At 2:18 Wednesday afternoon, Capitol Police sent out an ominous warning to congressional staffers and members of Congress in Washington, D.C. “Internal security threat: move inside office/lock doors, seek cover, and remain silent.”
The warning was a bit late. Insurrectionists were already at the door of the congressional staffer who sent me an image of the text alert. About an hour earlier, Donald Trump supporters intent on stopping Joe Biden from becoming president had smashed into the U.S. Capitol and the surrounding offices, unleashing violence across the complex. One woman was shot and killed by Capitol Police.
The fallout from this assault, which is ongoing as we record this, will be unfolding for a very long time. There will be plenty of time in the days, weeks, and months ahead to talk about what this all means. But for today, we want to talk about what happened. On Wednesday afternoon, a handful of Capitol Hill reporters caught in the melee were shepherded to a secure location along with about 200 members of Congress as the rampagers breached the gates.
One of them was Matt Fuller: a friend and a former longtime colleague of mine back when I was at the Huffington Post. He spoke to me from that secure location in the Capitol complex.
Matt was in the press gallery overlooking the House floor as the mob tried to smash its way in. His beat the last decade has been the far-right wing of the House Republican conference, known as the Freedom Caucus, which is inextricably linked with this violence and was also, it turns out, sheltered in place with Matt.
But first we talk with Jon Farina, who was shooting camera footage of a rally earlier in the day, then recorded the assault on the Capitol, for the independent media organization Status Coup.
An increasing number of Democrats are already calling for Trump’s immediate impeachment and removal — a step that would prevent him from pardoning those who stormed the Capitol, prevent whatever else he might be planning (our previous episode on his designs on Iran covers more on that) — and would make future presidents think twice before inciting insurrection after the loss of an election. Twitter, meanwhile, has temporarily locked his account; it’s a boon, no doubt, to the right-wing media ecosystem that fueled today’s insanity.
The Capitol, as we record this, has been cleared, and Matt tells me he has returned to the press gallery, where he’s watching what should have been a perfunctory Electoral College ceremony stumble toward its conclusion, over the continued objection of Republican after Republican, after Republican.
— Ryan Grim
Transcript begins here
[Cheers of “Stop the Steal”]
Joe Biden: I call on President Trump to go on national television now and demand an end to this siege.
President Donald J. Trump: All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing.
JB: To storm the Capitol, threatening the safety of duly elected officials. It’s not protest: it’s insurrection.
DJT: We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. [Screams and cheers.]
Ryan Grim: At 2:18 Wednesday afternoon, Capitol Police sent out an ominous warning to congressional staffers and members of Congress. It read: “Internal security threat: move inside office/lock doors, seek cover, and remain silent.”
Newscaster: Up on the steps of the backside of the Capitol, we’re seeing protesters overcome the police. The police are now running back into the Capitol building. We have cheers from the protesters that are watching behind the scenes. This is incredible.
RG: The warning was a bit late. Protesters were already at the door of the congressional staffer who sent me an image of the text alert.
Protestor: You guys did this to us. We want our country back. We are protesting for our freedom right now.
Protestor: They work for us. They don’t get to steal it from us.
RG: About an hour earlier, Trump supporters intent on stopping Joe Biden from being president had smashed into the United States Capitol and the surrounding offices, unleashing violence across the complex. One woman was shot and killed by Capitol Police.
Newscaster: Inside the chamber itself it was chaos: agents hastily blocking the doors with furniture to keep the protesters out, officers ready to open fire as a last resort.
RG: The fallout from this assault, which is ongoing as we record this, will be unfolding for a very long time. There will be plenty of time in the days, weeks, and months ahead to talk about what this all means, but for today, we want to talk about what happened.
Newscaster: We were just told that there has been teargas in the rotunda, and we’re being instructed to, each of us, get gas masks that are under our seats.
RG: On Wednesday afternoon, a handful of Capitol Hill reporters caught in the melee were shepherded to a secure location along with about 200 members of Congress as the insurrectionists breached the gates.
One of them was Matt Fuller, a friend and a former longtime colleague of mine back when I was at The Huffington Post. He spoke to me from that secure location in the Capitol complex.
Matt was in the press gallery overlooking the House floor as the mob tried to smash its way in. His beat the last decade has been the far-right wing of the House Republican conference, known as the Freedom Caucus, which is inextricably linked with this violence, and was also, it turns out, sheltered-in-place with Matt.
But first, we talk with Jon Farina, who was shooting camera footage of a rally earlier in the day, as well as the assault on the Capitol, for the independent media organization Status Coup.
RG: Jon, so how did this start this morning?
