For many across the nation, Jan. 6 represents a watershed moment for democracy. But for Washingtonians, the day was deeply personal. Eleven people shared their memories of the day that insurrectionists violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, and how their lives have changed in the aftermath.
‘Emotionally, It Was Different’: A Veteran Soldier On Responding To A Crisis At Home
Col. Craig Hunter heard it on the joint operations radio system: the U.S. Capitol had been breached. He and a small group of other D.C. National Guardsmen drove over from the checkpoint near the White House where they had been stationed during President Trump’s speech.
A veteran soldier who served tours in Iraq and Syria, Hunter couldn’t believe his eyes.
“It was unbelief. It was almost surreal,” he says.
As Hunter surveyed the riot engulfing the Capitol, he realized there was one key difference from his combat experience.
“Emotionally, it was different because you’re on your home soil,” he says. “You’re in your city.”
But his military training kicked in, and he knew he had to keep going. First, he needed to make contact with his police counterparts and help coordinate the National Guard’s role in the response.
“I did not have time to really think about the weight of it, because things were moving so fast and my whole goal was just to react,” he says.
“Unbelief” was also the word Hunter used to describe the feeling as he surveyed the damage to the Capitol grounds later that night, after law enforcement — including National Guardsmen under his command — had finally pushed the mob off the sloping West Lawn. He saw doors battered and broken, the scaffolding for the presidential inauguration destroyed, folding chairs, smashed police shields, and trash littered all over the lawn.
Hunter said he had one other prevailing emotion that day: pride in the members of the D.C. National Guard who came to secure the building after the attack.
“They were coming from their civilian jobs and coming in to change from civilian clothes into uniform to come and support,” he says.
Hunter says his sense of pride in the National Guard’s work makes the political infighting over the events of Jan. 6 all the more frustrating.
“It’s disappointing if anyone believes that it didn’t happen and that [the National Guard’s] efforts were in vain, because it wasn’t,” he says.
That night also marked the beginning of a long season of hard work. Hunter became the D.C. Guard’s point person coordinating the arrival of 25,000 Guardsmen from 54 states and territories, the force that prepared for and protected the presidential inauguration just weeks later. Every new arrival had to be sent to the D.C. Armory to get their orders and begin their new mission. Many remained stationed on Capitol Hill until May.
Starting Jan. 6, Hunter started snatching single hours of sleep in his office, a pattern that he kept up for more than a week after the attack. He didn’t have a weekend off until later that spring.
“We were 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says. “We didn’t stop.” – Margaret Barthel
‘I Can Be Steady’: A Reporter On Documenting The Insurrection From The Inside
For Lisa Desjardins, Jan. 6 was a day of calculated choices.
Her first decision: packing a bag with extra snacks and — like any veteran reporter — another outfit in case she had to pivot from covering the certification of the election to the planned protests outside.
“It was a big day to end the election,” recalls Desjardins, a political correspondent for PBS NewsHour. “We thought that was going to be the news of the day.”
Upon arriving at the Capitol that morning, she made her next calculation: instead of entering the legislative chamber to watch the session, she headed to the nearby Cannon House Office Building, which had just been evacuated. Desjardins didn’t know at the time, but the siege was already unfolding, even as Capitol Police assured her everything was fine.
When she returned to the Capitol building, it was almost 2 p.m.; insurrectionists would breach the building within the half hour.
Desjardins looked out a window facing the Supreme Court and noticed the bike racks that normally block access to the building had been knocked down, and there were people roaming close to the building. As she moved toward the rotunda’s doors, she came across a handful of other reporters and several Capitol police officers. Rioters pressed up against the doors before breaching the entrance.
Desjardins interviewed insurrectionists as they swarmed the building. When her phone battery ran out, she headed toward her press room office outside the House chamber for a spare. But by the time she got there, the building was on lockdown.
She then made her third and most critical calculation: she took a deep breath and asked herself, “If I go back out there, do I feel like I can make good decisions…Can I be steady?”
“I can be steady,” she told herself.
After convincing a colleague to let her out of the press room, Desjardins returned to document the unprecedented event as it unfolded.
