'I was just looking for a weapon': Congressmen recall attack on Capitol
One year ago, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider hid in the gallery of the House while a mob that had stormed the Capitol banged on the doors trying to breach the room and stop certification of the 2020 election results.
The Deerfield Democrat saw Capitol Police officers with weapons drawn preparing to repel the intruders. He heard glass breaking. He heard the gunshot that fatally wounded a rioter.
The experience was harrowing for Schneider and his staff.
"They were under attack every bit as much as I was," he said Wednesday. "It affects all of us even to this day, and we continue to talk about it."
By the time the attack was over, five people were dead and many more were injured. The nation was left shocked by the violence, which had followed a fiery speech from then-President Donald Trump.
"This was absolutely an insurrection," Schneider said. "There were people who planned this ... who sought to overturn an election and who continue to seek to undermine both our Constitution and our democracy."
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat, also took cover in the gallery during the attack. Capitol Police evacuated House leaders first; his group was among the last to be rescued in the chamber.
"Recognizing how bad things were, and I was trapped, we had no exit, I was just looking for a weapon," Quigley said Wednesday.
"It was just surreal. What are we telling the rest of the world? That I'm waiting for the National Guard so that I can go back and vote on a peaceful transition of power?"
Quigley, who grew up in Carol Stream, noted how close insurrectionists got to Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.
The police "not only saved me and my colleagues, they may have saved the republic," he said. "If we remember anything about that day, it's those who fought to guard our democracy. We still have a long way to go to protect that, which is fragile."
Over at the nearby Cannon House Office Building, Schaumburg Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi was getting ready to leave his office for the House floor.
Then came shouts of "Get out!" and an earsplitting pounding on his door by Capitol Police.
"They just rushed me out of there," Krishnamoorthi recalled. "I later found out there was a bomb 200 feet from my office window."
"The police did a great job keeping the rioters from storming the (Capitol complex) tunnels, but one guy got through. He ran right by me."
After one potential haven was deemed insecure, Krishnamoorthi holed up with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, a friend from law school.
"We emerged very late at night and went straight to the vending machine ... chili-cheese Fritos for dinner."
Asked if there could be a repeat, Krishnamoorthi said, "I think it can happen again and no, I don't think that we have it under control. I don't think the Department of Justice has acted forcefully enough and quickly enough to prosecute the roughly 2,000 people who breached the Capitol that day."
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Channahon Republican, was in his office in the nearby Rayburn House Office Building when the siege began. "This is a coup attempt," he tweeted early in the incursion.
A U.S. Air Force veteran and current Air National Guard officer, Kinzinger said he was armed with a handgun at the time and was prepared to use it against the rioters.
In the days that followed, Kinzinger said the Capitol assault was the culmination of years of misinformation from the White House. Already a critic of Trump's refusal to accept his election loss, Kinzinger broke with his party and voted to impeach the president after the attack.
Kinzinger has since joined the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
In a video statement released Wednesday, Kinzinger called Jan. 6 "one of the worst days in American history -- a day that ended in despair, death, and a deeply threatened democracy."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove and staff members spent hours locked down in the Rayburn Building.
"The way that the crowd was moving around the Capitol complex, the location of my office was about as far away from them as possible," Casten said Tuesday. He recalled reviewing a "mental map" of the Capitol complex, thinking: "If it gets to this area, I'll be concerned."
"It never got to that," Casten recalled.
Casten said he blames the leaders of the insurrection for convincing many Americans that the election results weren't legitimate "although they know it was."
"And, they convinced a lot of Americans that, in our democracy, if you don't like the results of an election you can use violence to overturn it. They injected that idea into the zeitgeist," he added.
Looking back, Schneider insisted that what he remembers most from that terrible day wasn't the violence but the actions he and his fellow lawmakers took late that night as they returned to certify the election of President Joe Biden.
"It didn't happen until the early morning hours of Jan. 7, but we didn't let the insurrection and seizure of the Capitol stop us from doing what we needed to do," Schneider said. "To me, the most important message in (what happened) Jan. 6 was that the Constitution held, that the elected representatives completed their task that day."