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Reporter’s notebook: Surviving the Capitol lockdown

A minute-by-minute look at what happened in the U.S. House chamber


Police with guns drawn hold off protesters trying to break into the U.S. House chamber on Wednesday. Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Reporter’s notebook: Surviving the Capitol lockdown

WASHINGTON—My first indication that something was really wrong came when an aide passed through the press gallery and told me to make sure I had everything I needed at my side and ready for a lockdown. Perhaps for hours.

I had arrived at my reserved seat in the upper balcony of the U.S. House of Representatives chamber in the U.S. Capitol earlier on Wednesday, ready to cover the political machinations of Congress debating and certifying the Electoral College votes. The chamber does not allow bags or backpacks, so when the aide gave the warning, I scurried to grab my phone and laptop charger from the press room, then settled back in my seat.

A few minutes later, Capitol Police officers began running to every door in the House chamber. They shuttered the glass doors with heavy wooden doors. About 100 lawmakers were on the House floor, with another 25 or so in the upstairs gallery.

As a babble of questions broke out, a police officer began to brief legislators on the situation: Protesters had “breached” the Capitol building and had gotten as close as the rotunda. Later, we would learn that police in the rotunda had fired tear gas.

The officer told lawmakers to ready themselves to crouch beneath their seats but also be prepared to evacuate if necessary. Another burst of frightened chatter broke out, and one representative yelled from the upstairs gallery that someone should call the president and ask him to tell protesters to stand down.

After minutes of confusion, the officer told lawmakers to grab gas masks secured under their seats.

At this point, press aides began running around and handing everyone in the upstairs gallery CBRN escape hoods—essentially gas masks that pull over your head to your shoulders.

I ripped the heavy grey packaging off mine but kept my eye on the situation on the floor. Soon, everyone could hear banging on the doors of the chamber. As the noise grew outside, the chaplain for the day began praying aloud.

One lawmaker, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., told members how to operate their gas masks.

Capitol Police began to evacuate members through a side door. Upstairs, press aides told photographers to stop taking photos. Some snapped away anyway. Then police told the upstairs gallery to evacuate. I grabbed my laptop, chargers, gas hood, and my reporter's notebook. Almost as soon as I started to move toward the door, which was halfway across the room, police changed their directions. “Get down!” someone yelled from behind me.

I crouched down behind the seats. There were maybe three reporters behind me, and the rest in a crowd ahead of me. I heard a bang and thought someone had shot into the chamber. My heart was pounding. My hands, clutching my gear and an uninflated gas hood, started to shake. I peered around the edge of the chairs I was hiding behind. I had the morbid thought that maybe someone would shoot if they saw exposed faces, but I wanted to see what was happening.

I could see that a small group of lawmakers and Capitol Police with drawn guns had barricaded the door with a piece of furniture. Above the furniture, protesters had broken holes in the glass of the door.

I heard the sound of several other pops and could smell smoke. Another reporter said he heard an officer say, “Shots fired,” though I did not hear that directly.

Police and lawmakers tried to talk to the protesters through the glass. “This is un-American!” someone yelled. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. … This is not the way to do it.”

The commotion continued downstairs, but the gallery was told to continue the evacuation. “We can’t leave until you leave,” one exasperated aide told us. To get out, I had to duck below several banisters because I was too short to hop over.

Aides led us through the Capitol’s maze of basement tunnels to an undisclosed location in the nearby Longworth House Office Building. On the way, I stuffed my reporter’s notebook into my right boot. The time was 2:57 p.m. Once I got to the room, I placed my unused escape hood on a table near the door. As quiet fell, one aide cried quietly while another comforted her. Around the room, a few staffers began to pass out water bottles.

Security initially told reporters we couldn’t be in the room, then said instead that if we tweeted about our location, our phones would be taken.

Right in front of me, Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff of California and Joe Neguse of Colorado huddled, discussing the situation quietly enough not to be heard. About an hour later, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told the room that members planned to carry on with certification. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle clapped and cheered.

Security forces still wouldn’t secure the Capitol for several hours.

In the interim, COVID-19 social distancing protocols fell by the wayside as the room filled. Staff rubbed shoulders with lawmakers from both parties.

I tweeted everything (except our location) and monitored texts throughout the afternoon from Hill staffers who had to evacuate their offices, White House staffers who said security forces were on their way, and concerned friends and family members watching the news and wondering if we were okay.

At about 5:30 p.m., the sergeant-at-arms said law enforcement had secured the building. It wasn’t until after 7 p.m. that Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican in the House, told the room that members hoped to get back to the chamber within the next hour.

Shortly after 8 p.m.—with press members back at their stations—both chambers of Congress gaveled back into session.

In a statement to senators, Vice President Mike Pence called on lawmakers to “get back to work,” and addressed protesters: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house.”


Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C.

