It’s been a year but it could have been yesterday. Americans fighting Americans. Rioters breaching the U.S. Capitol. Capitol police with guns drawn, protesters scaling the walls of the U.S. Capitol, breaking windows, and assaulting anyone who tried to stop them. Those images seared into memory.
“I’m very concerned about not only my safety but other members' safety,” Arizona Congresswoman Debbie Lesko said on January 5, 2021. The day before the riot, Lesko said she had a bad feeling as she walked through the crowds to get to and from the Capitol.
“I’m afraid there are people on both sides of the issue that are going to be upset,” she said then.
Thousands came to Washington at the urging of President Donald Trump to protest what he called the stolen election.
At a rally on the Ellipse, the park neighboring the White House, Trump told his supporters, “You gotta fight like hell, fight like hell or you won’t have a country anymore.”
Many of those people, which included Arizona State Representative Mark Finchem and former Arizona State Representative Anthony Kern, answered the call and marched to the Capitol. Both Finchem and Kern say they never went inside.
Video shows Kern among the rioters walking past scaffolding on the Capitol’s southwest side.
“What happened here was an absolute meltdown in terms of security on the floor and chaos had broken out,” said Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, an Iraq war veteran. When the rioters breached the Capitol, Gallego prepared some of his colleagues for a fight.
“I gathered some of the younger members. Told them to take off their jackets, you can’t fight with jackets on anyway, and told them to start looking for weapons,” Gallego said.
Armed with ballpoint pens, Gallego says he and the Congressmen he rounded up were prepared to make a stand.
“I instructed them the best thing we could do is if someone comes in or groups came in, is stab, start stabbing. Stab them in the eye or the neck. And try to take their weapon away and fight on.”
It never came to that, but the events inside the Capitol were just as harrowing for Vice President Mike Pence who presided over the certification of the votes.
Some of the mob chanted to hang Pence because he was not going to change the outcome. In November 2021, Pence told ABC15, “At a time of great challenge on a tragic day in our nation’s Capitol, we did our job, we kept our oath and our institutions held.”
In the year since January 6, Arizona Congressmen Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs have been implicated in the planning of the Capitol riot. Both Gosar and Biggs deny the allegations.
Neither would agree to do an interview.
In an Instagram post, Congresswoman Lesko blamed Capitol Police and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the lack of security, which Lesko said led to the violence.
“There’s one question that remains about January 6, one year out this anniversary, why was the Capitol so unprepared and unsecured and what can we do to fix it?” Lesko said.
Lesko joined Biggs and other members of the Freedom Caucus, demanding hearings on reports rioters awaiting trial are being mistreated in jail. The rioters were the last thing Congressman Gallego was thinking about today.
He said he would talk with colleagues, pray for the country and, when he gets his turn to speak, get the message out that what happened a year ago was an attempt at an insurrection. Words, Gallego said, matter.
“Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, before you start accusing somebody of stealing a vote make sure you understand you really are not just causing a problem now. You’re causing a problem in the future. You’re undermining democracy uttering those types of words.”