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Was January 6th a Big Deal? Examining the Chaos and Aftermath

During the June 2024 presidential debate, moderator Jake Tapper asked former President Donald Trump to address voters' concerns about a potential repeat of the January 6th Capitol attack. Trump deflected. He downplayed the severity of the events and shifted blame, stating he had told his supporters to act "peacefully and patriotically.”

The Coordinated Attack

The attack on the Capitol was not peaceful and patriotic but an organized, premeditated attempt to flood the building with people and halt the certification of the electoral votes. 


Early on the morning of January 6th, an unknown person was seen walking to the Democratic National Committee building with a large bag. This individual stopped to rest on a snowy bench, and the following morning, Capitol police discovered undetonated pipe bombs at the exact locations where the person had paused. This suggests a premeditated attempt to create additional chaos and divert law enforcement resources.

Donald Trump addresses a rally in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, opposing the certification of Joe Biden as President by the Electoral College.

The Build Up and Trump's Speech

As the day progressed, the Secret Service reported that around 10,000 people were waiting to go through security at Ellipse Park — where Trump’s “Save America Rally” was planned — and many of them "wearing ballistic helmets, body armor and carrying radio equipment and military-grade backpacks." These were not ordinary protesters but individuals prepared for combat.

Trump's speech at the rally further inflamed the situation. "We will never give up. We will never concede," he told the cheering crowd, urging them to "walk down … to the Capitol." 


As rioters began advancing on the Capitol, lawmakers had to be evacuated from the Senate Chamber. Then-Vice President Mike Pence was also forced to take shelter at a secure location within the Capitol after receiving threats that he would be “a dead man walking if he doesn’t do the right thing” and overturn the election. Throughout the day, Pence and his team used prayer to ground themselves in the face of the attack on the Capitol.

The Breach and Assault

The breach of the Capitol began on the South West Lawn, where protesters trampled over barricades. A rioter broke a window on the North West side, entered the Capitol, and opened a door to allow more people to stream in. Intruders began to overwhelm and distract law enforcement, allowing others to infiltrate the building.


Inside the Capitol, the situation rapidly deteriorated. Rioters set off red and green smoke, released aerial flares, and broke into Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.

Violence Against Law Enforcement

The violence directed at law enforcement was severe and relentless. Officer Hodges was crushed between doors by the mob, Officer Fanone was dragged into the crowd and tased, and Officer Miller was dragged out and beaten with fists and weapons. Officer Sicknick died of a stroke from injuries sustained during the riot. In total, 140 police officers were injured and 5 gave their lives. 


The mob also attacked members of the press in the North East Media Pen and trampled over rioter Roseanne Boyland, who later died from her injuries. 


The chaos and brutality of the day had lasting effects. Four Capitol Police officers died by suicide in the months following the attack. Jeffrey Smith of the D.C. Police and Howard Liebengood of the Capitol Police died by suicide within a month of the attack. Gunther Hashida and Kyle deFreytag died by suicide in the months after defending the U.S. Capitol during the riot. Their widows have attributed their deaths to the trauma and exhaustion suffered from responding to the riots.


Subsequent congressional hearings have attempted to understand the stress of the day and how it impacted officers. In one of these hearings, four officers described being attacked, berated, and threatened with death by rioters, many of whom had weapons. 


Officer Fanone testified, "I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm, as I heard chants of, ‘Kill him with his own gun.'"

Aftermath and Accountability

The aftermath of January 6th has seen extensive investigations and prosecutions. Over 1,400 individuals have been federally charged in connection with the attack, including more than 500 for assaulting police officers. The Department of Justice has continued to uncover the full extent of the violence and damage, which included over $2.8 million in damages to the Capitol building and grounds.

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