Jon Farina: Well, they were having a I believe it was called “Save America Rally” inside the Ellipse, which is between the Washington Monument and the White House. Now, in the Ellipse, they had a few speakers: Eric Trump, and then Donald Trump went up, and I’m not sure who else spoke.
But I had left a few minutes early to walk down to the Capitol because that’s where they were gonna all march to after Trump had finished his speech. But there were people there already, so I made my way over there. And I started doing a couple of interviews and then all of a sudden I heard “Yes! They’re in!” Like, I started hearing cheering. And I looked behind me and they started walking. They had breached the fence to the grounds of the Capitol. So then everybody just started like, flowing into the grass and and walking up to the steps. Police were you know, at that point, they were very calm, they were like, “Hey, no, no, you can’t do this, back up.” And then they just couldn’t, they couldn’t control the crowd; it was just way too many people.
RG: I saw some of your footage, and it looked like for a while the police were managing to hold them off using those kind of short metal fences and kind of bracing them and pushing them back. What allowed the insurrectionists to finally get through?
JF: Well, once they were on the Capitol grounds, the police had the barricades set up but, you know, the protesters just kept grabbing the barriers and pulling it towards them. So they had kind of had like a tug-of-war match and, at that point, they just could not control the crowd. Tear gas, pep bullets were shot at, pepper spray — both sides were macing each other. So the protestors were macing the cops; cops are macing them. And it was just back and forth clashes.
RG: What were the protesters saying to the cops?
JF: You know, they were just saying, “We’re here for you,” you know, “Come join us,” “We’re on your side.” You know, “How could you do this to us?” They were saying, “Oh, the criminals are inside the building. We’re not the criminals.” You know, basically, I don’t know, can I curse or —?
RF: Go for it.
JF: Yeah, so they were screaming: “Fuck you. Fuck the police.” That kind of stuff. Stuff that, you know, normally, they would be the back-the-blue crowd, but they were just like — they didn’t care at that point. They saw them as — they were their enemy.
JF: Yeah, I mean they said a few other things. There were so many things. I just have to go back to the footage,
RG: Right. Did the police try to engage or de-escalate or were they just kind of stoically kind of holding the railing?
JF: Yeah, no, I mean, the police tried to de-escalate it, but the crowd just kept pushing up against them. And, you know, as much as they were shooting them with the, like I said, the pepper balls and the tear gas and the flesh grenades, the flashbangs that were going off, the crowd weren’t fazed by it. They were actually enjoying it, for the most part.
RG: Did you follow them into the Capitol or up the steps?
JF: Yeah. I did, actually. I followed them all the way up to the steps, inside a little corridor where it was completely hectic. You know, the protesters, they actually got the police shields and they were using the shields against them. They were taking, you know, taking whatever they could from the cops, the mace, they had their batons, they had their shields, and they were using their stuff against them to try and push further into the Capitol.
RG: What were the police doing at that point, when they were stealing their mace, and their clubs, and their shields?
JF: They were calling in reinforcements and just kept battling out with them. And there were moments where they would stop, and it would be calm, and they will look at each other like — the police wouldn’t arrest them, they would just look at them and be like, “Hey, let’s, you know, chill out.” And they would try and talk it out. But then there would come another wave and then would try and push their way in.
I saw a few arrests, but not as many as I thought that there would be.
RG: Oh, so they did arrest a couple of people?
JF: Yeah, yeah, there were a few arrests.
RG: What would get somebody arrested? Like trying to punch a cop or?
JF: Yeah. I mean, people were attacking the cops like hitting them with whatever weapons they had. So any chance that the police had an opportunity to just grab somebody and pull them in, that’s what they did. But yeah, I mean —
JF: Yeah, it was — it was wild.
RG: How’d you finally get out of there? Was it hard to get out of there? Or did you have to go through a crowd?
JF: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I had to push through a crowd and work my way out. But at that point, I mean, I couldn’t see anything. My face is still burning up — my eyes. So I had to just kind of feel my way out. And then people outside the building kind of helped me out; they gave me water and stuff like that.
RG: You’ve covered a lot of right-wing violence, right-wing demonstrations. Was there something significantly different about this one? Or was it just the same but in degree, it was more violent, and more aggressive, and bigger?
JF: Well, they’re very emotional about this. And I think the emotions took over. But this has been building up, because they see this as their stand. Like, this was it. Yeah, I think just because that this is like the final countdown until they lose their guy. And they wanted to make a statement.
RG: Did anyone have an end game? Like, did you ask them what the ultimate goal was? You stormed the Capitol? OK. And then what?
JF: I did not get to ask anybody that. I wish I did.
I mean, I did ask few people before that whole thing, you know, when I was interviewing people at the Washington Monument, I was kind of asking them: “So if Biden wins and Trump’s out, you know what happens from here?” And some of them said “civil war,” but others said, “You know what, I can’t tell ya. I have no idea.” They were just like, “I think it’s going to be bad.”