“I think the thing people miss about the rioters is that it was a really strange crowd, and a diverse crowd in terms of why they were there,” she said.
Some rioters “looked stupefied that they were inside the U.S. Capitol,” even asking her where the restrooms were. Some were hostile and aggressive, and seemed capable of violence. Others, she says, “thought they were part of some great revolution.”
Desjardins didn’t take any time off after that day, jumping into weeks of coverage about the aftermath. She wasn’t sleeping at night. Every time she talked about Congress on air, she could feel a lump rise in her throat.
A year later, she says increased security at the Capitol makes her feel safer. But she doesn’t think the story ends with the siege.
“I’m worried because I know members of Congress are still saying dangerous things,” she said. “It’s clear to me that the emotions behind January 6th have not died down. I think they’re more inflamed now…there is a real possibility of more violence.” – Dominique Maria Bonessi
Soldiers In The Street: A Capitol Hill Resident Sees Her Neighborhood Turned Into ‘Militarized Zone’
For Gabrielle Doyle, Jan. 6 was already an important date: her dad’s birthday. And in her native Ireland, the day is known as “Little Christmas” or “Women’s Christmas,” the day when women are finally able to enjoy some rest after the family celebrations are over.
Doyle’s brother-in-law called to wish her a happy holiday.
“And then he said, ‘I’ve been reading about all these things about to happen, and I hope they have no impact on you.’” Doyle remembers. “And so that was how I started my day.”
She was already feeling uneasy. Doyle had seen groups of unmasked people — an unusual sight in D.C. at the height of that winter’s pandemic surge — the previous day on one of her usual walks through the Capitol grounds and down onto the National Mall. Something seemed off. She and her husband had even talked with neighbors, who had access to a car, about what they’d do if they and their three cats needed to flee the city.
When Doyle left the house for a swim the next morning, she passed another group of people, this time carrying flags supporting then-President Trump.
“They all got into cars and they drove off,” she says. “It was just that horrible feeling of the beginning.”
That afternoon, Doyle and her husband could hear the sounds of the attack from their home.
“We were glued to the TV and to the media all night, trying to figure out where this was going to go and what was going to happen,” she recalls. “And it was devastating.”
That feeling of devastation didn’t go away, even after the insurrectionists were gone. Overnight, their cozy neighborhood suddenly had soldiers patrolling the streets and high chain link fences everywhere. Venturing outside was a shock.
“I burst into tears when I saw the soldiers in the street. I could not believe that this had happened,” Doyle says. “We were suddenly sprung into a militarized zone, and that’s not an exaggeration.”
The new security perimeter around the Capitol building changed some of the important pandemic rhythms of Doyle’s life.
“We had found solace in walking to the Mall,” she says. But the 3-mile fenced perimeter around the Capitol added miles to her walks. “And not only that, instead of going through parks and beautiful historic buildings, we were walking around barbed wire and fences and soldiers. And it was really sad.”
As winter turned into spring, the fence shrank, but it stayed in place. Doyle missed seeing spring come to the Capitol grounds, and she missed passing by a particular tree — a tree planted in 1920, the year of her mother’s birth.
Doyle and some Hill neighbors organized a campaign to take the Capitol fence down, and in July, it was finally removed. Since resuming her visits to the grounds, Doyle’s been mulling over one question: Did the events of Jan. 6 in some way stain the place?
While she feels disgust remembering what happened, ultimately Doyle takes a longer historical view.
“This is just one of the little bits of threads that is now woven through the fabric of what is the history of the Capitol,” Doyle says. “So you can’t let that destroy what that Capitol stands for. It’s just like a dent that gives it that antique look.” – Margaret Barthel
‘I Had Never Seen So Many Police Officers That Had Just Been Beaten Up’: An Officer On Defending The Capitol
It was Fairfax County police officer Brendan Hooke’s first day back to work after a quarantine following exposure to COVID-19.
“I had a lot of catching up to do, so I really wasn’t watching the news,” recalls Hooke, who was the school liaison commander for the county’s school system at the time.
Around 2 p.m., he received a message from dispatch, requesting that all members of the Fairfax County Police Civil Disturbance Unit — where Hooke has performed supplemental duties for the last 15 years — report to McLean with their equipment. There was something happening at the U.S. Capitol.
