In the week following the white supremacist attack on the U.S. Capitol building, additional details on the events of the attack from various congresspeople have formed a clearer picture of how much worse the crisis could have been.
Outspoken Democrats such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Rep. Ayana Pressley—often the subject of racist, sexist attacks by Republicans and even targeted by even their own Democratic colleagues—shared that they credibly feared for their lives, and could not trust their House colleagues or Capitol police to keep them safe.
Going live on Instagram on Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez said she had a “pretty traumatizing event” happen to her during the siege.
“I can tell you I had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die,” she said. “You have all of those thoughts where, at the end of your life, and all of these thoughts come rushing to you, and that’s what happened to a lot of us on Wednesday. I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive, not just in a general sense but in a very specific sense.”
“It is not an exaggeration to say many, many members of the House were nearly assassinated,” she added.
“I myself didn’t even feel safe going to that extraction point because there were Q Anon and white supremacist sympathizers, and frankly white supremacist members of Congress,” at the shelter, she continued, saying she feared those members might disclose her location and lead the mob to her. That day, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert had tweeted, despite instructions not to, that members were “locked in the House Chambers,” later tweeting when Pelosi had been removed from the chambers. Even Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, celebrating the floor staff who saved the electoral college ballots, revealed the hiding place of senators in a tweet.
Ocasio-Cortez also said that while members of Capitol police had put themselves in harm’s way to protect members on that day, she felt like she wasn’t sure she could run through the hallways of the Capitol and know if some officers were there to help or harm people like her.
Pressley made a similar comment earlier that day on Twitter, sharing that she didn’t stay at the shelter space during the January 6 attack because of “white supremacist, anti masker Members of Congress.” Her revelation came in a response to news that multiple Democratic representatives, including Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, were testing positive for COVID in the days after sheltering in a space with Republican House members who refused to wear masks, even when offered them.
Today, Pressley’s office announced that her husband, Conan Harris, has tested positive for COVID. Pressley herself has alopecia and is immunocompromised.
Pressley’s chief of staff Sarah Groh revealed more concerning information that day in comments to the Boston Globe, including that Pressley and her team were also vigilant of Capitol cops that they didn’t know, and that even before their evacuation, panic buttons had been torn out from Pressley’s office. From the Globe:
As people rushed out of other buildings on the Capitol grounds, staffers in Pressley’s office barricaded the entrance with furniture and water jugs that had piled up during the pandemic. Groh pulled out gas masks and looked for the special panic buttons in the office.
“Every panic button in my office had been torn out — the whole unit,” she said, though they could come up with no rationale as to why. She had used them before and hadn’t switched offices since then. As they were escorted to several different secure locations, Groh and Pressley and her husband tried to remain calm and vigilant — not only of rioters but of officers they did not know or trust, she said.
(The panic buttons were reinstalled and an investigation is underway.)
On Monday, Pressley told Joy Reid on MSNBC that “the experiences of Wednesday were harrowing and unfortunately very familiar in the deepest and most ancestral way … and so of course, you know, I’m fearful, but that fear is not new.”
This is the truth that these women and many other more progressive voices of Congress —such as Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — have lived for years. Their lives have always been in danger, either because of the direct actions of their colleagues to embolden a hateful, white supremacist mob who wants to murder them, or because their own white supremacist colleagues espouse the very ideologies that call for their deaths.
For years, President Donald Trump has verbally attacked these women, and fellow Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have failed to adequately support them, instead positioning them on the “fringe” of the Democratic Party. For years, they have been built up as targets of white supremacy. Of course they feared death, and were familiar with this fear. The people surrounding them have primed them for this moment for years.
And this is even aside from the fact that their own colleagues may have worked to better prepare members of the mob ahead of January 6. During a Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday night, New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill said she saw “members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol … for reconnaissance” on the day before. According to The Washington Post, several Capitol police officers have been suspended and over a dozen are more are being investigated for “suspected involvement with or inappropriate support for” the January 6 mob.
Republicans didn’t change their tune on certifying the election even when confronted with the depths of the hatred they’d whipped up, perhaps because their lives were not in the same kind of danger as Ocasio-Cortez’s. Now, when faced with an impeachment vote against President Trump, the tables have turned as other Republicans are fearing for their lives if they vote to do the right thing.
Again, this is the reality that these House members have experienced for years. It is amazing how easily white Republicans are shaken when given the faintest whiff of the vitriol they’ve taken part in creating.