‘I saw my life flash before my eyes’: An oral history of the Capitol attack
A week after an unruly mob incited by President Trump laid siege to the U.S. Capitol, broken glass panes are under repair, the debris has been swept away and new security fences intended to thwart another insurrection have been erected.
Inside the Capitol, nerves are shot, tensions are high and questions are swirling over systemic failures that allowed thousands of rioters, some of whom were armed, to get into what was supposed to be one of the most well-guarded buildings in America.
Investigations are ongoing. A nationwide hunt for the rioters and looters who stormed the building has resulted in dozens of arrests. The top security officials on Capitol Hill have resigned in the wake of their performance, just days before a presidential inauguration will once again put the seat of democracy in the spotlight. And members, their staff and the Capitol community are only beginning to come to grips with the ordeals they endured.
This detailed account is based on interviews with more than a dozen members of Congress, congressional and White House staff, reporters who covered the assault and a governor who deployed law enforcement to retake the building. It is based on detailed reviews of video and audio recordings taken throughout the day, retrospective interviews and contemporaneous text messages shared between lawmakers.
‘How do we get in?’ ‘You don’t’
Democrats were in a celebratory mood Wednesday morning. The day’s joint session of Congress would mark the ceremonial counting of Electoral College votes that would send Joe Biden to the White House, and the night before, Democrats had recaptured control of the Senate in two Georgia runoff elections.
“I was excited about the news about Georgia. I actually brought in a bottle of champagne, and I’d been coordinating with [Rep.] Nikema Williams from my class who’s the Georgia Democratic Party chair on when we were going to come over and drink some champagne to celebrate the big win,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.).
“We had just come off of the Georgia Senate races, and I was up most of the night watching the returns there,” said Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.). “It was a good morning. But we were turning around and getting ready to defend Georgia’s Electoral College votes.”
As they began arriving, Capitol Hill veterans found protesters had already begun to gather.
“As I was pulling into the complex, I could see protesters already around the Capitol and the Capitol grounds,” said Mike Henry, chief of staff to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “This community in general understands protests. Leading up to it, we all thought this one was going to be rougher than a normal protest.”
In front of the White House, protesters began gathering before dawn, arriving on packed buses and swarming the Metro hours before Trump was to speak.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, had already been in touch with Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy about Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) request to deploy National Guard troops to handle what could be an unruly crowd. But when he took his morning stroll around the Capitol complex, he recalled rising concern over the preparations he saw — or didn’t see.
“I went for a walk around the Capitol, and I was observing the various people milling about and moving towards the rally,” Smith said. “The barriers were not necessarily sufficient. There weren’t that many Capitol Police out there, and I was worried about, if they come to the Capitol, what’s going to happen?”
“I was walking up and down a hill at the Capitol, and as I came around and made a turn by one of the barricades, one of the Trump people was standing there and called my attention. He said, ‘Hey, how do we get in here?’ And I said, ‘You don’t,’ ” Smith said.
‘Whose house? Our house’
Sen. Jerry Moran’s (R-Kan.) office welcomed interns for their second day of work. They had been asked to come in to handle what Moran’s staff expected to be a busy day of calls from constituents who wanted to know whether Moran would object to the certification of Electoral College votes.
“We’d experienced significant calls Monday and Tuesday. We knew there was going to be so many folks calling in asking about the various different questions of what we were actually doing on Wednesday,” said Tom Brandt, Moran’s spokesman.
By 11 a.m., the first speakers began addressing the pro-Trump rally in front of the Ellipse. They excoriated the planned proceedings on Capitol Hill, and many urged the president’s supporters to continue the fight. But the few protesters milling around Capitol Hill seemed calm.
“I was even talking to my staff about maybe going out into the crowd and recording a video, sort of saying we’re not going to let this group of people distract us. I was feeling that level of confidence in the security parameters,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.).
At 11:54 a.m., Donald Trump Jr. posted a video to Facebook showing his father watching the rally on television. The president began a stem-winding speech, railing against the election he had lost and the members of Congress who would ratify that loss. Even before Trump finished speaking, some in the crowd began marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue, toward the Capitol.
“Whose house? Our house!” chanted the protesters.
In the Russell Senate Office Building, Kaine laid his phone on his desk.
