How Those Who Were There Look Back on Jan. 6 Capitol Riot – The Wall Street Journal

The storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, continues to reverberate in the halls of Congress. Lawmakers, police officers and Hill staffers who were there face reminders when they go to work, passing rooms that were barricaded and windows that were shattered. In recent interviews, some of them detailed their memories and how they view the riot and its significance now.

Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, a 14-year veteran of the department, said that the police officers weren’t only the protectors of the Capitol on the day of the riot but were also among the victims.

“As a victim, you want answers,” Mr. Dunn said, speaking in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the force. “You want closure. You want justice. And none of those things have happened yet.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hugging Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn last June, as the House voted to create a select committee to investigate the attack.

Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/Zuma Press

Mr. Dunn, known for publicly speaking out about the violence police officers faced during the riot, was at the Capitol when rioters stormed the building. He confronted rioters on the west side of the Capitol and struggled to breathe and see because of chemical spray in the air. Rioters hurled racist insults at him after he told them he had voted for President Biden, he said. He later testified in front of Congress about the attack.

Mr. Dunn said he believes there are many unanswered questions about what happened on Jan. 6, including how organized the rioters might have been. He remains worried about the future.

“There’s nothing right now that gives me hope or faith that Jan. 6, part 2, won’t happen again,” he said.

Sen. Josh Hawley says he doesn’t sympathize with the crowd that overran the Capitol.

Photo: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Associated Press

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R., MO.)

In the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said he had no regrets about pumping his fist in the air as he greeted Trump supporters that day outside the Capitol, ahead of the riot.

A year later, he still doesn’t.

Mr. Hawley, a freshman GOP senator seen as having presidential ambitions, always has said his decision to object to the 2020 election results was part of a lawful process. But he says he wants to be clear: Despite his famous fist pump, he doesn’t sympathize with the crowd that overran the Capitol. “It was a riot. It was a criminal riot,” he said.

Sen. Josh Hawley greeting a crowd of Trump supporters outside the U.S. Capitol last year ahead of the riot.

Photo: Francis Chung/E&E News and Politico/AP

“I support people’s right to protest whether I agree with them or not. And that’s whoever: [Black Lives Matter] protesters, pro-choice protesters. Doesn’t matter,” Mr. Hawley said. “But what I will not support, ever, is criminal activity.…I don’t care what your cause is.”

Mr. Hawley, who last January called Donald Trump’s rhetoric ahead of the riot inflammatory and irresponsible, declined to comment recently on the former president’s assertion that the “real insurrection” was on Election Day 2020. “I never commented on the ex-president’s every pronouncement…I don’t think I will now, either,” he said.

Some Democratic senators initially called for Mr. Hawley to resign or be censured after Jan. 6. Donors asked for their money back. And yet in the last year, Mr. Hawley has raised $8.35 million and added 85,000 new donors. He also has joined 10 Democrat-led resolutions, 10 Democrat-led bills and introduced five bills with Democrats.

The Wall Street Journal analyzed hours of video and audio from the Capitol riot to better understand how a mob of thousands overran police and attacked the U.S. Capitol. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

‘There’s still a risk to our democracy,’ says Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Photo: Ting Shen for The Wall Street Journal

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D., MINN.)

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar led the debate on Jan. 6 to certify state election results as the top Democrat on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. She had just finished remarks against objections made by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) when rioters breached the Capitol and she was whisked into a safe room.

Once there, she lobbied Republicans and Democrats to return to finish their work when it was safe, and pressed GOP senators to stop their objections. She was one of the last to leave the Capitol early the next morning at 3:30 a.m., with then Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) and then Vice President Mike Pence.

“There’s still a risk to our democracy,” she said. “It is maybe not with bayonets and flagpoles and bear spray, but it’s with threats to election officials that go on every day and threats to elected officials, including in this building.”

Ms. Klobuchar says she has since connected with Capitol Police officers and their families, attending roll calls and learning many of their names.

As Rules and Administration Committee chairwoman, she has focused on helping Capitol Police officers—from boosting morale to pushing for a change in leadership—as well as investigating and prosecuting rioters. She is also supporting voting legislation that she says would foster confidence in election results but that Republicans criticize as federal overreach.

“We have to make sure no one forgets what happened,” she said. “The best way we could commemorate that week is by carrying on the torch of democracy and passing voting rights legislation.”

After the Capitol riot, Republican Sen. James Lankford changed his position and voted to certify the 2020 election.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R., OKLA.)

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford planned on Jan. 6 to join his Republican colleagues in objecting to the certification of Mr. Biden’s victory. When rioters breached the Capitol, he was speaking on the Senate floor declaring a “constitutional crisis” because “millions of Americans are being told to sit down and shut up.”

Hours later, senators returned to the floor to finish certifying the election, and Mr. Lankford changed his position and voted to certify the 2020 election, saying the Senate must “set a peaceful example.”

