I Was in the Capitol. I Was Under Siege

Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election.

Source Jon Cherry/Getty

Why you should care

Because freedom's never really been free.

Lisa Quigley is chief of staff for Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee’s Fifth District. Her experience during the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol follows.

It was a normal day. It even started out as a really happy day with the Warnock win and the hope of an Ossoff win. But the first thing I noticed in the morning when I came in was that there was no enhanced security. I went downstairs to get something and I heard one of the security team say to another, “Dude, I think they ought to lock these doors.” That made me nervous. I mean, why are those guys making that call? Command and control is serious, and there didn’t seem to be much of it. So that was scary.

Then I get to my desk and get an email that says buildings were being evacuated. Things had taken a turn for the worse at 1:30 p.m., and now two of these buildings that take up an entire city block were being evacuated. My boss had to make a quick errand but came back in, closed the door. Bolted the door.


A view of the Capitol building from Rep. Jim Cooper’s office window.

Source Lisa Quigley

Out the window we had a corner, Capitol-facing view, which meant, for better or worse, we could see everything unfolding below our windows over the entirety of the mall. We could see the crowd growing in front of us. CNN and Twitter filled in the rest.

[S]helter in place; get away from windows; lock doors; find a place to hide; keep quiet. It was a complete and total security meltdown. … A friend texted asking if we had a gun.

And I don’t know if you know this, but there’s a whole underground tunnel system here, and we were afraid they would find it since it would let them come up in any of the buildings, which is why we pushed the desks up against the door.

So we locked and bolted doors and built a barricade with the desk. We could hear running above us but didn’t know if it was the good guys or the bad guys. After 30 years on the Hill, I had never known the squawk box in each office to be activated: “Shelter in place; get away from windows; lock doors; find a place to hide; keep quiet.” It was a complete and total security meltdown.


Rep. Jim Cooper sits at the desk barricading the door.

Source Lisa Quigley

A friend texted asking if we had a gun.

Jim said, “No, but we have a banjo!” The most Tennessee response ever. Then he dug into his closet and found the most un-Tennessee weapon ever: a leather-tipped, intricately beaded club from Nairobi, which he presented to me. Friends and former staffers also suggested that if we needed to throw things at intruders, we had a vast collection of heavy books at our disposal.

We also didn’t have any provisions, but [Jim] had received a box of chocolates earlier in the day, so we broke that open. I only wanted one. Someone ate all the rest. We spent the next seven hours there.

After it was over, you damn well better believe I stayed at the Capitol until 3:45 a.m. to witness the final constitutional act that sealed Trump’s fate — and to witness those eight senators and two-thirds of GOP House members who voted to affirm the views of those who attacked our Capitol.

This was a riot. It was an insurrection. And finally, it was an attack on the democratic process. You know 147 members of this body who had just run for their lives; these yahoos, and it’s not just a few — they still voted to overturn the election result. “We know what’s best” was basically the message from those Republicans. While we’re hearing that, we’re also learning that what happened here had been planned for nine months.

Now we’re all looking to the inauguration. The Secret Service, the FBI, the National Guard, police. It didn’t have to be this way, but this is the way that it is.

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