When they arrived in D.C., the officers were quickly sworn in by Capitol Police and then walked into the Capitol through an adjacent office building. As they walked down to the congressional subway, Hooke says, the smell of tear gas grew stronger. When they finally reached the Capitol building itself, he started to see the chaos firsthand.
“I’ve just never seen so many police officers that had just been beaten up,” he said. When he went to help push the mob away from the building, “there was just debris everywhere — doors and window frames just out, and they were just yelling awful things and telling us that when they took over, they’re going to put us in the electric chair, put our family in the electric chair.”
Hooke was hit in the head by a metal pipe. But he says he was spared far worse consequences because of the quality of his helmet, a recent purchase by his police department. During a break, as he went to look for a restroom, Hooke saw FBI agents at the scene where a police officer fatally shot Ashli Babbitt.
After nearly eight exhausting hours at the Capitol, Hooke left the scene and arrived home around midnight. He took a break in the garage before entering the house, but when his wife found him there later, he didn’t know how much time had passed. Hooke says he doesn’t remember much from the days immediately after; he had symptoms of a mild concussion.
“Maybe it was shock, or just trying to process everything that happened that day,” he says.
After the insurrection, he doubled down on the activities he does to address trauma he’s experienced on the job: Yoga, exercise, seeking support from his peers and family. A year later, he remains immensely proud of what his unit did.
“I can’t say enough good things about the people that I’ve worked with for 15 years on [the Civil Disturbance Unit],” says Hooke. “We’ve trained — and really, thankfully, we’ve never had to put a lot of that training to use. But we did that day.”
Hooke avoids watching a lot of the news coverage about that traumatic day — in particular, the video footage from the insurrection itself. He says he has noticed, over time, a desire from some corners to rewrite the narrative about that day’s violence.
“There certainly was a lot more unity behind condemning that day and trying to get to the bottom of it at the beginning, and now it seems that there are some with an interest in downplaying the events of that day,” he says. “That upsets me.” – Jenny Gathright
“It Keeps Me Thinking That All Is Not Hopeless Or Lost”: A 5th Grade Teacher Answering Tough Questions
Angelo Parodi was used to answering tough questions from 11-year-olds. Kids have a particular “BS barometer,” the John Eaton Elementary fifth grade teacher says. But on Jan. 6, his answers were less confident.
He was teaching virtually from his Takoma Park home, while his students sat in their homes — some of them quite close to the Capitol.
“[They] were rather fearful about what was going on,” Parodi says. “I said to them…’It’ll be alright, there are people down there that are watching it, it won’t spill over into the streets or anything.’ But honestly, I sometimes thought I was just being that … comforting voice in a moment of fear and crisis. Because I was wondering if it was going to spill over into the streets, given the way it was looking on TV.”
In the days that followed, his kids, per usual, had a lot of questions. “What’s going to happen to our government?” they’d ask. Again, he gave them an answer he himself wasn’t — and maybe still isn’t — convinced of.
“I had to give them the belief that our government was going to survive this,” Parodi says. “I don’t know how much I believed that at the time. It’s becoming harder and harder to feel that some kind of justice is going to happen to keep this from happening again.”
But Parodi says the “BS barometer” kept appearing in conversations with his fifth graders, both directly and indirectly related to Jan. 6. At the time, they were studying the Reconstruction Era — a unit, he says, that often prompts his students to contend with concepts like justice. Parodi had to answer questions about what would happen to the insurrectionists and then-President Trump.
“The most amazing thing with children is that you can’t get away with poor political reasoning in this room,” Parodi says. “If you come in here, and somebody has gone on the TV for a political purpose and lied, as far as they are concerned, you lied and lying is wrong. And if your lie created a bad situation where people got hurt or killed, then something should happen to you.”
Parodi says he stays away from sharing any of his own political views in his classroom, but in the 12 months since the insurrection, he’s become more frank with his students — especially when teaching about the Constitution or freedom. These days, he says, his students often draw connections between what they’re learning in their history book and what they’re seeing on the news.