In the year since, Mr. Lankford, who is running for re-election, has faced attacks from pro-Trump Republicans and backing the former president has become a litmus test in the race. The Oklahoma Republican Party attempted to censure Mr. Lankford, and some in his state called for him to resign. The state party chairman endorsed one of his opponents in the party primary, Jackson Lahmeyer.

Mr. Lankford has outraised his opponents, and statewide polls show him with a big lead.

“There’s not a person I talk to that doesn’t have strong emotions on that day,” Mr. Lankford said. “On every side. However you speak on it, it will be always pulling a scab for this generation.”

Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips says he is disappointed in Republicans who he says have glossed over what happened that day.

Photo: Ting Shen for The Wall Street Journal

REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D., MINN.)

The usually optimistic Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips says he has struggled to find hope in the year since he was briefly trapped in the House gallery as rioters breached the building.

“It’s been traumatizing, and it comes out in ways that I least expected,” he said, noting that he is now more alert of his surroundings.

The two-term congressman says he is disappointed in Republicans who he says have glossed over what happened that day.

“It’s heavy and it sometimes feels dangerous, but most of all incredibly surprising that people representing the United States of America literally tried to ignore something that was just so important relative to our history,” he said.

He was watching from the House Gallery when police officers whisked away Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and rioters began banging on the doors to the chamber. The Democrats in the gallery had to climb over stair railings to an open door.

That group of roughly two dozen Democrats call themselves the “gallery group,” and they still talk via a text chain. They have met for group therapy sessions with a facilitator to cope with the trauma from the Capitol attack.

Mark Middleton, identified in charging documents from the Justice Department, pushed on the barricades in front of the U.S. Capitol, with his wife, Jalise Middleton, last year.

Photo: U.S. Department of Justice

MARK MIDDLETON

Mark Middleton is running for a seat in the Texas legislature. In his campaign, he is talking about his experience being on the front lines of the riot, which resulted in criminal charges against him and his wife.

He is one of at least a dozen protesters at the Capitol that day who are running for office.

Mark Middleton is running for a seat in the Texas legislature.

Photo: Mark Middleton

Mr. Middleton declined an interview request because he said he doesn’t trust the media to tell his story correctly. On his website, he lists several coming events where he says he plans to share his recollections of being at the Capitol on that day. He said via email that he doesn’t post video of him talking about the riot because “the FEDs are using that against us.”

The self-employed 52-year-old from North Texas pushed on the barricades in front of the U.S. Capitol, with his wife, Jalise Middleton, cursing at police officers and grabbing them, according to court documents that reference footage from body cameras worn by police officers.

Court documents say that he posted a video on Facebook in which he said: “We helped push down the barriers. Jalise and I got pepper sprayed, clubbed, and tear-gassed. We had to retreat, but more patriots pushed forward, and they’re taking back our house.” The video has since been deleted.

He was charged in April with an assault of a law enforcement officer, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and unlawful entry on restricted grounds. He and his wife pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. More than 700 people have been charged in connection with the attack.

Lauren Blair Bianchi is a former staffer for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. She resigned her job after the Capitol riot.

Photo: Ting Shen for The Wall Street Journal

LAUREN BLAIR BIANCHI, FORMER AIDE TO SEN. TED CRUZ (R., TEXAS)

Lauren Blair Bianchi left her job as Mr. Cruz’s communications director after the attack. It was a wrenching decision.

“I really felt like I had cut off a limb,” said Mrs. Bianchi, recalling her emotions a year later. “I loved my job. I loved my team. I was really proud of what we were building together and even wrote that in my resignation letter to the senator.”

In the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, Mrs. Bianchi said she was shocked by Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede. She said she also grew increasingly uncomfortable with Mr. Cruz’s decision to lead a group of 11 Senate Republicans in voting to reject the Electoral College results of some states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit Mr. Biden’s win, she said.

Sen. Ted Cruz speaking during a joint session of Congress to certify election results last year.

Photo: olivier douliery/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

On Jan. 6, Mrs. Bianchi and other Cruz staffers locked themselves inside the senator’s office. She was distraught over what she saw as a terrorist attack on the seat of government, she said.

As Mr. Cruz was deciding whether to follow through with his objection, Mrs. Bianchi remembers saying to him, “You have an opportunity to be the adult in the room.” Mr. Cruz decided to object anyway. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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After her resignation, Mrs. Bianchi was inundated with hurtful messages from some former colleagues and friends, she said. She worried she had made herself unhirable. But others rallied to her side, offering moral support and job leads. In March, she was hired by the Consumer Bankers Association, where she is senior vice president for public affairs and strategic initiatives.

“My whole career I was so focused on playing and winning the game,” she said. “Jan. 6 taught me none of this is a game.”

Jan. 6 Anniversary

Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com, Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com and Alexa Corse at alexa.corse@wsj.com

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