WASHINGTON – One year later, their voices still quavered and they gratefully credited the U.S. Capitol Police with saving their lives. And, perhaps, preserving American democracy as well.
On the anniversary of last year's Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, dozens of lawmakers gathered Thursday to share their stories of that day's terror and resilience.
It was an insurrection aimed at stopping lawmakers from officially affirming Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump. Some people died, scores were injured, the Capitol was damaged and the House and Senate counting of ballots was delayed for hours but not deterred.
Among those in the room Thursday were Charles and Gladys Sicknick, parents of Brian Sicknick, 42, a Capitol police officer who was injured fighting off the mob and who died the following day.
Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, recalled that he and colleagues on the House floor took off their jackets in expectation of fighting for their lives.
“We were ready to try and defend our colleagues from whatever was going to come through those doors," he said. Allred, 38, is a former NFL linebacker, but no one knew what to expect and finally officers evacuated them.
“As we were exiting the House floor, I saw the glass breaking. I saw the officers staying behind with their guns drawn. And I thought about the opportunity that they had given me,” he said.
Allred said he and his wife had one young son at home and a second was weeks away from being born. “Had those officers not held that line, I would not have met my son Cameron.” He said that since he was raised by a single mother, he’d long been committed “to making sure that my boys knew me.”
Looking at Sicknick's parents, Allred said, “Your son's sacrifice allowed me to meet mine.” ___
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., recounted lying on the floor of the House gallery and calling his family “to tell them I was safe, even though I was not sure that I was.”
The five-term House veteran, 63, said his recovery from that day “has not been an easy one.” That was a reference to the trauma he's suffered and the counseling he's received, which he's discussed publicly before.
“It's been made more painful, however, by that fact that most of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to accommodate that big lie that was the predicate for the attack on our country," he said.
Kildee warned that Jan. 6 “is not behind us. The threat, and the lie that fuels that threat, continues to rear its head in other forms.” That includes threats of violence against lawmakers and voting restrictions that Republicans have been enacting in states around the country, he said.
He held up a shard of broken glass that he picked up in the Capitol that day and has carried daily “as a constant reminder in my pocket of the brutality of that day. We must have truth, we must have accountability.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he wasn’t fully aware of the dangers surrounding him until he was told to get a gas mask.
Schiff recalled how two Republican colleagues approached him as the order came to evacuate the House chamber.
“One of them said, ‘You can’t let them see you. I know these people. I can talk to these people. I can talk my way through these people. You are in a whole different category.’”
Schiff was vilified by many Trump supporters for being a leader of House Democrats’ 2020 impeachment of Trump over allegations that he pressured Ukraine to provide him with politically damaging information about Democrats.
Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., said that as she sought cover in the House visitors' gallery, she spoke to her family to reassure them she was all right.
“Which my son said, ‘Mom, we know what’s going on. We can hear breaking glass. How can you say you’re OK? And that was just like a dagger through my heart,” she said.
On Thursday, she recalled the moments after that call, which were captured in a widely used photograph of her being comforted by Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a former Army Ranger and veteran of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The memory I have that is the strongest, as I lay there feeling like I might be having a heart attack, feeling Jason Crow take my hand and say in this very calm and soothing voice, 'You’re going to be okay, you’re going to be okay.’ And it was about the best thing anybody could have possibly said to me at that moment.”
Last Jan. 6 was the fourth day in office for freshman Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif. Still 31 and new to Congress, aides had to ferry her to the House galleries because she didn’t know how to get there.
Thursday, she said she’d never forget the attack and “the sound of the doors closing and being locked. Introducing myself to my colleagues as we were hiding under the chairs” and “fashioning weapons out of pens and my high heels.”
When police led her group to elevators to flee the rioters, she worried that when the doors opened, she was “sure we were going to see a machine gun and for it all to be over.” And she recalled the Capitol police officer “who put his body in the way in case that happened.”
Rep. Mike Quigley., D-Ill., recalled seeing a huge mob itching for a fight on the East Capitol steps with just three Capitol Police officers in ballcaps between them and the Capitol.
“I know I wouldn’t be here without them, and I question whether our country would be,” Quigley said.