For decades, many members of Congress believed that the U.S. Capitol, with metal detectors, barriers, and its own police force, was one of the safest places in the country.
That comfort was broken on the afternoon of January 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in hopes of revoking Joe Biden’s election college victory.
In interviews, six members of the California Congress tell their stories of that deadly day: the surreal experience of realizing that their lives were in danger, that their workplace was being overflowing, and that the record of two centuries of the nation a peaceful transition of power had crumbled.
“All I could think about was going out. Running. As fast as you could. You don’t want to get stuck here. Run, run, run. And all of a sudden they closed the doors and told us to get to the ground. There’s people trying to get in outside the doors.
Representative Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles)
Deputy Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) was in the House rostrum when the mutineers broke into the Capitol.
He and his colleagues were running through the gallery in hopes of escaping when they saw Capitol police barricade the door the president uses to enter the Union State Chamber. The mutineers were too close for lawmakers to get out safely.
“All I can think about is: get out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to get stuck here. Run, run, run,” Gomez recalled. “It simply came to our notice then. There are people trying to get in the door. “
Once police cleared the hallways and escorted lawmakers to a safe place, several members of Congress gathered and pledged to remain in the building and finish the ballot box certification.
“It simply came to our notice then [Reps.] Hakeem [Jeffries] and Liz Cheney said we’ll come back and finish the job, “Gomez said.” They brought buses to get the members out, and [Rep.] Ruben [Gallego] and other Democrats said, “Don’t get on the buses.” They said that this is how a coup d’etat happens: when the elect are evacuated from the Capitol or the palace. … So everyone I was talking to promised to stay.
“It was a terrible, terrible day. I don’t know if I told you that [Times reporter] Sarah [Wire] or a different journalist, but I did say, “This is how it happens once and that’s how democracy dies, and Donald Trump should probably be educated for treason.” And I still believe it to this day. I’m glad we fired him. But now we know that more people are involved.
“I remember coming back from DC and, you know, I was on the plane with a lot of MAGA people going with their gear, like they were coming back from a Republican convention or something.”
Gomez’s experience in being trapped in the gallery shocked him, but he says his determination to defend democracy has only grown since that day.
“I am a child of immigrants who believe in all this idea of America, the idea of self-government, the idea that you come here, that you work hard, that you believe in our values, that you will succeed, because I am an example of this promise … in a generation.This does not happen in many countries.It does not happen in Mexico, where my family is from.So my decision has been firmer than ever.
“It simply came to our notice then. I woke up … a few months ago, and I didn’t really see it coming, but I got hot and my vision was broken. So I had to leave. … But my determination is stronger than ever. ”
“I really thought I would die that day, that I would be killed, that I would be literally killed, that I might have to fight for my life, that many of my comrades would probably be victims. ‘
Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona)
Pomona Democrat MP Norma Torres was in the chamber when the attack began.
“It was a very violent day for me. I had never been in a situation where I felt so insecure, and I really thought that I would die that day, that I would be killed, that I would be literally killed, that I might have to fight for my life, that many of my comrades would probably be victims. “
A year ago, as Trump supporters mutinied in the corridors, Torres told Times writer Sarah D. Wire, who reported inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, “It’s horrible that this is America. The United States of America and that’s what we have to do, because Trump has called on local terrorists to come to the Capitol and invalidate the votes of the people. “
Torres said she has changed since that day, noting that she no longer feels safe inside the Capitol complex and sees her GOP colleagues differently.
“There was a time in the past, before the January 6 uprising, where I could look and see someone wearing their Congress pin and think, ‘This is my ally.’ Even if they were Republicans, it was like, “Okay, this is my ally, and we’ll take care of each other no matter what.” I no longer feel that way about my teammates. Not at all. “
“Attacking a federal building, whether it’s the United States Capitol or a court or whatever, doesn’t overthrow democracy.”
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale)
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican from Richvale who was on the floor of the House when the insurgents stormed the Capitol, called the riot a “deplorable situation.”
“No one should enter this building for any purpose, let alone try to stop a process we were going through, and we were going through it in good faith, no matter which side you were on the topic of the day.”
He said he was not concerned about the long-term prospects of democracy, because the republic is built on people, not buildings.
“Attacking a federal building, be it the United States Capitol or a court or anything else, does not overthrow democracy. By the way, we are not a democracy, we are a republic. Democracy is election day.
“So our republic is not destroyed by the building where the meetings are held, but by the heart and soul of the people who are elected to conduct the business of the government wherever it is held.”
“I always thought I was very safe in this job, especially when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes a long time to get in. I certainly don’t think about it every day, but I don’t feel the same level of security.”
Deputy Scott Peters (D-San Diego)
Rep. Scott Peters, a San Diego Democrat, was in the House when he saw something he had never seen before: a non-member of Congress in the rostrum.
“He was one of the security forces. He said, ‘Please stay in your seats. There was a breach in the Capitol.’
“It simply came to our notice then. I assumed a few bastards had gone through the metal detector. But I didn’t know how serious it was. Little by little I felt a little pain because this was happening, thinking, “How could people achieve security in one of the main terrorist targets in the country? We should be prepared for that.
“At one point, members were about to be evacuated when they were told ‘they could land.’
“So everyone fell down. And it was a moment of reflection. Then, at one point, we heard an explosion. It looked like a shot or a tear gas deployment. We didn’t know it. I think it could have been the unless he killed my voter, Ashli Babbitt was from San Diego.
Peters, who was first elected in 2012, added that he does not feel as secure as in his first term as a member of Congress.
“I always thought I was personally very confident in this job, especially when I’m at the Capitol complex, because it takes a lot to get into it,” he said. “I certainly don’t think about it every day, but I don’t feel the same level of security.”
“No matter what your policy is, it wasn’t a good day.”
Deputy Ken Calvert (R-Corona)
Deputy Ken Calvert, a Crown Republican, was in his office in a nearby building, not in the Capitol itself, but he was still upset by what he saw and said it was “very unfortunate.”
“I mean, it was worrisome. But I wasn’t here in the building. And I have a lot of friends who were. Certainly, whatever your policy, it wasn’t a good day. It’s a bad situation.”
He said he hoped that any change in the institution of Congress and in relations would not be lasting.
“We have to get back to normal again.
“These people are my friends. Maybe I’m in a different party and I don’t agree with them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be liked. … We’re a divided nation, there’s no doubt about it, but the people are waiting for us to come together, we do things ”.
“Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me awake at night. … Is it really trying to break this new one of, how to break this division fever in our country? ‘
Rep. Mark Takano, a Riverside Democrat
Riverside Democrat Mark Takano had to move from one office building to another during the riots.
“It looked like a kind of refugee zone with all these employees sitting on the other side of the aisle, stepping on people.
“I got a couple of text messages asking if I was okay,” Takano said. “But so far, I don’t really have a reality of what’s going on because I’m not watching the news, but I get a couple of texts from people saying, ‘Are you okay?’ And I thought that was a little weird.
“I felt a little insecure, but I was in an office complex that was a little indescribable. We were refugees for a long time. But I don’t have any kind of persistent trauma, personal trauma. I have concerns about the political culture of the country and the political rules of the country “.
Takano said he believes “the biggest challenge for the United States is ourselves.”
“It simply came to our notice then. The divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me awake at night. … Are we really trying to break this new of, how to break this fever of division in our country?
“I do not see this being resolved in a year or in an election. It will take a lot of courage. Persistence. ”