An Eyewitness to the Capitol Siege
Two Journalists for the Leader were present on January 6th for the Electoral College reading to the Joint Session of the US Congress, when they encountered the Capitol Hill protests. Several local North Shore residents also were present and have been interviewed. This is what they report:
by Niall Fitzgerald and Nolan Cleary
We were headed to the Ellipse by the White House, where President Trump and his team were addressing a crowd of over 60,000 when we encountered streams of thousands of people leaving the Ellipse and walking in loose formation towards the Capitol.
Most were easy-going folk. American flags, light banter, patriotic cries, and laughs. There was nothing at that point about storming the Capitol.
We talked with some of them: The people were a cross-section of Middle America. Mostly white, but with many blacks and Hispanics. Men and women in almost equal numbers. A mostly middle-aged and older crowd, but with people of all ages present. A lot of military veterans.
Most were expressing outrage at what they believed was a stolen election and were determined to “stand up” for their Country to “do what is right. “People had come from all over, often flying or driving great distances- New York, Louisiana, Michigan, California –several places mentioned by people we spoke to.
It was a 20-minute walk to the Capitol. We walked and spoke to one Western New Yorker who to avoid New York’s quarantine rules, drove to Philadelphia and then flew down to Washington. He was a veteran, active duty in Iraq. He seemed completely level-headed. He said he was “thinking about” joining the “Proud Boys” and had come to Washington, because “the system is just not working.”
We parted upon approaching the Capitol. Turns out we were near the front of the river of humanity flowing from the Ellipse to the barricades that ringed the Capitol. Metal barricades were spread out across the space at ground level between the white awning-covered scaffolding that was built up on both sides of the Capitol steps for the Inauguration.
The Capitol police – at that point - were not manning these barricades but were situated further back and upon a central balcony, only five or six of them, behind plastic shields with one pointing a long rifle weapon at the crowd. There were other police over both sides - but they were very few in numbers.
At first, the crowd was chanting loudly, but not crossing the barricades. The policeman with the weapon kept pointing it at various places in the crowd-not at those standing by the barricades but behind them, deeper into the crowd.
The barricades were in 8-foot sections, and could easily have been removed by the protesters, but the protesters were then restrained and disciplined, and none of the barricades were moved.
The Capitol policeman with the gun then began shooting projectiles into the crowd, enraging and incensing protesters who had been peaceful, and were nowhere near the barricades.
A few minutes later – after more shots fired at the crowd - several protesters began climbing up a high temporary scaffold structure that was set back into the area on the crowd side of the barricades, off right-center. Once on top, these protesters were at a level higher than the Capitol police.
A line of Capitol police in riot gear then came charging down the steps and took up position directly in front of the protesters with only the barricades separating the two.
A police officer behind the police line began lobbing stun grenades into the crowd, over and over, numerous times. This further incensed the crowd, and those at the front grabbed hold of the barricades as did the police. A pushing-pulling game ensued, but not yet overly seriously. The crowd could have easily pulled these barriers away and overpowered that one police line-such large crowd and so few police. No one at this point seems to have been injured.
At that time, we were standing about five steps on a small landing located at the left side outside the metal barricades with two or three others - looking directly down at the struggling barricade line.
Even though the crowd was still behind the barricades - the police began to violently push the barricades forward and pushed the protesters back – which left several of us, including one other media representative - now behind the police lines, separated from the crowd.
We moved down the steps and a police officer we had previously spoken with called to his fellow officers to let us all out. At that point several of the barricades nearest me were being pulled out and removed by the crowd.
The front-line was now getting raucous. Mostly just yelling, but some police batons in action and swinging of flags at police by the crowd. Just as we got off the steps, the police grabbed a guy and began pulling him inside their line.
A man in his fifties rushed to grab the guy to try to pull him back, but was pepper-sprayed directly in the eyes. He stumbled, back into the crowd screaming in pain, as several others helped him rinse his eyes. The police were firing Stun grenades and gas into the crowd, as well as firing some kind of rubber bullets and pellets.