Having these conversations with his students, especially in the wake of the insurrection has inspired him, he says, even if events transpiring in the world around him haven’t been as positive.
“It keeps me thinking that all is not hopeless or lost,” he says. “All of our classes deal with questions of justice and fairness, so when you look out there and you see what’s happening, and the hatred…it’s that part that can make you feel despair.” – Colleen Grablick
‘It Was Just Total Chaos’: The Capitol Building Cook On Comforting His Coworkers
Rickie Toon has served countless elected officials as a cook at the U.S. Capitol over nearly four decades. He’s seen his fair share of election cycles and major security threats, including the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. But he never imagined he would see anything like the insurrection.
“Every now and then you have some person drive up and park [in] a spot where they ain’t supposed to be at,” says Toon, 66, who works in the cafeteria of the Rayburn House Office Building. “They tell the police that they have a bomb or something like that. I kind of, in a way, expect that. But not Americans coming to the Capitol. I would never.”
Although Toon wasn’t working the day the insurrection occurred, he remembers his cell phone ringing seemingly unendingly as the afternoon wore on. Toon, a shop steward for his union, recalls many of his coworkers turning to him as news broke that people were storming the Capitol.
“They ask me questions and I’m telling them, ‘I don’t know.’ So I had to cut on the TV and was looking at all that chaos,” Toon says.
His fearful coworkers didn’t know where to go, or if the rioters were armed.
“It was just total chaos. I mean, like people were crying on the phone,” he recalls. “Even though I wasn’t there, I was just nervous and scared.”
Toon says he felt responsible for his coworkers — and feared for their lives.
“The way that they were fighting against the police trying to get in the Capitol, you couldn’t do nothing but be nervous,” Toon says.
Although he had the next day off, Toon opted to return. He felt the need to check in on his coworkers and to relieve one person who feared reporting back to work.
Because cafeteria staff use a different entrance, Toon says he didn’t see as much destruction as others did — but the damage was still apparent.
“Talking to some of my old coworkers who do housekeeping, they said, ‘Man, that place was tore up in the hallways.’ Like benches broke and stuff pulled off the wall,” Toon says.
In the year since, Toon says he still enjoys working on Capitol Hill, but he plans to retire soon. He says the experience changed him and many of his coworkers.
“I’m still kind of nervous now going in there since they took the fences down,” he says. “So I’m always on pins and needles. Always ready to take off.” – Héctor Arzate
‘It Was A Trauma’: A Virginia Congressman On The Day That Would Permanently Change Capitol Hill
Gerry Connolly was defiant, waiting on the House floor as a mob pounded on the door outside the chamber. The Democratic congressman from Virginia’s 11th District would be among the last to evacuate.
“Part of me, the Irish in me, didn’t like this… like ‘who is this mob to interrupt the workings of the House?’” Connolly recalled. He saw dozens of angry faces, bodies slamming against the door. “And I’ll be damned if I was going to be intimidated by that crowd.”
Many members of Congress stayed away from the floor that day — leaders asked those not involved to be elsewhere because of COVID concerns. But Connolly had never missed the counting of Electoral College votes in his 13 years as a representative.
“I was coming here, no matter what, and I was going to witness the counting of the ballots, given Trump’s assault on the legitimacy of the election, and his lies and false assertions,” he said. “I felt it was very important… to give witness to the constitutional requirement of the counting of the ballots.”
Most lawmakers were focused on the work at hand, unaware of the violent scenes unfolding outside, Connolly said.
Originally seated in the gallery, Connolly moved to the floor to speak with someone. He remembers House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being rushed off the dais and out of the room, and “that’s when I realized we had a problem.”
He and 150 others were ushered into the House Ways and Means Committee room where they sheltered for three hours. While it seemed they were safe, he wrote an email to his family: “If this goes really south … I love you. Please remember that.”
Connolly says he felt an unwavering sense of determination as the day unfolded, though he doesn’t deny the fear of those who were in the Capitol that day.
“There’s no question, it was a trauma. And I can tell you that because I have a lot of colleagues and staff members and family members who are still reliving trauma, and it has classic PTSD signs,” he said.
