Governor Pilate looked out the window of the executive mansion. He could see the edge of a large crowd gathered nearby outside the Virginia State Capitol. What he saw looked similar to the images he’d just flipped past on multiple network news channels. Soon, he’d stand between the white pillars at the Capitol’s front, overlooking the crowd for the big announcement: they would execute the recently-captured Josh Barabbas, the head of the Proud Boys who led the Jan. 6 insurrection.
(Virginia Guard Public Affairs/Creative Commons)
Not only would this gain him favor with Washington, but it also provided an opportunity to rid himself of another political irritation. That crazy preacher, Joshua Davidson.
“I’ve decided to offer the crowd the choice between the two Joshuas for my annual exoneration,” Pilate said to his wife as she entered the room behind him. “I’ve outsmarted the preachers down on Monument Avenue. The crowd might have forced my hand on this guy who wrecked the gift shop at the National Cathedral and held that mock inaugural for himself last week. But no amount of meddling from the preachers will push the crowd to favor the guy who led the assault on the Capitol that killed a police officer and several others.”
“You should leave that Davidson fellow out of this,” she said.
Pilate turned away from the window with a jerk to face her.
“I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him,” she said to answer the question his wrinkled forehead and narrowed eyes asked.
“Don’t worry, darling,” he announced, walking over to the mirror to check his tie, teeth, and hair yet again. “I’m setting him free, once the crowd chooses him. And I’m going to make the president happy later today as we kill Barabbas and his two top lieutenants.”
She opened her mouth, but stopped as he turned back toward the window.
Pilate glanced at his wrist. He took a deep breath.
“It is time,” he said, though not really to her.
He opened the door to the hallway. His chief of staff jumped up from a chair. Four security guards, already standing, moved into formation.
“It is time,” Pilate said again.
“Sir,” Pilate’s top aide said quickly, “are you sure we can’t change back to the original exoneration choices? We’re getting troubling messages from this crowd. We might have lost control.”
“What kind of messages?” Pilate asked, more with irritation than interest. He nodded to his security team, and the group started the short trip to the Capitol as Pilate’s aide made his case.
“The usual stuff we’ve seen with the insurrectionists. Confederate flags. Christian flags. Signs about 1776. Guys in military colors with assault rifles strapped on. This is Barabbas’s crowd, not yours.”
“This is my Capitol,” Pilate interjected. “This is always my crowd.”
“Yes, sir, but uh, I still think it could be best to leave Barabbas out of this. Washington wouldn’t be happy if you set him free.”
“Oh, you don’t seriously expect the crowd to want the death of that crazy Davidson, do you? I can find no reason to justify his death.”
“Yes, I know, sir. As I explained, the same legal rationale for Virginia executing Barabbas applies to Davidson. We caught Barabbas here in the Commonwealth and proved he plotted the insurrection here. And it will show your strength to execute the mastermind that Washington couldn’t capture that day. We also know that Davidson stayed here in the Commonwealth as well, apparently coming back over each night rather than staying in Washington. So, all the plotting happened here.”
“But plotting for what?” Pilate asked. “We don’t executive thieves or vandals. It has to be for insurrection!”
“Yes, sir, I know no one died and he seems peaceful. For now. But he has a crowd of devoted followers. He did attack the National Cathedral. He’s advocated against paying taxes. He’s even declared himself president this past Sunday with that inauguration — and many lined the streets from Rosslyn into the District as he clogged traffic making the journey across the 66 bridge to the National Mall.”
“He was on a moped for crying out loud! Who would possibly follow this unelected homeless fool on a moped in the middle of the highway?”
“Protesting in the street is against the law, of course, sir. And it’s his claims about being president. The crowd that walked along singing his praises seems willing to follow him. Peaceful today, sure, but this could be a violent insurrection tomorrow. He even promised to destroy the National Cathedral before somehow building it back in just three days. After Jan. 6 we can’t be too lax. But that’s not the point. We shouldn’t risk letting Barabbas go free. That’s the truth of the matter.”
“What is truth?” Pilate mumbled.
The governor and his entourage emerged into the Capitol from the underground tunnel connecting the executive mansion. Pilate stopped and faced his aide.
