Come Tuesday, it will be three months since supporters of Donald Trump staged a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Not much time at all, really. But the former president and his enablers have been hard at work trying to persuade Americans not to believe what we all saw with our own eyes that day.
“It was zero threat,” Trump told friendly Fox News host Laura Ingraham last month. “Some of them went in, and they’re hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know? They had great relationships.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told a radio host that the rioters were “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law,” and added: “I never felt threatened.”
This kind of shameless revisionism cannot be allowed to take root. It is important to keep fresh in our memories the true sights and sounds of that day — a day when Congress was supposed to be performing its duty to certify the electoral college tally of the 2020 election. A day when democracy itself came under attack by faux patriots.
The whole country witnessed an insurrectionist mob, which Trump later referred to as “very special” people, breaching the building and going on a rampage. More than 350 individuals have since been charged in violence that left five people dead and about 140 police officers injured.
Those who were there that day are haunted by memories of the sound of breaking glass. The horror of hearing shots fired in the House chamber, which was supposed to be one of the safest spots in Washington. The burn of tear gas. Fears for colleagues who couldn’t be accounted for.
Then there was the terror of a mother, working remotely, who had dropped off her two children that morning at the House day-care center, thinking it would be just an ordinary day.
“I sat there in agony, waiting for the next alert” from a Capitol complex under lockdown, she recalled, her voice breaking. "I personally was not there, but the two people who matter to me most in the world were close enough.” She has since moved her children to a different day-care facility, because the sight of security fences and armed guards kept reminding her of what she could have lost that day.
Hers is one of the recollections that are being collected in an oral history project underway by Co-Equal, a nonprofit initiative led by former congressional staffers dedicated to making the legislative branch function more effectively. Participants are granted anonymity — understandably, given a very valid concern that they could become a target, again, if their identities are known.
But as I listened to their harrowing accounts, I was just as struck by the idealism and dedication of the thousands who go to work each day on Capitol Hill.
After the riot was contained, “there was a huge part of me that said I want to get back over there. I want to finish this joint session and I truly want the message to be that you didn’t win, that we did what we were supposed to do, that we completed the task that we had to do,” said one aide who had been evacuated from the House chamber.
“As a staffer, I have a very small part in how this thing plays out,” he said. “But I had a certain pride in wanting to make sure that we finished the counting of the electoral ballots and that truth would prevail.”
This is not the only effort underway to compile an eyewitness record of the day. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has instructed the House historian’s office to collect video interviews of individual lawmakers who were there.
But much more is needed. Efforts to put together an independent 9/11-style commission to examine what happened and why have been stalled in part because of Republican insistence on expanding its mission to antifa and other issues unrelated to Jan. 6.
Lawmakers themselves have been frustrated in their efforts to make public even basic information. Despite strengthened security measures, the Capitol’s continuing vulnerability was evident Friday, when a knife-wielding man killed a Capitol Police officer and wounded another after crashing his vehicle into an entry barricade.
Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), the chairman and ranking minority-party member, respectively, of a subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police, recently wrote a letter calling for the release of an upcoming report by the Capitol Police’s inspector general that would examine how the legislative branch’s law enforcement agency performed three months ago.
“In the wake of the January 6th attack that shook the confidence of so many Americans, taking a more open and transparent approach isn’t just the right thing to do, it will be the most effective as we seek to restore citizens’ confidence that the heart of America’s government is secure,” the two lawmakers wrote.
The truth is the least of what we owe the public servants whose lives were on the line that day. And just as important, it is what we owe ourselves.
Video sources: Brendan Gutenschwager and Status Coup via Storyful