“He said to me, ‘Hey, I don’t think I’m gong to bring my phone. I really think I should pay attention to what everyone’s going to say,” Henry said. “In hindsight, I wish he’d had his phone.”
“I lost track of him on the most important day when I can’t lose track of him, and it was just because of this weird decision that he wanted to listen to everyone’s speech,” Henry said.
‘Hold my backpack’
By 12:49 p.m., law enforcement officers had found a suspicious package — a pipe bomb — behind the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. They found a similar device at the Democratic National Committee headquarters a few blocks away.
In the Senate chamber, Secret Service agents began whispering into their radios.
“We saw some Secret Service moving around. Nothing abnormal. When the vice president’s in the building, that’s very standard,” Brandt said.
Four minutes later, the protests turned violent for the first time. A mob of Trump supporters sporting MAGA hats began shouting at and grappling with the few Capitol Police officers stationed at a barrier on the northwest side of the complex.
IMPORTANT: this is exact moment the siege of the Capitol building began as the two men in front ripped down a preliminary barrier & rushed officers who were behind a 2nd barrier
They then encouraged others to follow their lead. Officers appeared to be taken completely off guard pic.twitter.com/LE0a01PXBi
— ELIJAH SCHAFFER (@ElijahSchaffer) January 6, 2021
“Hold my backpack,” a young protester says. He flips his cap around as he screams at a Capitol Police officer before the crowd rushes the fence.
Arriving a few hours later, Niall Stanage, an editor at The Hill, was struck by the size of the crowd. “Even from my vantage point, just on one side of the Capitol, there were several thousand,” he wrote.
‘The number of rioters far exceeded the number of police’
Shortly after 1 p.m., as senators filed into the House chamber for a joint session, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) showed a flash of irritation.
“Let’s go, let’s just start,” she said, standing next to Vice President Pence. Pelosi hammered the gavel. In the gallery above, a few dozen members had gathered to watch the session, with growing unease.
“We were actually watching on our phones, streaming in real time as we were watching the debate, the riot clash with the police. It struck me that the number of rioters far exceeded the number of police. I questioned in my mind whether or not the police would be able to hold the barricades,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.).
Trump, wrapping up his rambling remarks, urged his supporters to march down the street.
“After this, we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” said Trump, who then returned to the safety of the White House.
© Greg Nash
At 1:15 p.m., an increasingly violent clash between rioters and police broke out closer to the Capitol itself. Both police and rioters sprayed each other with chemical irritants, according to videos published online.
“We backed you guys this summer, When the whole country hated you, we had your back,” a rioter in a red beanie yelled at officers.
“Fuck the blue,” another shouted.
At 1:26 p.m., the first alerts went out by text message: The Madison Building at the Library of Congress had been evacuated. Soon, the Cannon House Office Building was being evacuated. Some of those being guided out of the building decided to seek safety — in the Capitol itself.
“The first security alert I remember is that they had to evacuate Cannon. So some of my colleagues were saying we’re going over to the House gallery and sit there for a while and watch things since we have to evacuate,” Bourdeaux said.
“My family started texting me,” Jacobs, the California Democrat, said. “I kept telling my parents it’s OK, I’m in the House gallery, the House floor, I’m probably in the safest place I could be because this is where everyone knows they need to protect us.”
‘The most important vote I’ve ever cast’
Almost at the same moment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stood at his desk on the floor. After months of failed legal challenges, Trump’s path to a second term was definitively closed, and McConnell was about to give what he’d described as the most important address of his career.
“We’re debating a step that has never been taken in American history, whether Congress should overrule the voters and overturn a presidential election. I’ve served 36 years in the Senate. This will be the most important vote I’ve ever cast,” McConnell said. “I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) missed McConnell’s speech and was prevented from returning to the Capitol by police.
“I headed to my Senate office in part because I wanted to pick up a couple notes that I had left because I was scheduled to speak on the tail end of the Arizona section of the floor debate,” Van Hollen said. “I was headed back over to the Capitol when one of the guards stopped us and said, ‘Senator, you can’t go down there. We’re going on lockdown.’ ”
Van Hollen went back to his office in the Hart building, steps away from a Capitol Police security desk. Rioters never attempted to breach the Senate office buildings.
