For Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), her call to block QAnon adherents and other potential insurrectionists from the U.S. government’s national security agencies is rooted in her own harrowing experience on Jan. 6. She came to work that morning in running clothes and a baseball cap to minimize the chances she would be recognized by angry Trump supporters amassing nearby. She had a bag stashed in her office with two changes of clothes and a blanket, just in case she got stuck there all night.
“I had come to work pretty much in disguise for fear of running into any of the protesters,” she told me. “I understood that that day was going to be possibly a difficult day.”
But even Murphy, a former Pentagon official, could not have predicted how difficult a day it would become. After a fairly quiet morning in her office, Murphy found herself in the offices in the Capitol basement, below the Crypt, just steps away from the corridor that leads down to exit doors facing the building’s west side. As rioters surrounded the building, those doors became a key choke point for rioters attacking the Capitol Police.
Murphy and a colleague found themselves trapped inside one of the offices, hiding as rioters tried to breach the door, just a few feet down the hall. The Capitol Police would later dub this very corridor the “hallway from hell.”
“I heard all of that go down,” she said. “I could hear the Capitol and D.C. police being injured and coughing and running to clear their eyes at the eyewash station.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who had been planning to meet Murphy and her colleague in that office, sent the Capitol Police to retrieve the two House members and escort them to safety. For Murphy, running for her life on Jan. 6 evoked images of the ordeal her family endured escaping Vietnam as refugees when she was a small child.
“We escaped a country that was not democratic, that had political violence, and I never imagined in a million years that as the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress, I would find myself hiding in the basement of the Capitol while insurrectionists roamed about,” she said.
That experience drove her to introduce the Security Clearance Improvement Act of 2021, a law that would require any potential security clearance applicant to disclose whether they participated in the Jan. 6 events or has been associated with any group that spread conspiracies about the U.S. elections, including QAnon.
“We cannot normalize these conspiracy theorists whose intent is to overthrow our government,” she said.
Murphy endorses the White House’s reported intention to cut off intelligence briefings for former president Donald Trump, who inspired and egged on the rioters. “I’m not sure there’s any need for that anymore,” she said.
But keeping government agency security clearances out of the hands of conspiracy theorists only goes so far, especially when there are QAnon promoters among the ranks of Congress, such as freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.). Murphy said the Republican Party has a responsibility to punish or purge those members of its own caucus who don’t believe in the basic ideas of democracy and truth.
“For every Republican who sees a socialist around every corner threatening our country, I hope they are as vigilant against these anti-democratic forces within their own party,” she said. “This disease within the Republican party, it’s up to Republicans to cast it out.”
Murphy is co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, a fiscally conservative, national security-focused group of Democrats that saw its ranks depleted by losses in the 2020 congressional elections. The fact that centrist purple-district Democrats were replaced by Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results — even after rioters attacked the Capitol — should clarify the importance of protecting those seats, she said.
“Can you imagine, if Republicans had controlled the House floor, what would have happened after that insurrection?” she said. “It’s our political obligation to maintain majorities in both houses of Congress because that ensures we secure our democracy” and for the sake of U.S. national security.
Despite these challenges, Murphy remains an optimist. On Jan. 20, she sat near the very entrance to the Capitol where two weeks prior she had been cowering in an office space as insurgents overran the building. But this time, she was witnessing the inauguration of a new president, Joe Biden.
“It felt so good being an American, watching our democracy survive, just two weeks after it was on the precipice,” she said. “It was reassuring to see our democracy move on. And it gives me hope we still have foundations to build upon.”