RG: Well, they’re not wrong.
JF: Yeah. Yep. Not at all.
RG: Well, Jon, thanks so much for sharing that with us.
RG: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
RG: That was Jon Farina of Status Coup. Matt Fuller from HuffPost spoke to me Wednesday afternoon while still locked down with members of Congress, and walked me through the moment when he first got word that the building had been breached.
Matt Fuller: Well, we probably got an early indication that they might be locking down the chamber, that there was a sort of a breach or something like that. And luckily, I had a gallery member say, “Hey, you might want to go to the bathroom, because they’re gonna be locking this down pretty shortly.”
So I went to the bathroom, came back, and about a minute later, you saw cops running to each door and locking the doors really quickly. So they were clearly locking us in the chamber. We were in the chamber for a while. And everyone was just sort of tense, not sure what was going on. But we obviously assumed that some protesters have gotten through.
You know, at some point, they started banging on the doors, and it was clear that they were right outside of the chamber. So they started barricading things. We don’t know, at this point, if it was gunshots. Everyone thought it was gunshots, and we heard an officer say “gun,” but some of the glass popped out — seemingly like a gun, it sounded like a gun at least — of the door, right to the chamber. And then officers had their guns drawn, it was a pretty tense situation.
One member tried to talk to the protesters. And it seemed to be going OK. But then they sort of made a decision to move everyone who is remaining in the chamber. And at that point, it was pretty limited. They already evacuated most people on the floor and most people in the galleries. And it just so happened I was in sort of a far corner, where I was one of the last people evacuated just because of the distance. And when they started popping out the glass, you know, there were like three or four of us who were kind of coming, and we just kind of hit the ground and watched the whole scene unfold.
RG: And so don’t tell me where they took you, because I understand it’s an undisclosed location. This situation is not resolved yet. But they moved you with a bunch of members of Congress and staff all together? How did that happen?
MF: That’s right, we were with about the final group of members who were moving, and I’d say there were about 10 or 20 of us, and they moved us through the Capitol. I’m not gonna say where, but we moved quite a distance. And then we’re in a room now, a larger room, with I’d between 100-200 members — or, not just members. I mean, it’s a mix of floor staff, and there’s a few press here, some staff, but it’s predominantly members. And there’s, you know, a decent police presence here. But I don’t know how long we’ve been in this room now. Probably a couple hours now. We keep on getting updates that they’re gonna let us know, any minute — 30 minutes, an hour. And they keep on saying, “Well, we still haven’t cleared the Capitol yet. There’s still protesters there.”
RG: What’s the conversation been like among the members in the room?
MF: You know, I think this is a kind of an interesting moment. I’ve had actually a couple of conversations with some members, too — some members who have been sort of involved in this — and I think it is for some people, a little bit of a kind of come-to-Jesus moment. You know, not to reveal too much, but I did see one member who was involved in this texting to one of the staff members, “I’m sickened by this.”
And, you know, I think that there’s been a lot of Republicans who have been complicit for political reasons, and they just sort of made peace with this is something we have to do. And, you know, obviously, that’s not the truth, but it’s sort of the truth that they’re living by. And then you see this and they think, you know, “What have we done? How did we get to this moment where people are, it’s basically an insurrection?” I mean, people are storming down the Capitol, you know, banging through the doors. And it’s a violent insurrection. That’s the best way I can put it.
RG: And for people who don’t know, Matt Fuller is kind of the leading reporter of the far-right wing of the house House Republicans over the years. You’ve been watching the Freedom Caucus develop over the years. You know lot of those members. Did you ever see this coming, or do you think they saw this coming?
MF: Well, for one, an interesting development here is a lot of those members, the, you know, the leaders of this movement are here in this room right now. And it’s a split between Democrats and Republicans. They’ve been talking — I can see them talking right now, actually.
But yeah, I think that they knew this was always a possibility. This is where the rhetoric was leading them. You know, let’s face it. Yes, you’re telling your voters that this election was stolen, that Democrats are breaking the law, and they’re installing a president illegally. I mean, this is sort of a natural conclusion, right? I think that people are genuinely mad. And so many people have been lied to for so long they’re operating by just a totally alternate reality.
The truth is a lot of those members, you know, as far-right leaders, they believe it themselves. They’re right in that same boat at this point. You know, there’s a lot of other ones who are sort of on the fringe who don’t quite believe it, but, you know, see the utility of continuing to do this. So it’s definitely a weird moment here for them. And I think it’s the reaping and sowing meme, it’s like “Oh, no, what happened? I’m sowing all the stuff I’ve been reaping!”