Minutes later, the first rioters reached Statuary Hall. Outside, the calls to violence became more intense.
“The people in this house, who stole this election from us, hanging from a gallow out here in this lawn for the whole world to see, so it never happens again,” said a man who called himself Joe, in audio captured by an NPR reporter. “That’s what needs to happen. Four by four by four, hanging from a rope out here, for treason!”
‘Yeah, we’re going to need help’
Mayor Bowser ordered a 6 p.m. curfew at 1:40 p.m. She had already begun asking for help from the National Guard.
Nine minutes later, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested immediate assistance from the Guard.
In his office in the Rayburn House Office Building, Armed Services Committee Chairman Smith began making his own calls to the Pentagon.
“I got on the phone and called [Army Secretary Ryan] McCarthy and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark] Milley and [Defense] Secretary [Christopher] Miller to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to need help,’ ” Smith said.
More rioters poured into the Capitol complex, this time from the northeast. By 2:11 p.m., the first rioters entered the west side of the building, smashing windows and battering shuttered doors.
“They’re going in? They’re going in!” a rioter can be heard shouting in one video.
“There’s so many people, let’s go! This shit’s ours!” the cameraman says. “I can’t believe this is reality. We accomplished this shit. We did this shit together, fuck yeah! This is fuckin’ history! We’re all part of this fuckin’ history!”
— Jayden X (@realjaydenx) January 7, 2021
In his office in the Longworth House Office Building, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, had a surreal moment with his staff.
“I never thought I’d be having a conversation with my staff about how to barricade the doors and what weapons to use and whether I could use the Marine Corps sword I have hanging on the walls of my office as a defensive weapon if the mob came, but that’s where we were yesterday, and that’s a sad day for American democracy,” Gallagher said later on NBC’s “Today.”
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) raced around his own office.
“The doorknobs were locked, but I personally went around and locked the deadbolts on the two doors. I’m like, ‘Oh crap,’ ” he told the Indianapolis Star.
‘We’re staying here forever’
Greg Nash, The Hill’s staff photographer, had ducked out of the Senate to upload images for the press pool. As he snapped some new shots from the window, a gallery director warned him to be careful standing next to windows in case of blasts.
As the rioters poured into the building, some made clear they had journalists in their sights.
“I stopped near a window outside of Sen. [Charles] Schumer’s office and saw protesters rushing the Capitol,” Nash wrote. “One rioter saw me as I was taking pictures and threw a water bottle towards the window which thankfully missed.”
At 2:13 p.m., Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), presiding over the Senate debate on a challenge to Arizona’s Electoral College votes, interrupted Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
“The Senate will stand in recess until the call of the chair,” Grassley said. Lankford paused, until a staffer advised him: “The protesters are in the building.”
Just a minute later, rioters chased a Capitol Police officer up the stairs to a door near the Senate chamber. Video shows the officer looking left, to the open door, and then retreating to the right, drawing rioters away from senators who were only beginning to scramble to safety.
Here’s the scary moment when protesters initially got into the building from the first floor and made their way outside Senate chamber. pic.twitter.com/CfVIBsgywK
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) January 6, 2021
Three other officers arrived to back up the first. “You need to leave now,” one said to the rioters.
“We’re staying here forever,” a protester responds. “This is our America.”
In the House, Pelosi’s security detail rushed her to safety.
“That’s when we realized things were much closer to where we were than we thought,” Jacobs said, watching from the gallery.
As the Senate began to evacuate, there was little evidence of a proper plan. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) positioned himself near Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to act as a guard, Collins said later.
‘What about us?’
“There was really no order as we got evacuated from the Senate in terms of how senators should group together,” said Jordain Carney, who covers the Senate for The Hill.
“We were initially told to run but about halfway through a tunnel told we could slow down. [Sen. Dick] Durbin’s detail pulled him off in a different direction. McConnell had a detail on both sides and they were moving him very quickly. Schumer’s guy appeared to have him by the back neck area of his jacket.”
© Greg Nash
Outside the Senate, as Nash hurried past, some of the rioters demanded to know who he worked for. Nash got to a door to the Senate gallery just as doorkeepers were pulling them shut.
