As the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol approaches, those who experienced the violence firsthand are talking about their experience and remembering specifics to help the public understand just how dangerous it was. Even after a year, members still have PTSD.
The Los Angeles Times cited Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), who remembered that he was too late to flee for safety and was caught in the attack because the crowds had already breached the building.
"All I could think of is: Get Out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run. And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors," said Gomez.
His colleague, Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), assumed that Jan. 6 was the end for her.
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"It was a very violent day for me. I had never been in a situation where I felt so unsafe, and I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims,” she told the Times.
There is a now-infamous photo of Capitol Police and Secret Service agents barricading the House door while Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) flattened himself against the wall in fear. It was at that point that Gomez was running across the House gallery hoping to escape, but the attackers were too close.
Members were able to get out, but it caused even more of a conflict, because if they left the building for safety, the goal of the attackers — to stop the Electoral College count — would be successful.
"That’s when [Reps.] Hakeem [Jeffries] and Liz Cheney said we’re going to go back and finish the job," Gomez said. “They brought buses to get the members out, and [Rep.] Ruben [Gallego] and other Democrats were like, ‘Do not get on the buses.’ They said that’s how a coup happens: when the electeds are evacuated out of the Capitol or out of the palace. … So everybody that I was talking to was committed to staying."
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It's similar to what Vice President Mike Pence also did. Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker wrote their book I Alone Can Fix It that Pence told his head of security that if he got into the motorcade they would race him out of the building and take him to Andrews Air Force base and take off in the plane. The Secret Service doesn't comment on their procedures, but putting the VP in the air was the action on Sept. 11, 2001. Without Pence presiding over the Senate, attackers might feel like they'd won.
“It was a terrible, terrible day," Gomez recalled. "I don’t know if I said this to [Times reporter] Sarah [Wire] or a different reporter, but I did say like, ‘This is how a coup happens and this is how democracy dies and Donald Trump should probably be brought up on treason.’ And I still believe that to this day. I’m glad we impeached him. But now we know that there’s more people involved. I remember actually flying back from D.C. and, you know, I was on the plane with a bunch of MAGA people that were with their gear, like they’re coming back from a Republican convention or something."
Gomez confessed that he has some residual PTSD from the event and he never saw it coming.
"But I got hot and my vision got tunneled. So I had to kind of walk away," he recalled. "But my resolve, it’s stronger than ever."
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The attack has left Torres suspicious of her own colleagues.
“There used to be a time in the past, before the Jan. 6 insurrection, where I could look and see somebody wearing their congressional pin and think, ‘That’s my ally,’" she said. "Even if they were Republicans, it was like, ‘OK, that’s my ally, and we’ll take care of each other no matter what happens.’ I don’t feel that way anymore about my colleagues. Not at all."
Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) explained that he never felt unsafe in the Capitol complex, but that's no longer the case.
"I didn’t know what to think at that point. I assumed that a few rogues had run by the metal detector. But I didn’t know how serious it was. Gradually I was kind of hurt that this was happening, thinking, 'How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country? We should be ready for this,'" Peters said.