The rule of the people, p.24
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       The Rule Of The People, p.24

           Christopher Read
 

  * * *

  The surge of support across China for those advocating peace seemed to be gathering its own momentum; whatever the city, University students invariably formed a relatively large proportion of the protestors, their disillusionment with the Government an especially powerful motive for change. In cities where the number of demonstrators remained small, the police presence was enough of a deterrent to ensure the protests simply fizzled out, and the official media blatantly ignored all such protests. It was a policy which utterly failed in the major power-bases of Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, the unofficial TV networks finally proving their worth. As darkness settled, each of the city centres was emblazoned in yellow, the colour borrowed from past protests with a simple ribbon now the favoured symbol over the more obtrusive umbrella. Police reinforcements were not yet in position, the military ideally needed elsewhere, and to make matters worse China’s skill in cyber-espionage was turned inward, police communications disrupted and computer systems frozen.

  The mood in Beijing remained relatively restrained. Independent reports estimated there were now close to forty thousand demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, well short of the peak of 300,000 that had gathered there in 1989 and far less than the protests in Moscow and Washington that had swept Golubeva and Deangelo to power. Whether police or protestor, everyone was very conscious of Tiananmen Square’s special place in history, both sides keen not to provoke trouble. Music and speeches provided a focus for some, a pleasant distraction to others, the tents and sleeping bags slowly spreading to occupy a good third of the square, everyone a little nervous as to what the authorities might do come morning.

  For Hong Kong, it was another chance for its seven million people to prove they would not be bullied by the Government in Beijing and, for a few hours at least, Hong Kong Island effectively became cut off from the rest of China, the additional security units struggling to cross from Kowloon. Close to a hundred thousand people were now in Victoria Park or marching through the city, various streets blocked, the island’s traffic grinding to a halt. Several thousand demonstrators gathered at the three-metre high barrier that protected the Civic Square and the Central Government Offices, the metal railings festooned with yellow, protest songs sung, the atmosphere one of exuberance and hope, not yet one of anger or despair.

  Such public dissent could not be allowed to go unchallenged and hundreds of government supporters started to gather in the side streets, their blue ribbons a deliberate colour match to the police uniforms. They quickly forced their way through to Civic Square, the two sides trying to out-shout each other. The vocal battle soon changed to become one of bottles and bricks, fist fights raging across a dozen streets. The government supporters were vastly outnumbered but more vicious in their attacks, the defenders falling back while trying to carry their wounded away. The police once again simply stood by and watched with no attempt made to interfere or separate the two groups; even ambulances came under attack, the crews facing a barrage of abuse and an occasional bottle.

  As word spread of the brutality of the response, the protestors started to arm themselves with whatever was available, their frustrations taken out on the metal barrier safeguarding Civic Square, a vehicle winch the attacker’s most effective weapon. The police finally responded with the usual of batons and pepper spray, the searchlight from a helicopter picking out individuals to target; the height and nature of the barrier made it more difficult for the police to defend it effectively, hundreds of demonstrators reinforcing those attempting to break through into the square. Fighting soon spread to the area around the High Court Building and even Police Headquarters, the sound of gunfire finally cutting through the tumult.

  Unsure what was happening, the protestors immediately pulled back, regrouping just a few blocks away. The local hospitals were already struggling to cope with the influx of wounded and volunteers began combing the streets to help where they could. The Hong Kong news media were used to a certain independence and support for and against the protests was split, the estimated number of casualties varying wildly from a few dozen up to several hundred, one hospital claiming at least five demonstrators had been killed, two with single gunshots to the head.

  Both sides now needed to lick their wounds and plan out the new day. Despite the authorities belatedly choosing to shut down the internet and mobile phone networks, the scenes of brutality – not just from the police – were still finding their way on to social media; the peace movement claimed to be uncowed by the police response, online videos urging others to join the protests and so prove people’s true strength of feeling. Those in Tiananmen Square learnt of events from Hong Kong with a growing sense of unease, several thousand choosing to pack up and leave, the risks now simply too great.

