By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — House Democrats called to “get to the bottom” of last month’s U.S. Capitol riot and hold those accountable as they recounted their experience during the siege.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has been vocal about the trauma she experienced during the attack, organized Thursday’s special hour of speeches on the House floor, where, one month earlier, congress members fled from rioters who had breached the Capitol building.
“Twenty-nine days ago our nation’s Capitol was attacked. That is the big story,” the congresswoman said, shortly after 7 p.m. ET. “And in that big story resides thousands of individual accounts, just as valid and important as the other. Tonight, for this special order, we will begin to hear and commit to the congressional record just some of those many stories.”
Over the next hour, Ocasio-Cortez was joined by eight of her Democratic colleagues as they shared their shock and horror at what happened on Jan. 6.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., recalled the “mob” he encountered while walking to the U.S. Capitol that day to certify the results of the November presidential election that were “using horrible epithets I can’t mention here directed at [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi.”
“It never, ever occurred to me that this building would be inundated,” he said, calling the attack a “trauma to our democracy.” “I took it for granted that that just couldn’t happen. Of course, it did.”
Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., recalled a “horrifying” scene in the Capitol building during the deadly siege, during which a U.S. Capitol Police officer fatally shot a rioter.
“Furniture stuck up against the wall, and bloodstains right outside where someone was shot,” he said. “This is a traumatic experience for all of us, on both sides of the aisle and for our nation.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was in tears as she began her speech, during which Ocasio-Cortez approached several times to put a hand on her shoulder. Tlaib was not at the Capitol during the siege, but said it struck very close to home considering the hate she gets on a daily basis.
“This is so personal, this is so hard,” she said, as she recounted receiving a death threat on her first day of orientation. “I didn’t even get sworn in yet, and somebody wanted me dead for just existing.”
She said she worries “every day” for the lives of her diverse staff.
“I urge my colleagues to please take what happened on Jan. 6 seriously,” she said. “We can do better. We must do better.”
Some rioters displayed extremist symbols of white supremacy and anarchy. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. called the insurrection a “white supremacist attack.”
“Let me say this, this was not a protest,” said the freshman Democrat — the first Black woman and first woman of color in Congress from Missouri — urging her Republican colleagues to “do right by the Black and brown people you represent.”
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., offered an emotional apology to his colleagues, after calling on fellow Democrats to follow him to the Republican side of the chamber during the attack “so that we could blend in.”
“But within moments I recognized that blending in was not an option available to my colleagues of color,” he said. “I’m here tonight to say to my brothers and sisters in Congress, and all around the country, I’m sorry.”
“I have never understood, really understood what privilege really means,” he continued. “It took a violent mob of insurrectionists and a lightning bolt moment in this very room, but now I know.”
Several of the representatives demanded that they determine how the attack occurred and find the “truth.”
“It cannot be swept under the rug,” Espaillat said. “We must find out if there were members of this body who aided and abetted that angry mob.”
“I think the importance of this, reliving what we went through, is as I’ve heard from my colleagues, we must get to the bottom of this,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said. “We cannot let white supremacy … dominate the goodness of what this democracy and this Constitution stands for.”
Others took the opportunity to call on the Senate to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection in his upcoming impeachment trial.
“The only way to make this right, and help heal our nation, is for the Senate to do the right thing and hold Trump accountable for the insurrection,” Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said.
The special session occurred after the House voted Thursday evening to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments.
Ocasio-Cortez had previously recounted her experience during the Capitol attack in two widely viewed livestreams on Instagram.
During the first on Jan. 12, the congresswoman revealed that she “had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die,” though she didn’t detail the incident, citing security reasons.
“All of these thoughts come rushing to you,” she said during the passionate, hourlong Instagram live. “I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of the day — and not just in a general sense but also in a very, very specific sense.”
She also said she didn’t “feel safe” joining other members of Congress in a secure location because “QAnon and white supremacist sympathizers, and frankly white supremacist members of Congress in that extraction point, who I know, and who I had felt would disclose my location … who would create opportunities to allow me to be hurt, kidnapped.”
In a 90-minute video livestream Monday night, she again recalled fearing for her life as she and others were forced to take shelter when a violent mob stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. At one point, when she was hiding in the bathroom of her office, she said someone banged on the door and entered the room, repeatedly yelling, “Where is she?”
“This was the moment I thought everything was over,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I mean, I thought I was going to die.”
Ocasio-Cortez said the person entering her office ended up being a police officer, but she was unaware of that as it happened.
“I felt that if this was the journey that my life was taking, that, I felt that things were going to be OK and that, you know, I had fulfilled my purpose,” she said, wiping away tears from her eyes.
Ocasio-Cortez said she felt “completely unsafe” later that day when she was barricaded in the office of Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif.
The Capitol siege occurred after a rally held by former President Donald Trump and his allies in Washington, D.C., urging Congress not to certify the results of the November presidential election. Trump urged his supporters “to fight” as he continued to push baseless claims of election fraud.
Crowds of people then made their way to the Capitol steps, pushing through barricades, officers in riot gear and other security measures. An angry mob breached the Capitol building, forcing a lockdown with members of Congress and their staff holed up inside. It took hours for law enforcement to clear the building. Five people, including a police officer, died as a result of the siege.
As of Jan. 26, the Department of Justice has identified 400 suspects and have arrested 135 in connection with the attack on the Capitol.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.