“They told us to follow them and we ended up in the Senate basement just as senators were evacuating the building. On the walk over I could see staffers were carrying some of the Electoral College certifications,” Nash wrote.
Capitol Police began evacuating representatives out of the House chamber. But as they did, they seemed to forget the two dozen or so who were still seated in the gallery.
“What about us?” shouted Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).
As the House locked down, one frustrated Democrat screamed at Republicans across the chamber: This is your fault!
“If there was a plan, that plan had deteriorated, and things were going to get bad quickly. Which they did,” Crow, the Colorado Democrat, recalled later. “I made the decision to call my wife, tell her that I loved her, to pass that along to the kids, and I was preparing to either make a stand or fight our way out, and I would let her know as soon as I could.”
Crow told his colleagues to remove their member pins so they would be less identifiable as targets.
“We saw the leadership removed from the chamber. We heard banging on the doors. We were ordered to get our gas masks on. And we proceeded to the exits only to find that there was actually no plan whatsoever. You know, the Capitol Police were improvising,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.).
‘The Capitol Police were overwhelmed’
Some rioters swarming the building were looking for one target in particular: Pence. Some shouted that they wanted to hang him.
After weeks of the president demonizing the VP for not pledging to overturn the election on his behalf, a power he did not have. https://t.co/LPnmwxdwES
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 9, 2021
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” Trump tweeted, at 2:24 p.m.
As rioters walked freely through Statuary Hall, some took up residence in a Capitol office. Someone sparked a joint.
“We went in there and then I walked in and there’s just a whole bunch of people lighting up in some Oregon room. I don’t know if it’s — there’s tons of Oregon paintings, but they were smoking a bunch of weed in there,” one rioter told a recording camera. “Then we moved it down, so many statues. Cops are very cool.”
“The cops were very cool.” pic.twitter.com/K0uJLSJAxX
— Rex Chapman (@RexChapman) January 8, 2021
Fourteen minutes after his first tweet, Trump chimed in again: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
In Annapolis, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was 10 minutes into a meeting with the Japanese ambassador to the United States when his chief of staff burst in the room. The Capitol, she said, was under attack.
“My chief of staff was talking with the chief of staff for Mayor Bowser in Washington, D.C. They were asking for help. The Capitol Police and the Metropolitan police were overwhelmed,” Hogan said in an interview. Hogan convened senior staffers and the top leaders of the state police and National Guard in a conference room.
‘Getting myself ready for battle’
At 2:44 p.m., the members of Congress sheltering in the gallery heard a gunshot ring out.
“I was basically getting myself ready for a battle, for a fight. I had a pen in my pocket that I took out,” Crow, a former Army Ranger, said. “The thought crossed my mind about asking one of the officers for his gun. I’ve been in combat before, life and death situations. I’ve had to use lethal force, and I know that I know how to do it, and I didn’t know whether or not the police would be willing or able to do it. I thought for a moment about whether I should ask for his gun so that if the mob broke through I would be able to do what was necessary to protect my colleagues.”
Police officers told members to remove the protective hoods from under their seats. Some knew how they worked, others needed direction.
“We were told to look under our seats and to withdraw gas masks, because there potentially would be a need for the use of tear gas. You gotta understand, I’ve not used a gas mask before. Most people in Congress, you know, they didn’t know how to put it on,” said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). “So we’re looking at [Rep.] Ruben Gallego, he demonstrates how to put this thing on. Everyone loves Ruben.”
Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine who saw combat in Iraq, was photographed standing on two chairs on the House floor, mask in hand, shouting instructions.
“I couldn’t get mine opened,” Jacobs said later.
“We were also told that we should expect to have to lie down on the ground of the House floor in the event of gunfire,” Jones said. “I saw my life flash before my eyes and my sense from my colleagues is that many of them did too.”
By 3:03 p.m., rioters had breached the Senate floor. In the secure location, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) spoke with Pence.
“I’ve known Mike Pence forever. I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today,” Inhofe recounted to the Tulsa World.
“After all the things I’ve done for [Trump],” Pence said, according to Inhofe.
While Trump tweeted, President-elect Joe Biden spoke in Wilmington, Del.
“At this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault,” Biden said gravely. “At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.”
