A week ago yesterday, hundreds of individuals formed a violent mob and entered the U.S. Capitol building by force in the afternoon as Congress assembled to address the vote count for the 2020 presidential election that declared Joe Biden the next president of the United States of America. I’m still attempting to process my thoughts and feelings around the unprecedented and terrifying event and what I witnessed. And all I can come up with at the moment is a list of images and statements that are forever seared in my memory and a list of questions and concerns to consider. I feel as if I am still in limbo, processing this event and what it means, as well as what it portends.
What I Witnessed:
I wasn’t physically present at the U.S. Capitol when I witnessed the mob forcing their way inside. I was in my living room in Colorado. I had just returned from dropping off my Christmas tree at a recycling pile in a nearby park before picking up an order placed ahead at a nearby store. It was while I was waiting in line to pick up my order at the store that I looked down at my phone, casually at first, simply expecting to pass the time scrolling through my Facebook feed as I waited. But what I ended up seeing stopped me cold. I read a headline stating that the U.S. Capitol building was under siege.
When I came home, I immediately turned on the TV to see the live coverage of the events unfolding.
Here’s what I remember seeing as I watched the TV screen:
- Trump flags everywhere; one even covering the steps leading up to the entrance of the Capitol building
- A flood of white people wearing Trump shirts and hats and carrying Trump banners forcing their way up the stairs and into the building. In all the footage I saw (which I must admit was limited because I was not physically present there) I only remember seeing brown hands of someone holding a video camera inside the Capitol, someone who could potentially have been a reporter or blogger
- Tactical gear and rifles and guns, donned by the rioters; Capitol police officers wore bright yellow vests and black face coverings, most of them holding batons
- A man with face paint and tattoos and no shirt on in a Viking-like hat with fur and horns holding a bullhorn
- The Capitol police responding to the mob in mixed and inconsistent ways; some seemed to be standing on the sidelines (one even took a selfie with a rioter), some were shouting but not necessarily resorting to physical force to keep the mob at bay, some ran up the front steps of the building away from the crowd before it advanced (this still seems very odd to me), some were physically attempting to keep barricades at bay outside and shoving some rioters back, and some inside were shouting at the mob as the came inside and up the stairs inside while running away from the rioters, some were attempting to shove the rioters back, and still some seemed to be pretending to try to keep the mob at bay with half-hearted gestures and words
- Men crawling up the wall outside the Capitol building
- Smoke bombs and flash-bang grenades (these went off later, as individuals were leaving the Capitol)
- A cart with a noose affixed to a wooden platform outside on Capitol grounds, propped up as if intended for a hanging
- Individuals in jeans and hoodies and makeshift tactical gear wandering around the evacuated chambers of the House; most had face coverings on and one hoodie wandering around the Capitol building said “Camp Auschwitz” on it
- A man sitting behind Nancy Pelosi’s desk, leaned back in a chair with his feet on top of the desk, wearing jeans and a smug grin
- A man holding at least a couple dozen zip-tie handcuffs, wearing military tactical gear wandering around inside the House
- Coverage of Congresspeople ducking as they fled the chambers to take cover as the mob further infiltrated the Capitol
- A group of Congresspeople hunkering down behind seats in the upper balconies of the House; one or two of them ended up testing positive for COVID-19 the next day
- Broken windows and paper were strewn about private offices
- Notes left on Congresspeople’s desks inside their private offices, with computer monitors left on and documents and emails up on computer screens
- Streams of rioters going in different directions once inside the Capitol, some seeming to think they were on a private tour with expressions of amazement on their faces, while others seemed to have specific goals in mind once inside
- Men pointing guns at holes in what looked like parchment paper covering holes in the House chamber’s doors from the inside of the chamber, behind a makeshift barricade made up of what seemed to be furniture from elsewhere in the chamber
- A Capitol police officer holding the hand of a woman he was slowly and carefully escorting down the front steps of the Capitol building
- Groups of rioters being peacefully escorted out of the Capitol building sometime after the National Guard had arrived
- A large group of rioters lingering outside the entrance of the Capitol building as rioters were being escorted outside
- Coverage of crowds with hundreds, maybe thousands or rioters, marching to the Capitol building before they forcibly entered it
- Coverage of Trump giving a speech behind sheets of bulletproof glass at a “Save America March” rally before the siege of the Capitol
As I write this, I received a notification with an article with images in it of National Guard troops camping out in the front areas of the Capitol building indoors, surrounded by supplies, seemingly with the intention to stay stationed there through Biden’s inauguration next week or longer. They plan to sleep there. This hasn’t happened since the Civil War. And rioters have never actually infiltrated the U.S. Capitol building before. The House officially impeached Trump for the second time yesterday, another historical event. And now the nation is waiting to see what Mitch McConnel and other Republicans will do, with six days left until Joe Biden’s inauguration to go.