The insurrection has permanently changed the dynamics among lawmakers in the Capitol, but also the institution itself, he said. He’s personally offended by those who still voted to overturn the election.
“You’re siding with a violent mob … I think (that) has permanently created a wedge in relationships here that are going to be very difficult to ever overcome.”
“I hope it can lead to maybe a rededication to constitutional democracy … freedom of expression within the bounds of constitutional norms,” he said.
“If we can learn from it, and recover from it and strengthen our democratic institutions, then we may in the future look back on this day as a turning point for good.” – Jordan Pascale
“Nothing’s Changed”: A Local Professor On What The Day Meant For Black D.C. Residents
In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, many politicians parroted the idea that the violence represented an “unprecedented” attack on American democracy. Or as then-President elect Joe Biden put it, “The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America.” On Jan. 7, the day after the attack, Greg Carr, chair of the Afro-American studies program at Howard University, jumped on TheKojo Nnamdi Show to refute this line of thinking.
“When Joe Biden says, ‘We are better than this,’ when Sen. Cory Booker says, ‘We brought this upon ourselves,’ my question is: ‘Who is we?’” Carr said at the time.
A year later, he stands by his analysis.
“There’s no ‘we’ in terms of a national identity,” he told DCist/WAMU. “There’s certainly been and continues to be an attempt to create one.”
That attempt has failed, he says, because the country hasn’t fully confronted its past of stealing land from Indigenous people and bringing enslaved Africans to that land, creating a structure in which whiteness was the “only form of legally recognized humanity.”
Carr has spent decades developing curricula on African American history and Africana studies, and being a quasi-spokesperson for Howard on major political issues involving race. In the days following the attack on the Capitol, he discussed its significance with his friends and colleagues — but his students were still away on winter vacation. When the students returned, he had his curriculum to cover.
But he couldn’t help but think of what that deadly January day meant for his neighbors here in the District. Though it left many Washingtonians traumatized and changed the ethos of Capitol Hill forever, Carr notes that pundits don’t cover the issues most affecting the residents closest to the Hill — particularly Black residents.
“Any time I spend time east of the river, standing on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X [Avenues], ordering some fish, listening to folks in conversation, it strikes me that nothing’s changed for those people,” Carr says. “When asked about the events of Jan. 6, their simple reply is, ‘Well, what did you expect?’ And, ‘This is why I don’t get engaged in the political process … because nothing changes.’” – Elliot Williams
‘I Felt Very Close To My Neighbors’: A Local Blogger On Connecting Capitol Hill
The Hill Is Home blogger María Helena Carey was picking up a roscón de reyes, a cake for Three Kings Day, when the barrage of tweets, texts, and other messages reached her phone.
“They had just breached the Capitol and things were falling apart. It was just one of those moments where the adrenaline is coursing through you. You know something serious is happening” Carey says. “But you cannot really capture the magnitude of what is happening.”
She began combing through Twitter and started receiving messages from people who were connected to people in the building and were deeply frightened. As Carey sifted through the information, she realized she wouldn’t be able to share everything coming across her desk with neighbors hungry for updates. She decided what to publicize by asking: “What would I like people to know that is not going to scare them, but that’s going to inform them and point them in the right direction?”
She sorts her unease and fear in those moments into two categories: “There were the small concerns with a lowercase C — you know, what does this mean for us? Are we okay? Are we safe? And then there were the larger concerns with a capital C – is our country safe? Is our democracy safe? So it was a lot of waiting, and it was a lot of uncertainty.”
While neighbors on the House side of the Capitol were dealing with closed streets, police investigations, and bomb-sniffing dogs, Carey says she could see lights, but all she heard was “an eerie silence.”
The following day, the fence began going up around Capitol Hill, isolating the neighborhood from other parts of the city. “It was a very punitive feeling,” says Carey. “It felt like other people came in to do something awful to our place of democracy, and it is the regular people … [who] are the ones paying for it, and it’s not even the people who are fully represented in the body they came to attack.”
She says that the fencing “felt like a slap in the face” because residents had called for increased security in the days leading up the planned demonstrations.
While Carey wanted the fence removed and rallied for that cause, she also heard from neighbors who were traumatized by their experiences inside the building and saw the fence as an extra layer of protection.