Back in Annapolis, Hogan fielded a phone call from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
They whisked us off to an undisclosed location. I’m in a room with the Speaker and with Chuck Schumer and the Capitol Police is overwhelmed. The Capitol is under attack. I’m calling you to request your help from Maryland, from the Maryland state police and the National Guard, Hoyer said, according to Hogan’s memory.
Maryland National Guard generals “were running it up the flag pole. Several of our generals were talking to the central National Guard bureau at the Pentagon, and they were saying no we don’t have authorization,” Hogan recalled. “I said well, we can’t wait, so I’m going to activate 500 members of the Maryland National Guard so at least they’ll be preparing and ready to deploy if and when we get the authorization.”
Minutes later, Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran who had stormed the building, was shot by Capitol Police. She later died of her injuries.
Hogan called Hoyer back at 3:35 p.m. He told the Democratic leader National Guard troops were staging just outside the District and that state police were already on the way. Complicated rules do not allow states to send Guard troops to the federal city without explicit Pentagon permission.
“I’ll get our guys ready. If we have to, we can start staging outside the District, and as soon as we get the go-ahead we can cross across the border,” Hogan said.
By 3:51 p.m., the D.C. National Guard was formally mobilized.
‘It was gross. It was completely unsafe’
As House members and reporters scrambled through tunnels to the Rayburn House Office Building, security personnel insisted that reporters were not allowed. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) protested, and Gallego tried to comfort several reporters.
Gallego herded the journalists to his own office. The door was locked — Gallego’s staffers had followed directions to protect themselves. Once inside, Gallego calmed reporters as they relocked the doors.
“Sending family members texts saying I’m not sure if I’m safe is not something I ever saw happening on the Congress beat,” wrote Juliegrace Brufke, a reporter who covers the House for The Hill.
Hunkered in their own undisclosed location, House members were in a state of shock. Video from the scene shows Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) urging some Republicans to put on masks to guard against the coronavirus spreading.
“You know the Republicans, many of them didn’t wear their masks. It was gross. It was completely unsafe. And they kept escorting members of Congress to the room. So eventually I became more concerned that I would get COVID-19 from my Republican colleagues than would die at the hands of the insurrectionists,” Jones said.
By Tuesday, three House Democrats who had been in the secured room had tested positive for the virus.
For nearly an hour, Henry had not known where his boss was. Kaine’s cellphone lay on his desk. Finally, Henry’s phone buzzed with a New Mexico number — Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) was on the line, standing next to Kaine. Both men were safe.
“You worry about his personal safety, there is a frustration that you’re powerless because at this point the mob has taken over the building, and you don’t know where this is going to end,” Henry said.
In the same secure location, Senate officials moved reporters to an antechamber. At one point, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) appeared in a frantic search for water to aid another senator who was feeling ill.
“After a while packs of water were brought in, then like a slate of soft drinks, the Senate dining staff brought packed dinners of chicken or steak first to the Senate and then the rest of us. Toward the very end they wheeled in coffee for the senators,” Carney recalled. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began demanding answers from the Senate sergeant-at-arms.
‘We love you, you’re very special’
At the White House, a sense of doom had settled in. Staffers already crushed by a relentless string of embarrassing failures by Trump’s legal team felt increasingly powerless.
“Most people were just sitting there silent at their desks, just watching the video and images and the news coverage. People were just literally stunned and silent watching it because it was just so disturbing, what we were seeing,” one White House staffer said.
After hours of cajoling, Trump reluctantly agreed to shoot a video calling for an end to the protests. But his ad libbing made things worse.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” Trump said in a video released at 4:17 p.m. “We love you, you’re very special.”
The video incensed Republicans who were still under siege.
“I called and texted my closest contact at the White House to urge that the president immediately tell the rioters to stop their violence and go home. But President Donald Trump completely undercut that message by repeating his grievances and telling the rioters that he knew how they felt. This was terrible, especially since he incited them in the first place,” Collins wrote later.
At least one White House staffer, Sarah Matthews, resigned that night. “I was deeply disturbed by what I saw today,” Matthews wrote in a resignation letter.
‘This is Ryan McCarthy, can you send help?’
Hogan’s phone rang again — this time his personal cell phone, from a number he did not recognize.
