I have read seemingly endless accounts online about the “mob” that stormed the Capitol, enflamed with rage by the words of President Trump in his speech on January 6, 2021. I was there, so I thought maybe I would inject a little reality into the false narrative being peddled to the nation.
I arrived at L’Enfant Plaza Metro station just south of the Mall a little before 10:30 am on January 6th. I then walked down the Mall with a steady stream of people in the direction of the Ellipse where the President was supposed to speak circa 11:00 am. The folks around me were in small groups or couples. Many of them were carrying signs or flags. There were no weapons in sight. There were no signs advocating violence. There was no one talking about violence.
When I arrived in the vicinity of the Washington Monument I found the largest crowd of people I have ever seen in my life. That includes a lot of time in places like India where people congregate in large numbers. It was impossible from ground level to accurately estimate the size of the crowd. It could easily have been many hundreds of thousands of people.
Over the next ninety minutes or so I wandered through this crowd. It was largely white, although there were significant numbers of minorities present, particularly Asians. There were a wide variety of signs and banners — many of them homemade. None of them advocated violence. I saw no weapons. I heard not a single person talking about violence.
At some point the President began to speak. He was visible in the distance on a jumbo television screen. His words were barely audible most of the time. I heard nothing that I would characterize as a call to violence.
Long before the President stopped speaking people began to move in the direction of the Capitol. I also headed that direction hoping to stay ahead of the bulk of the crowd. On the walk down to the Capitol, I saw exactly what I had seen earlier, average Americans walking along calmly and talking amongst themselves.
There was no mob racing to the Capitol. There were no calls for violence or for storming the hill. On the contrary, there were a lot of very sober, restrained Americans on their way to let their representatives know they were dissatisfied with their performance.
When I arrived at Third Street I stopped. At the base of the Capitol, people were being directed through an opening into a cordoned off crowd control area, and I was not interested in being trapped in that “sheep pen.” I stood on the sidewalk on Third Street for roughly another half hour observing. The behavior of the many thousands of people around me was unchanged from what it had been earlier.
No one was foaming at the mouth. No one was talking about attacking the Capitol. Given the age and physical condition of many of the people in attendance, a significant number were visibly winded. Some of them sat down on the sidewalk next to me to catch their breath.
At this point, there were already some people up on the Capitol steps on the west side. They seemed to be standing around. There was no sign of violence, and the crowd down below did not seem to be paying any attention to the people on the steps.
After standing on the sidewalk for about half an hour I decided to leave and return to my hotel. Word had already spread that Vice-President Pence had not objected to the electoral votes, and the crowd generally seemed to understand it was all over. I was not the only one who was already leaving.
As I walked north to the Judiciary Square Metro Station, which I subsequently discovered was closed, I heard in fairly close succession two loud bangs. They were not gunshots, and they were not bombs. They sounded to me based on my experience like “flashbangs” or tear gas canisters exploding. Since there was no indication of any trouble or violence at the time I discounted this possibility and thought perhaps someone had brought large fireworks as noisemakers as is done at Antifa rallies routinely.
Crossing Constitution Avenue heading north I noted that Constitution was still full as far as the eye could see with people on their way from the Ellipse to the Capitol. Many, many thousands of people had not yet finished making that walk.
When I arrived at the Judiciary Square Metro Station and found it boarded up I began to receive messages on my cellphone regarding individuals who had entered the Capitol. Those initial messages gave no suggestion of violence and stated only that some members of the crowd had entered the building. Cellphone service in the area was terrible given the number of people trying to access service, and it was not until I was back at my hotel and on WIFI there that I began to see any images suggesting violence or vandalism.
I do not pretend to have any final answers regarding what happened at the Capitol on January 6th nor do I want any of my comments to be misinterpreted as condoning or encouraging assaults on police officers or destruction of public property. I do want to make clear, however, that in my opinion most of the coverage of this unfortunate event has been at best inaccurate and in many cases seemingly deliberately dishonest.
There was no incitement to violence by the President that I heard, and I saw nothing that suggested anyone else in the crowd heard such a message either.
There was no mob of enraged MAGA followers rushing the Capitol. There were a lot of very somber Americans making a long walk to voice their grievances.
To the best of my understanding, based on what I have learned since that day, the forced entry into the Capitol occurred on the east side, the side facing the Supreme Court. The crowd, which was still making its way from the Ellipse when this happened, was still making the long walk from the opposite direction, the west. I don’t think anybody in that group magically sprinted their way to the Capitol, up the hill, around the building, and then charged inside. I think whoever led that effort showed up on the 6th with the intent of causing trouble and forcing themselves inside, and I suspect they were never even anywhere near the Ellipse and never listened to a word of what the President had to say.
What exactly the ideology of those people was I cannot say. If I had to guess I would say it could best be described as “crazy.” I doubt even they could describe it to you coherently.
What I do know is what I saw and heard, and it bears virtually no resemblance to what is being fed to the American people as the truth right now.