As she reflects on the events of that day and its aftermath, she has a newfound appreciation for residents’ access to the Capitol grounds and for her fellow Hill denizens.
“Sometimes tragedies and terrible things bring us closer,” says Carey. “I felt very close to my neighbors and I felt very happy to be part of this community and to be a voice in the community that gets to highlight what we love about it.” – Rachel Kurzius
D.C.’s only elected official in Congress was working from her Capitol Hill home that day, just a few blocks away.
“For me, it was not only an attack on the Capitol. It was an attack on our hometown.” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) says.
She recalls watching and waiting as rioters overpowered Capitol Police and D.C. police officers stationed outside the building. “Waiting, waiting for help to come to the Capitol.”
It finally came, in the form of National Guard troops, some two hours after the attack began. Norton remembers hearing sirens as the reinforcements arrived, residential streets closed off as troops cordoned off the area.
To many Americans, the U.S. Capitol is mostly just a symbol — a gleaming white building in the background of TV news shots. But for D.C. residents, the Capitol grounds are a part of the community: a place to walk your dog, go for a jog, or even go sledding.
The attack “reverberated over our entire neighborhood,” she says.
A third-generation Washingtonian and longtime Hill resident, Norton has represented the District in Congress since 1991 — only the second person to hold the office since it was created in 1970, as part of the Civil Rights-inspired movement to give D.C. more autonomy.
“D.C. statehood is related to the attack on the Capitol,” says Norton. “If we had statehood, I can’t say that there would not have been an attack on the Capitol, but I certainly can say that D.C. would have been empowered to call out its National Guard, helping to save the city, the Congress and save lives.” – Jacob Fenston
“The Restaurant Community In D.C. Really Came Together”: A Restaurant Owner On Helping To Feed The National Guard
At the start of 2021, Deputy CEO of Sunnyside Restaurant Group Micheline Mendelsohn was feeling hopeful. After a brutal pandemic year, she was optimistic that the restrictions placed on D.C. restaurants in late 2020 might soon be lifted.
Still the company was also preparing for the planned demonstration, advising staff on what to do if rally goers came into their establishments and refused to wear masks.
Instead they found themselves needing to evacuate.
“In the moment, it was just so shocking to watch,” says Mendelsohn, whose company has three fast casual establishments right next to the U.S. Capitol — Good Stuff Eatery, We The Pizza, and Santa Rosa Taqueria. “As a business owner, it was just another punch to the face where you just all of the sudden had to think, ‘I know people there. I have staff there. How do I get them out?’”
While watching the events unfold on television, she spoke on the phone with managers of the three restaurants. Together, they tried to figure out how to shutter the locations as quickly as possible and get employees home safely. (They went back to We The Pizza later to provide food for government agencies.)
The restaurants officially reopened on Jan. 8. But the fence created serious logistical issues, blocking access from downtown D.C.
“The only people that could order pizza and come pick it up without going 20 or 30 minutes out of the way were people behind us that lived behind the Capitol,” says Mendelsohn. “Anybody coming from anywhere else just wouldn’t bother because it was just too difficult.”
In the days that followed, a member of Congress called to order pizza for the members of the National Guard hunkered down in the Capitol. When she realized how many troops were in the building, Mendelsohn quadrupled the order. A photographer snapped a photo of the pizza delivery, leading to national media attention.
Suddenly, people from all over the U.S. were calling in to donate pies to the National Guard. Mendelsohn realized that the troops were getting pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“And I thought, well, this is silly if we have people from around the country calling to make donations, we have all these restaurants on Capitol Hill where nobody’s coming out,” she says. “Nobody’s making any money. Let me call and see if the bagel shop up the street is willing to make bagels for breakfast.”
That mentality was how the effort spread to other local restaurants, and a website was established that centralized donations. “I didn’t want people just delivering food for free. And even though I would call people and say, ‘Listen, I can pay for 50 bagels,’ they would say, ‘Okay, we’ll throw in another 10,’” says Mendelsohn. “The restaurant community in D.C. really came together and was able to help and give food and feed people, which is what we love to do.” – Rachel Kurzius
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