“I didn’t have the name in the contacts. I don’t get a lot of calls on my cell phone, and I don’t usually pick it up if I don’t know the number, because it’s usually somebody selling me something. It’s a 703 Virginia number. I just had a gut feeling, maybe I should take this one,” he said. “The guy says, ‘This is Ryan McCarthy, I’m Secretary of the Army. Can you send help?’”
“We’ve been trying to,” Hogan told McCarthy. “Our generals are on the other line here being told no by the Guard bureau.”
“I took that call from Secretary of the Army asking if we can provide support as our authorization,” he said.
‘Images of patrol bases in Helmand’
By the time Bowser’s curfew took effect, police had battled their way through the Capitol. As the lockdowns lifted, members and staff wandered through what looked like a war zone.
“Walking through the Capitol complex and seeing literally hundreds of national guardsmen and D.C. police and Capitol police, armed as though they were on a patrol in Afghanistan, it really evoked to me images of patrol bases in Helmand, where I was a platoon commander. There was detritus everywhere. There was trash,” Auchincloss said.
“It’s very eerie. You are seeing Capitol police who not but a few hours before were being beaten by protestors, by this mob. I walked past the broken windows where they had to defend the House floor and the Speaker’s lobby. It’s a very sobering thing to do,” Bourdeaux said.
“There were shoes, car keys, water bottles, glass everywhere. Kind of this complete destruction.
The last time I was in a working federal building that had been destroyed, it was in Mali, in Timbuktu,” Brandt said.
Senate staffers who had spent the afternoon sheltered in place gathered at a 24-hour door in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. They left together, providing them a measure of safety in numbers.
‘Their constituents should be ashamed of them’
By 7:15 p.m., the first members began returning to their respective chambers. Armed federal agents guided senators from their undisclosed location back into the Capitol. Van Hollen, still in his office, joined the procession.
“They asked me to come up there so we could be escorted together, with protection,” he said.
As they made their way back, senators saw evidence of the troop presence now deployed around the Capitol.
“When you got to the top of the escalator at the end of the subway, when you go up the escalator at the top, there was a whole array of like 40 backpacks,” Van Hollen said. “I don’t know if they were FBI backpacks, National Guard backpacks, but they were right there, and it was a clear sign of how much things had changed in such a short period of time.”
Pence, looking somber, gaveled the Senate back into session.
“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol. But thanks to the swift efforts of U.S. Capitol police, federal, state and local law enforcement, the violence was quelled. The Capitol is secured, and the people’s work continues,” he said.
On the House floor, anger boiled over.
“We know that that attack today, it didn’t materialize out of nowhere. It was inspired by lies, the same lies that you’re hearing in this room tonight. And the members who are repeating those lies should be ashamed of themselves. Their constituents should be ashamed of them,” Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) said.
Republicans objected. A shouting match erupted between Reps. Colin Allred (D-Texas) and Andy Harris (R-Md.), one that nearly came to blows as members surrounded each of them.
“The tensions in the room were so high, you could cut it with a knife,” Auchincloss said.
In the Rotunda, Cristina Marcos, a reporter at The Hill, noticed a strange dust on the floor — residue from the chemical spray and fire extinguishers that had been deployed by both rioters and police. The garbage left by looters included evidence of a medical crisis.
“I came across an abandoned, opened box of epinephrine beside some syringes. I wondered what kind of medical emergency happened here and if the person needing the epinephrine had survived,” Marcos wrote.
She noticed a sign honoring the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), posted outside Hoyer’s office, was missing; Hoyer said later the sign had been vandalized.
In the days since the attack, members and staff have struggled to process what was once unthinkable, an intrusion into a citadel of democracy that is hallowed ground to so many.
“There’s an emptiness. There’s a violation part of this,” Henry said. “It is hard for me in the moment, when there’s stressful things that happen in public life, to step away from it.”
Pelosi, overseeing the vote count that memorialized Biden’s victory in November, promised the incident would not be swept away.
“To those who strove to deter us from our responsibility, you have failed,” she said from the Speaker’s chair. “To those who engaged in the gleeful desecration of this, our temple of democracy — American democracy — justice will be done.”
— Niall Stanage and Brett Samuels contributed reporting.