@HarvestPrude

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Keith

Can't even imagine! Thanks be unto our God of great kindness that you, Harvest Prude, were unharmed. Thank you for your objective reporting in a most non-objective situation!

HANNAH.

A timeline of events on January 6:

President Trump was scheduled to speak at 11 am, but didn't speak until noon. 
12 pm – President starts speaking at the Ellipse 
about 12:40 pm – “first wave of protesters arrived at the Capitol” – per Washington Post – “Sund’s outer perimeter on the Capitol’s west side was breached within 15 minutes” – per Washington Post 
1 pm – “I realized at 1pm, things aren’t going well… I’m watching my people getting slammed.” – per ex-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund 
1:09 pm – “Sund called the Sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate. He told them it was time to call in the National Guard. He even said he wanted an emergency declaration. Both, however, said they would ‘run it up the chain’ and get back to him.” 
1:11 pm – President concludes speaking – “at least a 45-minute walk between the two locations with crowd-related delays, that would put the first people from Trump’s speech at Capitol Hill no earlier than 1:56pm” 
1:50 pm – “the Capitol itself was breached. Still before most Trump speech attendees could have arrived.” 
past 5 pm – “the National Guard arrived”

NKL5630

A video shows her trying to mount through a broken window inside the capitol while the video filmer shouts "Bash them down!" There's a shot and you can see her fall backwards.  Do a youtube search, man, it's not hard.

NKL5630

Glad you came through it safely.  Fascinating to read an on-the-ground account.

HANNAH.

I was watching on C-SPAN, so can fill in some details about action on the floor of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House, while Rep. Lauren Boebert, (R-Colorado) was speaking, there was a disturbance of some kind (36:55) and Speaker Nancy  Pelosi called the House to order. House Debate on Arizona Electoral Challenge, Part 1 | C-SPAN.org (c-span.org)

At 54:10, Speaker Nancy Pelosi recognized Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona). At about 54:45, the attention of the congressmen around him was suddenly riveted to their right. Then at about 55:25, their attention was drawn behind them to the left.  Again, at about 56:17, their attention was again sharply riveted to their extreme right. What was going on? 

At 56:30, Rep. Paul Gosar looked up and said, “Madame … uh … uh, Mister Speaker, could I have order in the chamber?” (Where was Speaker Pelosi?) At 56:55, some people are hurried out of the room. As the speaker tries to bring order, there are breaks in the audio and a lot of activity. Finally, at 58:51, the Speaker states, “without objection, the Chair declares the House in recess pursuant to Clause 12D of Rule 1.”

House Debate on Arizona Electoral Challenge, Part 2 | C-SPAN.org (c-span.org) Following a lockdown of the Capitol after protesters entered the building, Representatives continued to debate and vote on objections to the Arizona Electoral College vote count. Rep. Paul Gosar addressed his remarks to ‘”Mr. Speaker.” The congressmen behind him are busy on their phones. As soon as Rep. Gosar has finished speaking (“time has expired”), the Speaker orders the House back into recess.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, starting at 20:25, the man behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), seemed to have his attention diverted, and he consulted his phone. Senate Debate on Arizona Electoral Challenge, Part 1 | C-SPAN.org (c-span.org) Starting at 41:45, while Sen. Lankford (R-Oklahoma) is speaking, the senators behind him are viewing their phones and seem to have their attention diverted, especially at 43:45. Vice President Mike Pence must have left the chamber, because at 44:15, Sen. Chuck Grassley President Pro-Tempore, announced, “We’ll stand in recess until the call of the  Chair.” 

From 48:15 to 49:28, the Senate, with Sen. Grassley as Chair, is viewed in recess. (Where was Mike Pence?) The C-SPAN reporter says, “We’re unclear exactly what’s happening. The Senate is in recess subject to the call of the Chair. We believe that there are protesters in the Capitol.” 

At 50:26, the Senate is again shown in recess – still in the chamber. The C-SPAN reporter says (according to CC), “…ing in place with my office. The building next door has been evacuated. I can’t believe I have to [write] this. That was when Cannon was evacuated, for some sort of threat, by the Capitol police. Media reports that there has been an all clear on that.” She then explains that “Vice President Pence left the chamber, press gallery doors were locked at that point, and put into lockdown.” 

Unlike the House, the Senate did not reconvene a second time but waited until that night.

Greysmoke

Meticulously good reporting that gives us a sense of being right there with you. I appreciate your work and your professionalism.

Nat Manzanita

Well done, Harvest and WORLD! In these times of lies and mistrust, the value of a reliable eyewitness on the ground is incalculable.

Ann Marshall

You are a brave young woman, Harvest Prude. Thank you for this timely report. I feel heartbroken that this is happening in our country, and by "this" I mean everything 2020 and forward to today. I appreciate the calm tone of your column above. "The nations rage" but in Christ we can be calm and we can be at peace. Thank you for the reminder!