One of our group was then shot by pellets on the jacket shoulder. It hurt, but didn’t penetrate the skin through the jacket. One of us was also hit with pepper spray – it burned and blinded him - and we sat together by a wall for over 15 minutes.
In the meantime the protesters had surged forward to the left and right of the police line, and started climbing the Inaugural scaffolding.
After our colleague recovered from the pepper spray, we tried to move left of center, but the surge and crush of the crowd carried us forward.
A line of DC police in riot gear then forced themselves into the crowd and into the direction of the line of the Capitol police. Some protesters yelled “Stop.” Others yelled “traitors.” Still others shouted their support for police but asked them to go home.
The crowd was so dense and close-packed that you couldn’t move. Some were pushing one way while others stood blocking the way. It was suffocating being squeezed between these masses of people. Then some open fighting began between police and protesters.
Several police officers were hitting and swinging their police batons at protesters. We saw one woman hit in the face, and blood was everywhere. Many protesters too were swinging at and hitting police with their flag poles. Scuffling often occurred when a policeman would grab a flagpole and try to remove it with the protester hanging on.
One protester fell to the ground trying not to relinquish his flag, who was then kicked and beaten by the police. People yelled. One elderly man shouted out “Don’t you dare hit him! That is an American flag. Go back home”.
The crowd, which was huge, incensed, and frustrated, could have easily stopped this line of DC police, but after several minutes they let them pass to join their Capitol police colleagues.
Overall, the Capitol police were more restrained – and more ready to talk with the protesters - than were the DC police. We saw both admirable restraint and professionalism on the part of the police-particularly the Capitol police. We also witnessed some unnecessary brutality that did nothing but incense the crowd - particularly by the Capitol police firing stun weapons and gas grenades at peaceful protesters – many of them women and elderly - before any of the original line of metal barricades was breached.
After the line of the DC officers had passed, it was clear that the upper balconies of the Capitol already had been breached. Protesters had entered into underneath the awning, some of which was torn revealing the metal skeleton of scaffolding. The protesters were climbing up both the scaffolding and the outside sloping ledge leading upwards to the western porches of the Capitol building.
Other protesters took the metal barricade segments and placed them – like ladders - sideways against the Capitol wall. Some protesters were already on top on the highest level-level with the entrances to the Capitol building itself. They were waving flags and calling for others to come up. The crowd had absolutely no leaders but throughout the entire time we noticed local and temporary leaders spring up, who would direct protesters this way or that so as to create a critical body mass.
Hundreds of protesters used the police barricades as ladders – and some protesters were helping others to scale the ladders up to the next level.
By now, the police had retreated and disappeared. The crowd surged up the steps, carrying us with them. When we reached the Capitol back porch, we walked to the outer wall and looked back over towards the Ellipse. The crowd was massive, with a sea of American flags, and a surging crowd of tens of thousands, was streaming, tightly packed, up the steps and into the Capitol.
The Capitol entrances had already been breached, and hundreds of protesters were already squeezing thorough the doors into the building. We kept hearing yells of “We’re in” and calls for people to "Come on in..." into the building.
More and more protesters were arriving to these courtyards outside the Capitol. Some were moving towards the entrances, then more joined. There were constant yells of “We’re in!” and “Stop the fraud.”
We approached one of the open doorways, but it was mobbed by a scrum of protesters squeezing to get in. After a few minutes, there was a lull, as the group had all entered. Inside the open door was a lone Capitol police officer. We told him we were reporters and asked if we could enter. He shrugged, shook his head, gestured to enter with his hands, and said “Well, come on in, everyone else has...” There was a lot of sarcasm in his voice.
We walked in and thanked him and entered down a hallway. The doors that we entered through were not damaged, but we later saw doors where the security glass had been shattered, but not broken through.
We never entered the House or Senate chambers but stayed in the public areas of the Capitol. We did not see any assaults on police officers, except we saw protesters spray pepper spray twice in the direction of police, although it did not seem to hit the police.
