‘A day that lives in shame’: One year later, lawmakers from Frederick County reflect on the Jan. 6 insurrection
Credit: Frederick News-Post, Jack Hogan and Ryan Marshall
One year after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, state Sen. Michael Hough said he’s afraid it could happen again.
It’s not so much at his day-to-day work on Capitol Hill as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-West Virginia) that concerns Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll counties). Instead, it’s how similar events could further hinder the sanctity of the country’s elections.
Hough is among the elected officials representing Frederick County who were on Capitol Hill that day. He, like his federal counterparts, fears for the future of American democracy.
Yet their views of the day stand in contrast to a local conservative club leader who was there too.
While the Capitol was under siege, a number of congressional staff and personnel were in adjacent office buildings just a stone’s throw away. Hough was among them, on lockdown inside the Rayburn House Office Building.
“I’d say for at least the first hour, it was concerning because you’re thinking, if they can’t protect the Senate floor of the Capitol, how are they going to protect Rayburn and the staff office buildings?” he said.
Staffers like Hough who were in nearby office buildings ended up being safe, but from a window looking over the front lawn of the Capitol, the state senator said he could see tear gas, smoke and protesters walking by.
Because his building’s remain-in-place order wasn’t lifted until late that night, Hough said he was forced to sleep on a couch in his office.
In a column for the News-Post in the days following, Hough condemned the “horrifying and heartbreaking” events of Jan. 6 and called for elected officials on both sides of the aisle to help restore peace. He said his perspective has remained consistent in the last year, and he regards the day as one of tragedy and foolishness.
“Foolishness in that they thought that they could prevent what was basically a ceremonial process,” Hough said. “It was just very foolish to think that you could overturn the election results at that point.”
Federal lawmakers who represent Frederick County were far closer to potential harm.
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 8) was sitting on the House floor when a text from actress Alyssa Milano alerted him to the fact that protesters had breached the Capitol.
Soon, he and his colleagues heard a boom — the boom of people banging on the central doors of the chamber.
“I’ll never forget that sound,” Raskin said.
The “chaos and pandemonium” of the scene will also stay with him: memories of Democrats yelling at Republicans, blaming them for what was happening, of colleagues calling their families to say goodbye, of Democrats in the galleries crawling on their stomachs from the Democratic to the Republican side on the theory that a shooter would be less likely to target that side than the Democratic one.
“Nobody knew what was going to happen,” Raskin said.
After the insurrection, Raskin was tapped by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to lead the impeachment effort against former President Donald Trump (R) for his role in inspiring the events of Jan. 6.
After that, Raskin was named to the bipartisan House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, tasked with looking into the causes and impacts of the attack.
Raskin sees three rings to the people involved in the attack. First, there were people who attended the rally on the mall and got drawn into going to the Capitol. Second, there were organized groups of insurrectionists, such as the Proud Boys.
“These people were training for violence,” he said.
Third, Raskin added, were people around Trump who were planning “the coup” against then Vice President Mike Pence to keep Trump in power.
The Jan. 6 commission is about finding the connections — whether money, planning or other ways – between the riot, the insurrection and the coup, Raskin said.
The commission’s report will tell the comprehensive story, with a beginning, middle and end, of an attack on America, he said.
“It will absolutely change people’s minds,” he said of the document that will eventually emerge from the commission.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) had gone to the House chamber on the morning of Jan. 6 to watch the counting of electoral votes.
When a challenge was made to the Arizona results, he went through the Senate to his office in the Hart Senate Office Building to get some materials for a speech he’d been chosen to make on behalf of the Arizona results.
On his way back to the Senate, he was stopped by Capitol Police and told to go back to his office, where he sheltered in place with staff.
Van Hollen said he thinks Jan. 6 will be seen as an example of Americans doing to ourselves what an external enemy wasn’t able to do to the country. There are too many Republican senators who either “remain asleep” to the dangers or are actively engaged in spreading Trump’s “big lie” of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, Van Hollen said.
The House select committee’s report will be important for the country to get the full facts of what happened that day from testimony taken under oath, he said.
Unfortunately, the elements of the “Big Lie” continue to circulate, he said.
“I hope [the report] can be part of the answer, but I think the American people will have to supply the rest of the answer at the ballot box,” said Van Hollen.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) was on the Senate floor when he heard insurgents banging on the door.
Pence was hurried out of the chamber, and senators were told to use the Capitol’s tunnel system rather than the hallways as Cardin went to his office in the Hart Senate Office Building.
He said he was struck by the unanimous resolve among Democratic and Republican senators that day that they needed to go back and finish what they’d been doing.
Although the attackers weren’t successful in shutting down the voting, the events of Jan. 6 showed the vulnerability of the country’s democracy, he said.
Cardin was a congressman on Sept. 11, 2001, and said the two events were comparable but taught different lessons.
“Both were wakeup calls to the vulnerability of our democracy,” he said.
A different lens
Skepticism about the election results is what brought three buses carrying roughly 150 members of the Frederick County Conservative Club to the Capitol grounds that day.
Led by president Fred Propheter, Conservative Club members were looking to “true the vote,” a sign of support for Trump’s baseless accusations of voter fraud.
They walked as far as the reflecting pool, located on the Capitol grounds, Propheter said. But from this vantage point roughly 60 yards away, Propheter said he could see people climbing the building’s scaffolding and mounting its deck.
“I knew things were getting out of hand,” he said, adding he coordinated with others in the group to leave the scene and head back to the buses.
One year later, Propheter said he has no qualms about leading 150 people to the National Mall. Nor does he regret getting so close to the Capitol. He felt he and his fellow Conservative Club members were exercising their right to “have our grievances redressed.”
While state and federal lawmakers who represent Frederick County regarded the day as an attack on democracy and an insurrection within one of the country’s most sacred institutions, Propheter saw it as an exercise of free speech that took a turn when outside “instigators” riled up the crowd that had gathered.
“I will stand by that until the day I die,” Propheter said.
In his eyes, the only way to prevent a similar attack on the Capitol would require perimeter fencing and blockades to keep people out, which he recalled seeing around the Capitol in the weeks following Jan. 6. He doesn’t support such measures.
U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Dist. 6) said Jan. 6 should have been purely procedural.
Legislators got three updates on the progress of the insurgents, he said.
The first said the Capitol’s doors had been breached, the second that people were in the Rotunda and the third that they had reached the doors of the House chamber.
Legislators were told to get out and to put on the gas masks located under their seats, Trone said.
Contrary to what they were saying that day, some Republicans have since decided that what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t really a mob, Trone said.
He said there’s been a conscious effort by a small number of Republicans to repeat the lies about the election, and others have been conspicuous by their silence.
The upcoming commission report will be vital to outline in great detail what happened that day, Trone said. Some people will never be convinced by the report, he said, but he believes there’s still a group in the middle that hasn’t made up their minds.
“It’s really a day that lives in shame,” Trone said.