  Boston, U.S.A. – 13:55 Local Time; 18:55 UTC

  Anderson was finally back on track with his obligations to The Washington Post, the article drawing comparisons between Golubeva and Deangelo due to published on the Monday, a second more controversial one on the shootings in the National Mall still trying to work its way past the worried frowns of the paper’s lawyers. Conscience and bank balance duly satisfied, Carter’s parting gift of Professor Charles Nash had proved impossible to ignore, Anderson’s reservations temporarily put on hold.

  A weekend meeting at short notice was always likely to be difficult but as soon as Nash had heard Anderson’s accent nothing was too much trouble. A native of Kent, Nash’s fifteen years in the U.S. had been spent mostly at Harvard, a wife won and lost along the way; the three-storey townhouse in Charlestown had been purchased soon after the divorce, it now filled with an assortment of antiques, no corner left bare. The large study was even more chaotic, two walls covered with bookshelves, Nash’s background in History and Political Science revealed by the hundreds of books and magazines stuffed on shelves and piled high on the floor, a paper version obviously preferred to any online resource. Technology did make a tentative appearance in the form of a closed laptop, it resting on the green leather inlay of an antique desk, alongside a selection of chunky hardbacks.

  Physically, Nash was nothing like Anderson had imagined: late-forties, the upper-class accent had conjured up a vision of someone tall and skinny, probably with an unlit pipe in his mouth. In reality, Nash’s physical appearance was suited to that of a wrestler, his handshake as bone-crunching as Anderson had feared. The expected offer of sherry was instead replaced by various less alcoholic options, Nash seemingly determined to make sure his guest was well looked after.

  Although Anderson was supposed to be directing the conversation, Nash obviously had other ideas and an abridged version of Anderson’s own journey from one Boston to the other was dragged from him, no reference made to Carter or McDowell. Nash, however, seemed to have drawn his own conclusions from their initial phone conversation, the intervening time well spent doing his own checks as to Anderson’s background.

  “I’ve read of your exploits in D.C.,” said Nash with a broad smile. “Fugitive reporter suddenly turns up in the National Mall with the FBI in tow – I’m intrigued, do tell me more.”

  Anderson returned the smile, “Sorry; I’m under orders not to say anything. Suffice to say, I was trying to do the right thing... Your name was actually given to me by another English export, name of Jonathan Carter.”

  Nash frowned, “It’s a common enough name but it doesn’t ring a bell. Are we talking student or colleague?”

  “Neither I’m afraid. If Carter means nothing, then what about Pat McDowell?” Anderson was definitely feeling his way, no clear idea as what relevance the Professor might have to anyone, let alone Deangelo or Thorn.

  Nash looked curiously at Anderson, more puzzled than anything. “You mean the man the FBI are hunting for various murders? Am I supposed to know him?”

  “I guess not. It was Carter who suggested I should speak to you, so there must be some connection.”

  “And Carter has something to do with McDowell?” Nash didn’t wait for
an answer, brow furrowing as he recalled a past news item. “My apologies; I was being a bit slow. Wasn’t Carter one of those arrested for hacking into government databases?”

  “That’s him; Carter and the others were working under orders from McDowell, which makes it all the more intriguing as to why he gave me your name.” Anderson was annoyed that he hadn’t got more about Nash out of Carter, already convinced that if the Professor really was involved then it was more by accident than design.

  Nash quizzically raised one eyebrow, “Since I know nothing of either of these men, how precisely am I expected to be of help?”

  Anderson shrugged, “Sadly, Carter didn’t say. I’m guessing that someone might have been in contact with you at some stage; maybe three or so months ago, maybe longer. Perhaps they wanted to pick your political brain about something.” He knew it all sounded a bit vague but he was struggling not to imply anything too close to the reality, conscious that the FBI would likely be following up on his every question.

  Nash slowly shook his head, “There’s nothing obvious, I’m afraid.”

  “No-one, say, wanting advice about a plot for a book or a film?”

  “I wish,” replied Nash with a wry smile. “A film credit would nicely finish off my CV.”

  “What about Neil Ritter? Did you know him?”

  Again the raised eyebrow, “You’re certainly coming up with an interesting selection of names. Yes, I knew Neil; not that well but our paths had crossed now and again. We last met at a conference in New York; April sometime I think it was. He always seemed a fairly serious sort; not someone likely to be murdered… You’re suggesting Neil has some connection with Carter and this McDowell character?”