“It is time. I’m going out that door and addressing the crowd. It’s Barabbas versus Davidson. This is an easy choice. Once the crowd picks, have the troopers prepare the condemned for the march. And make sure the media get from here to there in time. This is our moment!”
Pilate pulled out his phone, looked at the screen in selfie mode, flashed a smile to check his teeth, and then swiped a few hairs back into place. He looked at his wrist and took a breath.
“It is time.”
The front doors of the Capitol swung open as Pilate strolled out. He smiled and waved and the crowd roared. Pilate let them cheer for a minute as he stood at the microphone. His scanned the Capitol lawn, noticing the flags and signs for the first time.
After a few minutes of remarks about justice, how the “good people” of Virginia always believed in swift and firm punishment of evil, and how “eternally faithful” they remain to Washington, Pilate introduced his two nominees for the annual death row exoneration.
“Which one do you want me to release to you: Josh Barabbas of the Proud Boys, or Joshua Davidson who is called the Messiah?”
“Barabbas!” came a cry.
“Barabbas!” it came a second time, quickly building as Pilate’s eyes widened. “Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!”
Pilate lifted his hands and the crowd grew quiet.
“What shall I do, then, with Davidson?” he asked out of frustration before considering how the crowd might respond.
“Kill him!” someone quickly yelled before the chant took off. “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”
Pilate waved his arms, but the crowd kept chanting. He spoke into the microphone, but the crowd’s voice overpowered it.
“Kill him! Kill him!”
Pilate stared at the crowd for a moment. Shrugging, he walked over to the table set up for the official declarations. He signed the release of Barabbas and the execution order for Davidson.
(Steve Helber/Associated Press)
Pilate grabbed a small bottle of sanitizer from his pocket, squirted out a couple globs, and wiped his hands together.
He stood up, spun on his heels, and strolled back into the Capitol. As the doors shut behind him, it managed to slightly muffle the new chant rising up, “We have no president but Caesar!”
Pilate’s chief of staff looked at the governor, and knew not to say anything.
The group silently retraced their steps to the executive mansion, where Pilate would watch the rest of the events unfold on TV as he planned — except for the wrong Joshua at the center of it.
The state troopers guarding Davidson, knowing what the governor’s order allowed for those condemned, took turns punching, kicking, and spitting on Davidson.
(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
“Hail, the president!” one trooper shouted as the others erupted in laughter. Another bowed in mock praise, sparking a new wave of guffaws.
A trooper punched Davidson from behind.
“Preach! Who hit you?” one sneered just before landing a kick that sent Davidson tumbling back to the floor.
The troopers forced Davidson to stand and walk toward the execution site in front of the Federal Courthouse down East Grace Street from the Capitol. The crowd, knowing the traditional route, lined the streets for the parade. People tossed candy to kids, a band played, adults elbowed to inch closer to the curb for a better view and selfie. Two churches on the route rang their bells.
As the grotesque parade left the Capitol grounds, Davidson collapsed. Troopers kicked him and the nearby crowd cheered. But he remained on the ground. One trooper spotted a Black janitor starting to pick up trash the crowd left on the lawn during the rush to the execution route. The trooper pulled his gun and ordered the man, Simon Cyrene, to carry Davidson.
(Virginia Guard Public Affairs/Creative Commons)
Once to the place called “the Skull,” the troopers crucified Davidson, along with Barabbas’s two compatriots, Al Gestas and George Dismas. They placed Gestas on his left and Dismas on his right, and above Davidson they placed a sign calling him “the president.”
As the three hung there amid the taunts, the still-proud Gestas also tossed insults at Davidson: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But Dismas rebuked him.
“Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We’re punished justly, getting what we deserve. But this man ain’t done no wrong.”
Turning from his former co-conspirator toward Davidson, Dismas added, “Joshua, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Davidson answered the Proud Boy, “Truly I tell you, today you’ll be with me in paradise.”
Darkness fell on the land.
“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing,” Davidson said, gasping through his last breath. “It is time.”
The earth shook, measuring as a 5.8 magnitude quake. The rood screen in the National Cathedral cracked from top to bottom, splintering to the floor.
A state trooper stared at Davidson and muttered, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
Brian Kaylor is editor & president of Word&Way. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianKaylor.