I don’t think so.

Walker: Well, people do it all the time.

Bresnan: Yeah. [Hunte laughs.]

Walker: They do it all the time.

Hunte: Yeah. Yeah.

Walker: And there has to be somebody to make them understand that that’s not safe for them or others. Can you imagine people who kidnap people, human smuggling, prostitution, drug use, bank robberies?

You—you have to have the police because of the brutish nature of man. You must have somebody to protect. You have to have centurions from the Roman empire that would protect man from man. Yeah. So that’s—that’s why I’m optimistic by law enforcement, a group of people.

Now, what—what has to happen, I think, there should be better filters for who becomes a law-enforcement officer: more screening, more training. And when things—when people do bad things, they have to be held accountable.

So I—I’m optimistic about law enforcement, you know. But it’s who is becoming a law-enforcement officer and why. Yeah, so I’m concerned about that.

Hunte: Mhm. Yeah.

Walker: And I’ve had to talk with my children.

Hunte: About how to interact with law-enforcement officers?

Walker: How to interact with the—with the—with the police.

Hunte: Mhm. Yeah.

Walker: Mhm.

Bresnan: What did you tell them?

Walker: First thing, put your hands where they can be seen. Pull over to extreme right. Turn the car off. Roll the windows down. Turn the radio off. Yeah. Keep your hands visible. Tell the officer that your father was law enforcement. “I hope I didn’t do anything wrong?” “I sure hope I wasn’t speeding.” “I sure hope I didn’t make an illegal lane change.”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: “I hope I wasn’t following too close. I don’t know why you stopped me. And I just have to tell you, I’m nervous,” and—and it’s ’cause they are.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: I’m nervous when I get stopped.

Hunte: Mmm.

Bresnan: Really?

Walker: I am. I used to get stopped all the time. Yeah.

Hunte: Hmm.

Walker: When I was a young DEA agent, driving high-value government vehicles—

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: —that we had seized from somebody, and I’d get pulled over.

Hunte: Well, I think the part of that—of the irony is that, like, you’re saying we need police officers, but then you’re also saying that police officers are—can be really scary and can be really …

Walker: Yeah.

Hunte: Unpredictable and dangerous.

Walker: It’s a paradox. It’s a paradox. Kept my hands visible. And I said, “Federal agent! Federal agent! Federal agent!”

Hunte: Right.

Walker: “This is a government car. It’s not going to come back on file. Um, do you want to see my ID?”

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: Hands right there on the steering wheel. “Oh, okay. All right. You’re a fed?” “Yeah.” And never told me why they stopped me.

Hunte: Hmm.

Walker: And then I’d show them the ID and be on my way. Just part of being Black.

Hunte: Yeah. How do you—how do you, uh, trust in the police and also be afraid of the police?

Walker: Well, so the overwhelming majority are there for the right reasons.  

Hunte: Yeah. But you don’t know that when you’re pulled over.

Walker: You don’t, you don’t. But the overwhelming majority—I have to believe that the overwhelming majority are public servants. That God sent them to be that individual that stands between good and evil. There are evil people out there. And we need—we need people to protect us from them.

Hunte: Mhm. You’re like a man of faith and not just faith in … It seems like you have, like, a lot of faith in institutions—like the Army, police, law enforcement—and also your faith in God.

Walker: Yeah. In the reverse order. [Chuckles.] So my faith in God first.

Hunte: Yeah, yeah. Your faith in God first.

Walker: And then my faith in institutions.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: And then my, you know—my faith in order.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: Yeah. Yeah, you know. I’m not an aberration.

Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: You know, there are a lot of people I know and work with who, it’s just a commitment toto the Constitution, to the flag.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: People who will wear the claw, take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. You know, uh, “So help me God” is the end of it. So help me God. So you get God involved.

(A gentle but serious chord plays, resonant in the quiet underneath the conversation.)

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: It’s powerful. It’s powerful.

Bresnan and Hunte: Mhm.

Walker: Yeah. It is a privilege. It is a privilege to serve, believe me. And when people say, “Oh”—when I wore the uniform—“hey, General, thank you for your service.” I said, “Well, you’re worth it. You’re worth it.”

Bresnan: Hmm.

Hunte: Yeah.

Walker: You are.

(The chord moves up and down, full of breath, over the up-and-down-and-back-again of a slow two-note trill.)

Hunte: You can find a whole slate of stories in The Atlantic’s January/February issue—out now—trying to get to the bottom of why January 6 happened and how we might prevent another one.

Atlantic writer Bart Gellman talked to people across the country trying to answer this question—an academic who studies the intersection between warfare and politics, the chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, and to Richard C. Patterson, a former captain in the New York Fire Department. Bart met Richard at a rally called “Justice for January 6th.”

Barton Gellman: Is resistance by violence justified?

Richard C. Patterson: So, the violence and the vandalism that took place on the 6? I’m not a fan of that. I don’t believe that was representative of the group’s mindset. The “Stop the Steal” people were for the most part, like today, peaceful. That’s an opinion.

Hunte: Find Bart Gellman’s story ”Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun” in the latest issue on newsstands or online at theatlantic.com.

ˆThe windy, wispy notes play up loud, then fade out, leaving the two-note trill.ˆ

Natalia Ramirez: This episode of The Experiment was produced by Tracie Hunte and Peter Bresnan with help from Alina Kulman. Editing by Emily Botein, Jenny Lawton, and Julia Longoria.

Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman with additional engineering by Joe Plourde.

Music by Tasty Morsels.

Our team also includes Kelly Prime, Gabrielle Berbey, and me, Natalia Ramirez.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen.

The Experiment is a co-production of The Atlantic and WNYC Studios. Thank you for listening.

(The two-note trill has added another note. It keeps playing just long enough to fade out, taking the episode with it.)

Copyright © 2021 The Atlantic and New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at www.wnyc.org for further information.