One year after thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump launched an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, New York lawmakers who were in Washington, D.C. on that day of infamy reflected on the turbulent events that forced them into lockdown as the crowds rioted inside the marble halls of the government building.
“It still feels very surreal,” Congresswoman Grace Meng told amNewYork Metro.
The Queens representative was barricaded in a side office for nine hours that day as protesters marched just feet away from her on the other side of the door she wedged shut with office chairs.
“The Capitol to me is the people’s house, it’s a place that is very sacred,” she said. “Even when school children come visit, they know to whisper and be quiet and not touch anything, and so what happened that day, to me, just felt like such a violation of the place, but also democracy in general.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the anniversary this Thursday a “dark and troubling milestone” and warned that the protesters’ aim to disrupt the certification of the presidential election of Joe Biden because they believed false claims by Trump that the election was stolen.
“Jan. 6, 2021, will be forever remembered as a day of enduring infamy, a permanent blemish in the story of American democracy, and the final bitter act of the worst president — the worst president — in modern times,” the leading Democrat said from the Senate floor Tuesday.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates some 2,000 people took part in the riot, with hundreds marching into the halls of government that day after a speech by then-President Trump.
Rioters used flagpoles to smash windows, broke into offices of politicians, and faced off against a completely overwhelmed and outnumbered Capitol Police force.
“I could not believe my eyes when I saw the desks being thrown up against the doors to keep the rioters from coming out and getting into the chambers,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, in a phone interview.
The rep watched rioters stream in from her office window on Independence Avenue, saying she never expected to see such an attack.
“Ever since 9/11 we have drills I never thought we’d ever needed, particularly for terrorism that was incited by the President of the United States,” Maloney said.
Before the rioters arrived, Meng rushed into the small room hoping that it would be safe because it didn’t have her name on the door, where she watched the chaos unfold on live TV and first heard about the building breach on social media.
“I saw some tweet about crowds approaching the Capitol, and I didn’t hear anything at that point,” she said. “We started hearing a lot of loud commotion right outside our door, you know a lot of like shouting and banging, and it sounded really loud, but it was muffled if that makes sense. So I couldn’t really tell if it was like… outside like on the lawn, or right outside my door.”
The rampage killed five people, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was beaten by rioters, and marcher Ashli Babbitt whom an officer shot and killed as she tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby, just 20 feet from where Rep. Meng was at the time.
Over the past year, more than 700 people have been charged with crimes relating to the insurrection, including 54 from New York State, according to an NPR database.
Democrats tried to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the events, similar to the 9/11 Commission, but Republicans blocked the move. However, members of Congress formed a House Select Committee instead, with an interim report expected this summer and a follow-up report in the fall.
Holding the invaders responsible is key to moving forward from the attacks, Meng said.
“I think it’s really important to note that those attacks were not okay, and they were criminal, and they were acts that a traitor conducts,” she said. “Accountability is something that many in the country are anxiously awaiting.”
“Of course I wish it was faster, but I think it’s more important that they do a thorough job,” the legislator added.
Another important issue is to beef up security at the Capitol, said Meng, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee that funds the Capitol Police.
“What shocked me was that [the protesters] were even allowed to get to that point,” she said.
Lawmakers have also been capitalizing on the Jan. 6 anniversary to boost a pair of voting rights bills, the Freedom to Vote Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would, among other things, introduce automatic and same-day registration, mail-in and early voting, and make Election Day a federal holiday.
Schumer cast those pieces of legislation as safeguards against the “Big Lie” Trump and his supporters pushed, falsely claiming Biden stole the election, and some states making it harder for people to vote.
“[The] insurrection of Jan. 6, the flurry of new voter restriction laws, and state level efforts to subvert democracy are not isolated developments, but manifestations of the same anti-democratic poison of Donald Trump’s Big Lie,” the pol said.
The laws would require a majority of 60 votes, including at least 10 Republicans, to overcome a filibuster.
Advocates have called on Washington politicos to abolish the filibuster or create a carve-out for voting rights, and Schumer indicated he’s willing to change the Senate rules by Jan. 17, Marting Luther King Jr. Day, if the GOP resists.
“If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster to prevent this body from acting, then the Senate must adapt, the Senate always has,” he said.
Trump cancelled an anniversary news conference scheduled at his Mar-a-Lago resort Thursday evening, however, both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are scheduled to speak that day and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there would be a full day of events, including a vigil on the steps of the Capitol, reported the New York Times.
Closer to home, New York politicians and faith leaders, such as State Attorney General Letitia James, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and state Sen. Zellnor Myrie plan to rally to protect voting rights, under the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn at noon Thursday.