Where America's Day Begins

Reflecting on the January 6 insurrection, a retired dancer recalls a terrifying night at a strip-club on Guam in 1994.

By Nia Molinari

I really don’t know what you mean.
Seems like salvation comes only in our dreams.
I feel my hatred grow all the more extreme…
Hey God—can this world really be as sad as it seems?
—Nine Inch Nails, “Terrible Lie


Friday, July 22, 1994—1am (-ish) ChST

The arm shot out like a famished moray eel. A hand seized me just above my ankle. Hard. Unrelenting. Adrenaline surged through my veins. I glanced down to see a ginger-haired, freckle-faced man-boy in a white t-shirt ravenously clinging to my lower leg—a proud, shit-eating grin plastered across his face. He would not let go. A brisk 360 scan of the room revealed not a bouncer in sight. (Well, shit, we only had one.) All I could see from up on the stage, in what felt like slow motion, was a wall-to-wall surging mosh pit of testosterone, raging buzzed heads and sweaty male bodies pulsating, yelling over the thumping soundtrack of angry rock. There must have been 250 soldiers, maybe more, most of them Marines, stuffed into this tiny bar—way above the 100-patron capacity. I was surrounded.

I froze momentarily, but it felt like an eternity. The scene in Apocalypse Now of the USO camp show, when the soldiers rushed the Playboy bunnies? Yeah. That flashed through my mind.

With no other option, I did the only thing that I could think of. Clad only in high-heeled leather thigh-high boots and a g-string, I knelt down on my free leg, and seductively slinked into his freckled face. The crowd roared with enthusiasm. I leaned in further, about an inch from his nose. I could smell the stale beer on his breath as I locked eyes with him. I paused. Then I bellowed into his face at the top of my lungs: 

LET GO OF MY LEG, SOLDIER! NOW!

He let go. Without missing a beat (literally), I danced my way back to the center of the stage—far out of grabby range. The song finally ended. I picked up my cash and costume and ducked down the stairs into the tiny locker room. It was my last stage of the night, so I put my street clothes on, and I waited. No way in hell was I going out into that swarm of hormone-seething man-boys.

I don’t know why I reacted like that when the soldier grabbed me. I guess I thought— hell, it works in the movies, right? Who knows. Had I been in Las Vegas, I would have knocked his smug punk ass right out of his chair. But this was different. I was outnumbered. I had no back-up. I felt genuine fear. 

This was not normal, not for Vegas, and certainly not for this tropical paradise. Here, normal was a chill little club on the second floor of a mini-mall near the beach, with a funky karaoke bar next door. Normal was trying to figure out what the hell the South Korean women who ran the club were always yelling about. Normal was the laid-back clientele: the local Navy men stationed on the sleepy island, the Japanese tourists, and the Native Chamorros. When my friend and I took a three-month contract to dance for the summer, we didn’t realize that July 21 happened to be the 50th anniversary of the island’s liberation from Japanese occupation during the Second World War. 

Hafa Adai. Welcome to Guam.

On any given day that summer, there were between one and three Navy ships docked at the base. If I remember correctly, there were an additional 10 ships docked at the island that week—including the Kitty Hawk II, a carrier named for the ship that ran logistics in the Pacific Theater during World War II. But it wasn’t all pomp: The military was on high alert due to the recent death of North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung.

The night of the Liberation Day parade started out in the ordinary fashion. The club was busy, but manageable. Somewhere around midnight, that’s when the gagglefuck of soldiers came flooding in. The air oozed with unstable booze-drenched testosterone. I remember someone telling me the majority of these young men had not seen an American girl in months. There were just six dancers working, and only three of us were white.

In all my time working in strip-clubs, I had never felt fear, and here I was, cowering in that tiny locker room, afraid of men whose actual job it was to protect me. 

Last call came and went. We sat in the locker room waiting for the place to clear out, but the soldiers wouldn’t leave. There was only one way out—through the front door. My friend and I decided to make a break for it. We managed to maneuver our way through the unceasing pack of sweaty soldiers as quickly as we could. It was like pushing through a mob of starving seagulls, and we were the peanuts.

One soldier stumbled into my face and yelled, “Give me a blow job, baby!” I loudly snarked back: “Sure, baby. Let me know when your mom is done.” Of course this caused a detonation of howls, pushing, and backslapping in our wake.

We finally made it out the front door. Outside, there were even more soldiers—an endless sea of howling, floundering men between us and the parking lot. At the bottom of the stairs, one of the soldiers snatched and jerked hard on my long skirt, tearing it. I snapped. I whipped around, grabbed his throat, and repeatedly slammed that asshole’s head into the wall. I noticed a Shore Duty soldier in uniform standing there watching me. I let go, and apologized to the Shore Duty soldier. He shrugged and smirked with seeming amusement, then looked away. A couple of the island boys we knew appeared, and made sure we got to our car safely. 