RG: Right. Did you talk to any of the protesters?
MF: [Laughs.] I did on my way in. I mean, I live very close to the Capitol. And, you know, I had some people asking me, you know, “Can I park here?” And this or that.
RG: Can I park here for my insurrection?
MF: [Laughs.] Yeah, and it was almost always like, “You’re gonna get a ticket, but you might not get towed, I’m not sure.”
RG: Well, I remember hearing that Pinochet, on his way to the palace, when he performed his coup, those tanks stopped at red lights, which was a very Chilean thing. And it’s kind of a very American thing that they’re worried about parking tickets. And I also saw that a lot of them were staying within the red velvet ropes when they’re walking through Statuary Hall.
MF: Exactly, exactly right. I had that exact feeling. I mean, it’s like, they still want to operate within society. You know, I saw some people wearing masks. It’s just sort of an incredible moment. And then to, you know, watch the same people storm the Capitol.
At some point, they made the decision that the House floor was going to get breached or wasn’t safe anymore, which — I’ve always sort of lived under the assumption that the House floor is the safest place you can be. It’s like hermetically sealed, it has its own oxygen supply. But, you know, at some point, they were telling us, “Get the gas masks from under your chair.” They gave us, in the gallery, gas masks with the escape hoods. And it was sort of like you might be wading through tear gas in a moment or so.
You know, we’re stuck in this room. And we don’t really know what’s going on. We see reports on Twitter, of the FBI SWAT team. We’ve heard that the National Guard is coming, the Virginia National Guard’s coming. You know. We don’t know.
Lawmaker: Bathroom back here?
MF: A member passed by and asked where the bathroom is.
RG: [Laughs.] You gotta pee in the corner.
MF: It’s a crazy moment.
RG: You know, like you said, this is the logical endpoint of all of this. But at the same time, it’s so hard to have imagined it coming to this.
MF: Yeah. I mean, I never thought I’d see the day where people break through the Capitol, and like, you know, true sort of pandemonium on the House floor. And it happened so quickly. I mean, it was clear that the police weren’t ready for this. And they certainly weren’t, it was not like a shoot-to-kill situation. Which thankfully, I’m glad, I know that there have been some people injured and there apparently was a woman who was shot, but it certainly could have been a lot worse than this if the police just immediately reacted to more violence, that definitely would have been the situation.
RG: Well, I hope they get you out of there pretty soon. Thanks for taking a moment. For people who don’t know, Matt Fuller, a reporter at the Huffington Post. He had a good joke on Twitter. He said, “Well, this wasn’t in my pre-write.”
So I hope that you’re getting back to your copy because you’ve got a few paragraphs you’re gonna have to add to it.
MF: Yeah. Yeah. I think I have some time though.
RG: Great. Well, Matt Fuller, thanks so much for taking some time out of your sheltering-in-place to join us on Deconstructed.
MF: Of course. It’s a pleasure talking to you always, Ryan.
RG: An increasing number of Democrats are already calling for Trump’s immediate impeachment and removal, a step that would prevent him from pardoning those who stormed the Capitol, prevent whatever else he might be planning, check out our last show on his designs on Iran for more on that and would make future presidents think twice before inciting insurrection after the loss of an election.
Twitter, meanwhile, has temporarily locked his account — a boon, no doubt to the right-wing media ecosystem that fueled today’s insanity. The Capitol, as we record this, has been cleared. And Matt tells me he has returned to the press gallery where he’s watching what should have been a perfunctory Electoral College ceremony stumble toward its conclusion over the continued objection of Republican after Republican after Republican.
Rep. Paul Gosar: I rise both for myself and 60 of my colleagues to object to the counting of the electoral ballots from Arizona.
RG: One Republican, however, often Trump’s favorite in the Senate, did not object. And that was South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it. From my point of view, he’s been a consequential president.
But today, all I can say is: Count me out. Enough is enough. I’ve tried to be helpful. But when this Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that they didn’t violate the Constitution of Wisconsin, I agree with the three but I accept the four. If Al Gore can accept 5-4 he’s not president, I can accept Wisconsin 4-3.
They say there’s 66,000 people in Georgia under 18 voted. How many people believe that? I asked give me 10. Hadn’t had one. They said 8,000 felons in prison in Arizona voted. Give me 10. Hadn’t gotten one. I don’t buy this. Enough’s enough. We got to end it.
To the conservatives who believe in the Constitution, now’s your chance to stand up and be counted. I cannot convince people — certain groups — by my words, but I will tell you by my actions that maybe I among any — above all others in this body — need to say this: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the president and the vice president the united states on January the 20th. [Scattered applause.]
[Musical credits theme.]
RG: That was Lindsey Graham, and that’s our show.
Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.
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