  “It’s a possibility, nothing definite.” Anderson decided it was time to give up dodging the issue, sensing that it was the only way to make progress. “Maybe it’s more to do with your political connections. Presumably there must be a good few rumours about Dick Thorn and how Bob Deangelo eased his way into the White House?”

  Nash took the question in his stride, unwilling to let Anderson’s name-dropping intimidate him into saying something he might later regret. The political machinations of the past month had added an extra dash of realism to Nash’s lectures and tutorials, the dramas played out in the corridors of power discussed and argued over at length. Nash carefully mulled over his answer, curious now as to what Anderson was implying.

  “With respect, Mr Anderson,” Nash said finally, “I would hardly reveal the content of private conversations to someone I had only met less than an hour ago. We’re a fairly close band of political introverts, and we debate and argue with each other like any other circle of friends. Deangelo’s succession surprised just about everyone but there’s been no serious hint of anything underhand… Before you ask, Deangelo’s not someone I’ve ever met; Dick Thorn I’ve known for several years and if I’m honest I share some of his frustration with America’s political system; however, I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a friend.” Nash paused, looking straight at Anderson, “Are you suggesting that Thorn and Deangelo were part of some conspiracy to seize power?”

  “Not exactly; not just yet anyway,” said Anderson, playing safe. “Would your area of expertise fit in with that type of scenario?”

  “I’m afraid my interest lies mainly with the history and development of political systems not how to disable or overthrow them,” responded Nash. “It’s not as if any so-called expert holds all the answers and can tell someone how to take over the government in five easy steps, and certainly not after one casual conversation like this. We could all come up with ways to make life more difficult for the President or Congress but I sense you’re implying something more along the lines of a palace revolution. That’s not quite what happened with Deangelo; he was after all nominated by his predecessor.”

  Anderson knew they were going round in circles, Carter no doubt having a good laugh at his expense. “What if Congress had rejected Deangelo?” he asked curiously. “Could someone like Thorn have taken over? He obviously had plenty of people wound up in the National Mall.”

  “You’re talking of a coup,” said Nash, trying not to sound patronising. “Popular support is never usually enough; the military need to at least offer their implicit approval.”

  “And is that actually feasible here?”

  “In the United States?” Nash’s brow furrowed in concentration, not willing to totally dismiss Anderson’s question as ridiculous. “It’s highly unlikely and I’m not sure what the justification might be. Bob Deangelo’s nomination was a rushed affair but the democratic process was still followed to the letter; what made it so unusual was the rapid and sustained sequence of problems which led to the crisis in the first place.”

  “Okay, so no palace revolution and no chance of a coup…”

  “I didn’t exactly say that, Mr Anderson, and history proves we would be foolish to totally ignore the possibility.”

  Anderson stayed silent, confused as to why Carter had bothered mentioning Nash. He was convinced the professor was trying to be helpful – it was more that he wasn’t asking the right questions. For Carter to simply waste Anderson’s time seemed a little pointless, childish even; Nash was the key to something, Anderson just needing to work out exactly what.

  Nash was similarly intrigued as to why he was on a hacker’s contact list. One possibility kept nagging away at him, even though it was years old, a free exchange of ideas that in turn had led to something more permanent.

  He pulled open the laptop and searched for a file. “After the budget impasse of 2013, I wrote a series of articles on the role of Government; the final one considered the scenario of a president choosing to dissolve Congress.”

  “Dissolve how exactly?” said Anderson, pleased that inspiration had finally made an appearance.

  “I didn’t specify. It was just a discussion document, looking purely at the potential repercussions and even the odd advantage as to how the government might function.” Nash twisted the laptop around, the article duly found.

  Anderson scanned through the first few paragraphs before opting to stick with Nash rather than some wordy document. “I take it the President can’t just order Congress to shut up shop when he feels like it, even if he could come up with some good excuse?”

  “Normally the simple answer would be no,” said Nash thoughtfully. “However, a clause in Article II of the Constitution allows him – under exceptional circumstances – to adjourn Congress if the two chambers disagree as to the date of adjournment; now, with the House of Representatives trying to prevent Thorn’s confirmation, that particular clause has suddenly become rather more relevant. The President can also invoke emergency powers to suspend or enact laws, but he can’t use them to dismiss Congress. Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt exercised emergency powers during times of crisis but they were still subject to oversight from both chambers. And Congress can always seek to impeach a president who oversteps his authority.”

