The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ocasio-Cortez reveals she’s a sexual assault survivor, recounts ‘trauma’ of Capitol riot: ‘I thought everything was over’

In an Instagram Live chat on Feb. 1, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) recounted her experience hiding in her office during the Capitol riot. (Video: AOC/Instagram)

As rioters threatened to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6, a staffer rushed into Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office and told her to hide. Soon after she ran into a bathroom, she heard a thunderous banging noise outside.

“Where is she? Where is she?” someone yelled, Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in an Instagram Live chat on Monday night. “And this was the moment where I thought everything was over.”

The person thumping on the doors turned out to be a police officer trying to move her to a secure location, Ocasio-Cortez said, but the harrowing moment was just the first of many as a mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol.

With around 150,000 viewers watching live, Ocasio-Cortez for the first time recounted in detail what she had earlier described as a near-death experience during the attempted insurrection. The New York Democrat also revealed during the 90-minute discussion that she is a survivor of sexual assault. She compared lawmakers like Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.), whom she accused of trying to play down the seriousness of the riot, to abusers who attempt to silence and undermine victims.

While discussing her experience during the Capitol riot, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Feb. 1 revealed that she is a survivor of sexual assault. (Video: AOC/Instagram)

“These folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize. These are the same tactics of abusers. And I’m a survivor of sexual assault,” she said.

Ocasio-Cortez added: “I haven’t told many people that in my life. But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”

Representatives for Cruz and Hawley did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.

Ocasio-Cortez said demanding accountability for the Capitol riot wasn’t about politics.

“This is at a point where it’s not about a difference of political opinion,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “This is about just basic humanity.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on Monday come almost three weeks after she said she didn’t feel safe going to an extraction point with Republican lawmakers and feared GOP colleagues would lead rioters to her. Federal prosecutors have charged one alleged Capitol rioter with threatening in a tweet to “Assassinate AOC.”

About a week before the Capitol riot, Ocasio-Cortez said she began receiving text messages from members of Congress warning her that she needed to make plans to ensure her safety and “that in particular, I needed to be careful about the 6th,” she said in her Instagram Live chat on Monday.

During the next few days, Ocasio-Cortez said she felt increasingly unsafe. On Jan. 4, after driving to the Capitol for a vote, she returned to find Trump supporters standing behind her car, heckling her. The following day, the crowds outside the Capitol grew.

“It felt actively volatile and dangerous,” she said.

Capitol Police leadership assured Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues they were prepared but declined to give details for fear the security plans could be leaked, she said.

But the threats came thundering down on Jan. 6, as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden’s victory. Ocasio-Cortez found herself hiding in her office’s bathroom, she said, staying quiet and reflecting on the possibility of being killed.

“I really just felt like, if this is the plan for me, then people will be able to take it from here,” she said, wiping away tears in the Instagram video. “I had fulfilled my purpose.”

The Capitol Police officer did not announce himself as he banged on doors and yelled out for her, she said. And when she emerged from her hiding spot, she said the officer greeted her and one of her staffers with “a tremendous amount of anger and hostility.”

“We couldn’t even tell or read if this was a good situation or bad situation,” she said, adding “it didn’t feel okay.”

The officer instructed her and her staffer to go to a different building, which Ocasio-Cortez would not identify in the live stream. But once they arrived at the building they realized the officer never told them where to go. As they ran through hallways and knocked on office doors, Ocasio-Cortez said she could hear yells outside the building growing louder as rioters threatened to break inside.

“I hear the hinges cracking,” she said.

She soon saw Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) walking into her office and asked if they could join her. Ocasio-Cortez started roaming the office and opening doors as staffers barricaded the front door with furniture.

“I was like, ‘Can I help you? What are you looking for?’ and she said, ‘I’m looking for where I’m going to hide,’” Porter told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Monday night. “I said, ‘Well don’t worry, I’m a mom, I’m calm’ … and she said, ‘I just hope I get to be a mom.’ ”

The New York lawmaker shut off the lights, closed the blinds and rummaged under staffers’ desks, trying to find a gym bag that may have sneakers or a change of clothes. She told Porter that her dress and heels were not conducive for running, blending in with a crowd or even jumping out a window to escape.

“I’m like at a 10 because I’ve probably [experienced] two times today that I already thought I was going to die,” Ocasio-Cortez said of how she felt at the moment.

The group was in Porter’s office for about five hours, Ocasio-Cortez said, during which they learned police had found two bombs nearby, outside the offices of the Republican and Democratic national committees, and then discussed what they would do if one went off in their building.

It was only after the House resumed the vote later that day to certify the election that Ocasio-Cortez said she processed what had happened. Sitting for dinner with Porter and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) in Pressley’s office, Ocasio-Cortez recounted her experience.

“Rep. Pressley told me right away, ‘What you experienced was traumatizing and you need to take care of yourself,’ ” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It was like — having her, as a friend and sister, hear what I was saying and tell me that — mentally, it forced me to pump my brakes.”

Telling her story, which she added was just one of 435 stories among House members from that day, has been healing, she said. But in the case of the events at the Capitol, it is not enough, the Democrat said.

She argued there needs to be accountability for Republicans in Congress who made false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election and who have not condemned the events or apologized for their alleged role in inciting the attempted insurrection.

“The accountability is not about revenge,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s about creating safety. And we are not safe with people who hold positions of power who are willing to endanger the lives of others if they think it will score them a political point.”