10 House Lawmakers Recount the Fear of Jan. 6 Riot

"I really thought ... 'We're going to die here'"
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 6, 2022 9:15 AM CST
House Members Recall What It Felt Like During Jan. 6 Riot
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., shows his text messages about the events on Jan. 6, 2020.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Around three dozen Democrats were trapped in the House gallery on Jan. 6, 2020, after the rest of their colleagues had been evacuated, ducking beneath their seats as supporters of then-President Trump laid siege. In interviews with the AP, 10 of the lawmakers who were there described their experiences in the House gallery and the aftermath:

  • Vermont Rep. Peter Welch: "A police officer came to the floor and told us the Capitol had been breached and to get out the gas masks. In my time in Congress, I've never, ever heard anyone other than a member or a clerk speak [from the rostrum]. To have a Capitol Police officer was stunning."

  • Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson: "I didn't quite know exactly the seriousness of it until I got a call from my wife, who said, 'Where are you?' I said, 'I'm in the Capitol.' She said, 'Don't you know they're breaking in?' So you know, again, it doesn't register. I said, 'You can't break in. I mean, there's police and barricades and a lot of things out there.' She said, ‘But I'm watching people climbing over the wall right now, breaking into the Capitol.' And about that time, somebody said, 'Put on the gas mask.'"
  • Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who was recovering from knee replacement surgery: "It was terrifying. Somebody [in the gallery] was saying, 'Do you have a key? Does anybody have a key to the doors?' Because we didn't know if the doors could be locked. And so I was focused on planning my escape if I had to get out. I had stretched out on the ground because I couldn't bend my knee. I'm not even sure how I got from the chair to the ground—I think I rolled—and so I was stretched out, and I had my gas mask in one hand and my cane in the other hand. ... I wasn't sure I could get up off the floor, but I had a whole plan that I was going to whack an insurrectionist in the knee with the gas mask and then whack them in the other knee with the cane. That's what I was concerned about is, you know, were we going to get out? Were we going to survive? Were they going to come after us?"
  • Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan: "So I started to kind of view this in a tactical way. You need to get everyone together, need to get in a defensive position. You don't want people spread out. You don't want people to be able to be pulled away from a mob—you need to get in a tight group. So as we were moving to do that, I heard the gunshot [that killed Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter]. And of course I've heard a lot of gunshots in my time, and it was very clear what that was. And it came from the Speaker's Lobby, which told me—I didn't know whether it was an officer or a member of the mob, but I knew that things had severely escalated. ... It also told me that we were totally surrounded."

  • Florida Rep. Val Demings, former chief of the Orlando Police Department: "My police career flashed through my mind because I came from a job where I went to work every day thinking I might not make it back home. I used to tidy up my apartment or my house before I went to work, thinking, OK, if I'm killed today, then I don't want my co-workers coming into my house to get my gear and see it all. And so to be there in that moment and thinking—really in the midst of complete chaos—I reserved myself to the fact that, yeah, I could die today. But I'm just like a cop. I'm here doing the right thing, protecting and serving my nation by being here for this process, a peaceful transfer of power."
  • Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes: "We probably didn't fully appreciate how violent it had gotten until the Capitol Police started moving furniture in front of the main door there. ... In this world of massive security apparatus, it's going to be a 19th-century desk in front of a door that saves my life? Are you freaking kidding me? And, I mean, seriously—I sat there thinking, oh my God, you know, we spend billions and billions of dollars on satellites and guns and weapons and aircraft carriers and artificial intelligence. It's gonna be a freaking desk that saves my life?”

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  • California Rep. Norma Torres: "I really thought, we're not going to be evacuated. We're going to die here. And, you know, through that process—I think a lot about it now, [Democrats'] plus three majority. ... They could at any point take any three members either hostage or kill any three members, and that would have prevented us from certifying the election."
  • New Hampshire Rep. Annie Kuster: "Honestly, we thought we were being chased [as we were evacuating]. And my son called right in the middle of it as we're running through the tunnels, and he says, 'Mom! Mom!'—he's watching on television. And I said, 'I'm alive, honey, I can't talk right now, we're running for our lives. I'll call you right back. But I'm gonna be OK.'"
  • New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot: "I remember the hallways were quiet [when we were evacuating]. I was listening so carefully because I was so afraid that we would turn a corner and there would be the rioters ... carefully kind of looking around corners as we're trying to egress the building. And listening so carefully to hear—is there anybody ahead of us? Is this a safe hallway? Has this been secured?"
  • Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley: "We've been told in our security briefings that the threats have quadrupled. They know who we are. Our addresses are public record. We all go to public events on a daily basis in the district. ... I think there's a sense that, if they want you, they can get you. But you have to do the work, right? ... We had to go back and vote that night because you can't let these people win. You can't be afraid. I don't want any of them to think I'm afraid. We're going to continue to function. If they want to commit acts of terrorism, I just—I can't let that deter us."
(More Capitol riot stories.)

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