  “And they can impeach him even if they have to meet in secret, say in New York?”

  Nash pulled a face, “It’s not that simple. Article I forbids either House from meeting other than in the Capitol unless the other agrees. If the Capitol Building is off limits, it’s a moot point as to whether any such meeting would be legal.”

  Anderson was just about keeping up. “So under normal circumstances, physically preventing members of Congress from entering the Capitol would be enough to stop Senators and Representatives from legally enacting any laws? And they couldn’t even impeach the President?”

  “In theory, yes,” said Nash looking uncomfortable. “I imagine Congress would still try to meet somewhere else and worry about the consequences later. It would all come down to whether one illegal act by the President justifies a reciprocal illegal act by Congress. The lawyers could end up tying themselves in knots for months.”

  “What if instead of trying to prevent members accessing Congress, they were held incommunicado ins
ide the Capitol Building itself or detained elsewhere?”

  Nash shook his head, instantly dismissing the whole idea, “Now you’re definitely voyaging into the realms of fantasy, Mr Anderson. It would immediately create a constitutional crisis. Whatever scenario you want to pick, someone – the FBI, National Guard or the army – would act to restore Congress’ authority; they wouldn’t just allow a president to physically hold Congress hostage or sit back while armed guards blockaded the Capitol. The Supreme Court and every key government building and agency would have to be under the coup’s control – that would take some serious manpower.”

  Anderson persevered, curious to see where his questionable logic might lead. “Which conveniently brings us back to the army. Presumably the D.C. Police by themselves would have the resources to isolate the Capitol Building?”

  “I guess so,” said Nash, not wanting to commit himself. “Although I rather doubt the Capitol Police would be that accommodating… I seem to recall a follow-up paper from Professor Oscar at Princeton did concentrate on how a president might use the military to bring Congress to heel, and knowing Oscar he would have made sure the army shot a few Senators while they were at it. Maybe that’s what your man Carter had in mind.”

  “Professor Oscar?” repeated Anderson. “Then wouldn’t Carter have simply given me his name in the first place?”

  “Oscar passed away about three years ago – cancer. Perhaps I’m considered more approachable than a decaying corpse.”

  Anderson was minded to agree and Carter obviously didn’t want to make it too easy for him, something else he had no doubt learnt from Pat McDowell. “And both of these articles are in the public domain?”

  Nash reclaimed the laptop and quickly logged onto the Harvard website, talking as he worked. “The Harvard Library runs an open access repository and they can be downloaded from there. A handful of authors have cited my article over the years so it’s not totally obscure.” He studied the screen in front of him, checking out various pages. “The repository’s stats are a little basic, just number of downloads and little else; unfortunately, neither article has been downloaded in the last month – that’s about as much as I can get out of it.”

  He again turned the screen towards Anderson so that he could see for himself the lack of information. It was another frustrating barrier to making sense of Carter’s offering, Anderson worried that he would need to read through several long-winded papers to get to a single key fact – and even then he wouldn’t know whether it was actually that relevant or not.

  Nash was still keen to play the detective and unwilling to give up just yet. “Give me twenty minutes,” he said positively. “I’ll see what else I can come up with.”

  Anderson didn’t argue, pleased to let someone else do the hard work. Earl Grey and a packet of Hobnobs duly made a welcome appearance with Nash apparently determined to maintain some key links with his homeland. Sadly, the twenty minute estimate turned out to be wildly inaccurate and Nash spent most of the next hour on the phone, his persuasive skills struggling to make headway.

  An underemployed Anderson used the time to study Nash’s book collection. Not all were related to Nash’s political interests, a whole shelf filled with books on antiques, another with classic fiction, even Jane Austen. For some odd reason it all helped convince Anderson that Nash had nothing to hide, his surprise at being named by Carter almost certainly genuine.

  “This may or may not be useful,” said Nash, phone calls finally complete. “The Congress article was downloaded just once in the past year; June 23rd to be exact. The same visitor also downloaded two other articles that same day: the one by Oscar and one published in 2000 by a Professor Daniels at Yale. My contact wouldn’t give me the visitor’s IP address but she did give me a rough location: Fredericksburg – does that help?”

