Congressman Smith Capitol Report: What I Witnessed
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
Over the past year, we have seen violent protests spread throughout our country, and over and over, those who committed violence were not held accountable. In fact, when the statue of Christopher Columbus was torn down this past summer in Baltimore, Speaker Nancy Pelosi shrugged it off as “people will do what they do.”
This lack of accountability undoubtedly contributed to the shameful display this week in the United States Capitol building.
This past Wednesday, January 6th, Congress was prepared to have a debate and present the facts to the American people on an issue that is essential to our Republic, the integrity of our elections.
What happened instead was myself and fellow Members of Congress spent the day having barricades being overrun by a violent mob, windows smashed in our faces, and guns had to be drawn to protect a historic building that has been an institution of this country for over two hundred years. This should never have happened – and it must not be allowed to happen again.
I want to tell you what I saw – not on the news, but with my own eyes.
As we were beginning the process on the Motion to Object to Arizona’s Electoral College vote, I was on the floor of the House of Representatives to witness and participate in what should have been a historic debate. Soon after, we started to hear loud noises coming from directly outside the House Floor. The noises became louder and angrier. Glass was broken and tear gas had to be administered to prevent rioters from breaking down the doors. Capitol police instructed us to put on gas masks in order to breathe as the mob had now breached the doors.
We now know that one officer lost his life in this chaos.
Gunshots followed and with all of the chaos, we had no idea where they were coming from or who was shooting. Standing with three other Members of Congress, we had to act quick and hide behind the chairs in the House Chamber.
In that moment all we could do was duck for cover and pray.
I stayed on the House floor as one of my closest friends in Congress explained to the rioters that the US Capitol Police were ready to carry out their obligation to protect public servants and the people’s house.
As one of the last Members on the House Floor, the only decision left was to get out. As it became apparent that the perpetrators were about to converge, a young woman was shot no more than 25 yards from me. I had to walk past her body as brave officers worked frantically to get innocent people to safety.
We secured an exit in a stairwell moments before the violent mob took over the House Floor. The Capitol Police brought us out and once I made my way back to the office, I was informed where the closest firearm was and locked our doors.
The question I keep coming back to is how was this mob able to storm through the doors of one of the most secure buildings in the country?
It was no secret that a large number of people were coming to Washington to exercise their First Amendment rights, 99.9% of whom came with peace in their hearts. My day started with meeting nearly 200 people that I represent who took a bus from Farmington and drove 16 hours to be a part of history on an issue that was near and dear to their hearts.
But in a time when tensions are high, the actions of a few silenced the many.
What protocols were in place to protect those who peaceably assembled? How about public servants and people in direct line in the succession to the Presidency to preserve our Republic?
These questions have left a haunting presence in these halls and must be answered in order for our country to move forward.
A complete breakdown of communication and safety preparation led to the world watching the suspension of our democracy. This is unacceptable.
As I’m writing this, the House and Senate Sergeant of Arms and the U.S. Capitol Police Chief have resigned for their failure of leadership. But more must be done.
It is imperative that we bring the perpetrators of this week’s violence to justice. In June, President Trump issued an Executive Order that provides criminals 10 years in prison for desecrating Federal property. I feel as strongly now as I did then that these acts of vandalism and unlawfulness are not patriotic, they’re criminal.
Violent activity must no longer be allowed to go unpunished.
The right to free assembly, established by the Framers of our Constitution, must never be infringed upon and we as elected Representatives must ensure that right is upheld. The People’s House is an institution of law and order, not violent protest.