Most of the people became noticeably quieter and more reverent when they were inside the Capitol, but not everyone: One young guy was holding a short (10 inch) black police baton, like a weapon, and boasted that he used it to “take out a cop." The guy looked like a punk. He was fidgety, with a smirk, and unimpressive physically. We commented that he looked out of place – more like an Antifa thug or an Anarchist – just a troublemaker, not motivated by any sense of patriotism or civics.
We did see protesters inside trying to use the pressing weight of their body mass to push police back, and we did see scuffles between police and protesters. In one case, a policeman was pulling on one end of a flagpole and a protester was trying to hold on and pushing back. We never saw a protester strike at a policeman except for an occasional flag thrust downwards at shields when police charged a group of protesters.
In the Capitol Rotunda, protesters were roaming around, with many sitting on benches. Capitol police were openly walking among the protesters and talking with them
The Capitol police were mostly asking people to leave and to respect the building.
We saw several people asking the Capitol police about bathrooms, and the police directed them over to the bathrooms. A lot of people were taking selfies, and police officers were clearly posing and appearing in the selfies.
One guy asked us if we knew where the bathroom was. We didn’t. But he couldn’t bring himself to pee in a corner in the Capitol. “I cannot urinate in the Capitol. No way. This building is sacred." he said.
We never saw any of the vandalism. Protesters were all taking pictures and nearly all showed respect for the paintings, the statues and a general sense of awe of being there. We heard chants “Whose House? - Our House!” repeatedly.
The Capitol is a big building, and people were milling about, going down corridors. Every once in a while, a person would yell “This way - We need you” trying to direct a critical mass. Some protesters would heed the call and another body press down the corridor, leading somewhere, nobody knew where, would ensue.
The police – especially from down those corridors – used a lot of pepper spray on protesters. Red-faced and tearing protesters would come streaming from out of the corridors and back into the Rotunda, only to be replaced by another surging wave of protesters.
We heard repeatedly from the protesters that they were “betrayed” by a government that allowed the Antifa and BLM riots to destroy so many urban downtowns. “They let these Antifa animals burn down our country and now they are trying to steal the election.” Shouted one protester inside the Capitol.
We were not present at Ashli Babbitt's death but heard protesters talking about it. One man was crying, “She was a beautiful woman and was unarmed. They just shot her. Right in front of me. She’s dead. They just murdered her…”
Back in the Rotunda an Oath Keeper strutted in, in full military regalia, together with his dog. He communicated through his walkie-talkie to someone on the outside “We are in” as if he had been a leader of the siege, instead of just sauntering in at the end.
We spoke with one Capitol police officer who was standing by himself. We asked how these protesters compared with Antifa, noting that these protesters – at least in the Rotunda - were not vandalizing or breaking things or violent. He responded numbly, “These people were the first to break into the Capitol - my house. Antifa couldn’t do that.”
We recognized one very red-faced Capitol police officer from outside, and asked him, “We saw you outside. Are you alright? You were pepper sprayed, and were all red in the face…” He laughed and said “Hell no, don’t worry, I am just fine…” He actually seemed to be enjoying it all.
By now the police were moving through the Rotunda - mostly DC police – waving people towards the exits on the east side of the Capitol. We headed for the exits.
Outside the Capitol, in a surreal scene, protesters were all milling about. Several were sitting up against the Capitol building wall, one shirtless, like wounded soldiers. They had all been pepper-sprayed, were red-faced with smears of mucus and saliva running down their faces, totally out of commission, and not yet able to open their eyes.
At one end of the deck, apart from the others, was a young couple. They were sitting close together like they were in love, holding hands while gazing out at the view from the Capitol. They were seated on two portable, fold-up chairs – that they had presumably taken with them to the Ellipse and then into the Capitol. Had they brought two glasses of champagne, the scene would have been complete.
On the Capitol stairs was the now well-known “Shaman” with his naked chest, tattoos, fur hat and bison horns. He was lecturing loudly to a small crowd, and then alternately shouting through a bullhorn urging people to come over to him.
As people drifted away from the Capitol, they were nearly all very quiet and seemed deep in thought. One woman wearing a Trump hat and American flag jacket commented to us, “I love this country. I can’t stand what they are doing to it. I hope we made a difference today. I am not sure..."