  Terrill was barely sixteen miles from Fredericksburg and it was enough to convince Anderson that he was on the right track. With Anderson now a captive audience, Nash reverted to teaching-mode, re-assessing each article in the light of President Cavanagh’s demise before offering his expert opinion as to how they all fitted together.

  Anderson listened politely, more intrigued by the content of the overlong Yale article. Professor Daniels had undertaken a step-by-step analysis of the various legal challenges made in response to the 1999 military coup in Pakistan. In an unexpected and controversial judgement, the Supreme Court had finally declared the coup legal and justified, Pervez Musharraf continuing on as Pakistan’s President until 2008.

  The fact someone had looked up a shady legal judgement together with a hypothetical means of suspending Congress proved nothing; even if Carter or McDowell was the person actually doing the looking, it could still be little more than an idle piece of research rather than a hint as to some future event. Intriguing at best was Anderson’s first thought, pleased that his trip to Boston wasn’t quite a total washout.

  In the end Anderson stayed for another two hours, Nash an entertaining if occasionally eccentric host. Their parting handshake was as bone-crunching as earlier and Anderson’s warning that the FBI would likely be in contact was met with a broad smile of anticipation; such attention was to be welcomed, the Professor delighted that his political speculation was being taken so seriously, his kudos amongst his Harvard colleagues rising by the hour.

  For Anderson a flight back to D.C. seemed as good a next move as any, especially with the possibility that Congress might still be a target. Professor Oscar’s concept of how Congress would be dissolved was the Capitol Building shut down, key Senators and Representatives arrested. He had also assumed that only the military would have the resources to enforce and maintain such a divisive act, and he had looked at two distinct scenarios, a couple of retired generals lending their professional insight.

  The first had the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, more commonly referred to as the Old Guard, striking out from its base across the Potomac to support National Guard Units as they sealed off key government facilities: the Capitol, House and Senate Office Buildings, the Supreme Court, the Hoover Building…

  More complex was the second of Oscar’s blueprints, units from the 82nd Airborne Division alone tasked with securing Washington. Based at Fort Bragg some 280 miles south of D.C., the Airborne Division had changed significantly since Oscar had written his paper, and the more recent follow-up comments had focused on the Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team and its ability to handle such a challenge. Whether three parachute battalions and a squadron of tanks was overkill or not was well outside of Anderson’s understanding, public reaction to any takeover likely to be the deciding factor. Congress might have a record low approval rating of just six percent but that didn’t mean people would happily settle for an all-powerful president, especially one they hadn’t even voted for.

  And what about the various security agencies such as the DHS and FBI, or the rest of the military – would they simply sit back and do nothing? What if some members of Congress resisted and were hurt or even killed, would that provoke more of a reaction? The Senate’s Sergeant at Arms had the authority to arrest anyone violating Senate rules and that included the President of the United States, although Anderson wasn’t convinced Deangelo’s Secret Service detail would necessarily be that obliging.

  Compared with Oscar’s first option, the airborne alternative seemed to lack a certain spontaneity, it needing significant pre-planning to move hundreds of men all the way to Washington. Yet it had already happened once before: the 1971 May protests against the Vietnam War had seen transports fly in four thousand men from the 82nd Airborne to Andrews Air Force Base just ten miles from the Capitol, some then taken by helicopter direct to the National Mall; that was in addition to the six thousand Marines, two thousand National Guard, and five thousand police already assembling in D.C. Together, they had protected every key building, monument, bridge and road; over seven thousand people arrested that day alone as the protests turned violent, some twelve thousand over the course
of a week.

  Anderson would still have made it an unlikely second choice except for one worrying fact – Pat McDowell was ex-82nd Airborne. Was it really that difficult to imagine that instead of the target being thousands of angry protestors, it would change to become a few hundred stubborn members of Congress? The ‘it could never happen here’ response was starting to wear a little thin, history showing a coup was eminently feasible, but not whether it would actually last for longer than that first day.

  The lure of a renewed political crisis ensured Anderson would continue to put everything else on hold and his personal life was again having to take a back seat. His promises to Charlotte were becoming more elastic with each day that passed, Anderson readying himself for a double helping of humble pie.

 
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