Here’s what I remember hearing as I watched the TV screen:
- Trump’s voice, during his speech at his rally right before the full-fledged chaos of the siege, saying that he was going to walk with his supporters to the U.S. Capitol building (which he didn’t actually do), encouraging them to fight and not back down or be weak
- Rioters chanting while infiltrating the Capitol building, although I couldn’t decipher what was being said; sometimes they were in unison but sometimes they weren’t
- Laughter and noises indicating triumph or victory or joy
- Chaos incited by the mob: yelling, acts of vandalism
- Muffled testimonies of reporters and Congresspeople and staff from inside the Capitol while it was under siege, and shortly after; emotional accounts made by people inside the Capitol about calling their loved ones as they ran to safety
- Biden insisting in a live televised statement that Trump tell his supporters to end the siege and leave the Capitol
- Trump’s recorded statement a few hours into the siege, and a few minutes after Biden addressed the nation, asking the rioters to leave the Capitol in peace while also claiming that he loved them, and (again) falsely stating that the election results were fraudulent and stolen and that he understood their pain and grievances
- Ominous silence around the Capitol building after the D.C. curfew was enforced around 6 pm EST
- Statements of leaders around the world regarding what happened in the Capitol
- Congresspeople on chamber floors after the insurrection getting back to work, most of them clearly affected by what happened (but clearly not all of them were)
While this was unfolding, past trauma of what I experienced while living in Brooklyn on September 11, 2001 resurfaced. But now the terror is coming from within my own country, instigated by people who call themselves American patriots. Instigated by people in very powerful positions within my own country too. Reports are now claiming that there were members of Congress and Capitol police officers who worked with organizers and rioters behind the siege of the Capitol.
Right now, I still feel as if I am in limbo, in a semi-animated suspension of sorts. Right now, more than ever, it is important to act intentionally and purposefully, to be careful not to condone, perpetuate, or participate in acts of violence of any kind. Violence only begets more violence. Shouting and name-calling only begets more shouting and name-calling; not to mention everyone mixed in the shouting matches only ends up looking like petty and foolish children with nothing to show but destruction and confusion for their efforts. Let’s face it: violence is simply inefficient and wasteful and destructive and meaningless in the long run, even boring. You cannot be violent toward another with the aim of destroying them, without also destroying yourself in some way. History has repeatedly shown us that. Clearly, fortitude and resilience are not a byproduct of violence; in fact, I believe they are only brought about by the opposite of violence which I would like to think of as a sort of peace that can only come about via authenticity, honesty, accountability, calm, and perhaps a few other things too.
Things I’m Still Processing and Questions I’m Left With:
- If Trump can be banned from social media platforms for inciting violence, he definitely shouldn’t have access to nuclear weapons and major media outlets, among other things, ever again.
- Companies are now deciding to withdraw their support of Trump and the GOP after the siege. Is this a move in the right direction? Or simply a reminder of how much power these companies have over our elections and leadership, as well as our politics?
- What are people and leaders around the world really thinking? What are they planning to do? How will they respond and work with Biden’s incoming administration?
- What can we expect after Biden’s inauguration? Across the United States and abroad?
- How and when will we get to the point where party politics don’t have such a strong and blinding hold on everyone’s psyche and dialogue anymore?
- How will accountability be doled out for the insurrection at the Capitol, and for whom and by whom? Will anyone in a seat of real power who was involved actually be convicted and imprisoned? If not, what long-term consequences will that have?
- What are the short-term and long-term effects of the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th?
- Is there a way for Congress to bar Trump from holding a public office in the future after Biden’s inauguration, especially if he doesn’t end up being convicted in the Senate on his impeachment charges?
I will undoubtedly have more questions and concerns as the next few days, weeks, months, and years unfold. I just hope more of us are beginning to become interested in finding sustainable answers and pathways forward.
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