The Shitty Kitty left the next day. Good riddance.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021—10:00am (-ish) PST

I made a second cup of coffee. I filled the bird feeder because the birds were yelling at me. It was a beautiful day. I sat outside with my coffee, watched the birds, and resumed doomscrolling through social media—which unfortunately has become the norm over the past five years, and this past year in particular. As I watched some of the inane clips from the MAGA incitement rally, I had a really bad gut feeling about all of it. I decided to livestream the news while I watched the birds. That freaky jackass Gosar, the dentist-turned House representative from Arizona, was yammering about tossing out electoral votes, ugh. I turned it off. About twenty minutes later, I turned it back on. An ocean of Trump supporters were pushing through the barricades outside the Capitol— hundreds and hundreds of them. I watched in horror as the ensuing kinetic chaos unfolded into a violent nightmare.

That night on Guam in ‘94 came flooding back to the forefront of my mind. I wasn’t in fear for my life that night, or maybe I was. I’m not sure. I do know I was absolutely terrified of the overwhelming mob mentality of the soldiers, I remember that vividly. If I felt that when my life wasn’t overtly threatened, I can’t even begin to imagine what the members of Congress felt on January 6, when the Capitol was besieged.

One thing in particular haunted me about J6: the incomprehensible number of insurrectionists who were dressed in militia gear, and the soldierly way they behaved. They knew exactly what they were doing. This wasn’t like 9/11, a terrorist attack by foreign enemies. Not only were we being attacked by an insurgency of our own citizens, but many of them appeared to be military—men and women who had taken an oath to protect the country.

In the days and weeks after the insurrection, we learned more about the radicalized citizens who stormed the Capitol. Was I shocked that most of those involved were from fringe rightwing extremist groups? Well, due to the rise of white supremacist hate groups over the last decade—the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, the Three Percenters, the Oathkeepers (comprised of both veterans and current members from all branches of our military)—as well as the stupid percentage of the population that fell for the mind-numbing QAnon conspiracies over the past four years, it was clear to me that something like this was bound to happen. So, no. I wasn’t shocked. Nonetheless, it was still disturbing to learn that so many of the insurrectionists did have a military background. As Jasper Craven wrote in The New Republic:

Current and former service members were scattered throughout the sea of rioters on January 6: Adam Newbold, a former Navy SEAL, confessed he was eager to leave lawmakers “shaking in their shoes.” Donovan Crowl, a Marine veteran, said he served as “security” for an unnamed group of “VIPs.” Emily Rainey, an Army psychological operations officer, had ferried roughly 100 followers to Washington from North Carolina. As rioters charged up the steps of the Capitol, men in battle gear formed a tactical line known as a “Ranger File”—a “chilling sign,” according to The Associated Press, that many who “stormed the seat of American democracy either had military training or were trained by those who did.”

Evidently the military has been aware of this problem for years. It would have been nice for them to address this issue sooner, but it appears they chose not to. 

In addition to active and ex-military, there were also current and former members of the police force, firemen, Capitol police, and other first responders from all over the country among the seditious insurrection on the Capitol that day. All of these individuals had been trained to protect the citizens of this country from the very thing that they themselves were doing. Should we be disturbed by this? Yes, absolutely. However, none of this is new. The simmering lava of systemic racism and rabid misogyny has always been there, bubbling angrily beneath the surface of the American Dream. Agitated for four years by Trump, it is erupting with volcanic vengeance.

I was raised in the suburban, conservative, upper-middle-class, white people bubble. Growing up, I was taught to be wary of strangers, and to run straight to the police with any problem. Cops were the good guys. They were “the helpers” that Mr. Rogers touted. Like all women, I was conditioned from a very tender age to be on constant alert for rape and sexual assault. As a Gen Xer, this vigilance was primarily focused on strangers: Don’t walk alone at night, park under bright lights, don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t get too drunk, don’t get in cars with boys you don’t know, don’t lead boys on—Shit. Now I realize I was raised in a culture of victim-blaming. Well then, that’s a conversation for another time. Sorry, I digress. My point is: women—or, rather, white women—are raised to be afraid of rapey strangers, not the men sworn to protect them.

Until I was a young adult, I had no idea that POC are taught very different lessons about law enforcement. Sure, I was aware of systemic racism, but I would never have guessed that people would be afraid of the police. Later on, when numerous women I worked with in the strip-clubs told me that they’d been raped by policemen—who would never be held accountable, because the victims would never report it due to threats of violence and their status as sex workers—what remained of my suburban bubble completely burst. My worldview was never the same after that. 

Another thing many of the extremist groups on January 6 have in common: domestic violence. It makes sense, considering the far-right populist extremist movement is not only racist and xenophobic, but also virulently misogynistic. The Proud Boys brazenly claim to be “Western Chauvinists.” The Evangelicals, dripping in hypocrisy, want their own Sharia Law. The police force has a higher rate of domestic violence in its ranks than the rest of the population. The military also has a domestic violence problem. The deaths at Fort Hood are horrific, and just this week a female Marine came out against her rapist on social media. 

It has been over six weeks now since the insurrection on January 6, yet it is still fresh in my mind. Whenever I see footage from that day I think about that night long ago in the summer of '94 on Guam, and the swarm of soldiers in the club. I wonder now, as I did on J6, if any of them were among the MAGA army besieging the Capitol that day. Was the one who grabbed my ankle one of them? Was the one who tore my skirt one of them? Hell, for all I know it could have been this guy—but I will never be certain.  

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Photo credit: Still shot from Apocalypse Now.