Halls that echoed with the shouts of rioters on Jan. 6, 2021, will be quiet on Saturday, with no plans in Congress to mark the attack on the Capitol.
Some still haunted by the violence are struck by the silence from lawmakers on the third anniversary.
“The attention that it’s getting is underwhelming,” said Michael Fanone, a former Metropolitan Police Department officer who testified to lawmakers in 2021 that he was dragged into the crowd by rioters, beaten and tased repeatedly. Fanone told Roll Call in an interview this week that he and other police officers who fought for hours to restore order to the Capitol feel the threat to democracy has already been forgotten.
But on the campaign trail, that threat has become a rallying cry for Democrats. President Joe Biden focused on his predecessor’s role in the Capitol attack at a Friday campaign event near Valley Forge, Pa., originally set to be held on the anniversary but rescheduled due to weather.
Trump plans to be in Iowa for two campaign rallies on the anniversary. The former president, facing felony charges tied to his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, has praised the rioters as patriots and said that if elected he would pardon a “large portion” of those convicted of federal offenses, which range from assaulting police to seditious conspiracy.
The front-runner for the GOP nomination is banking on his ability to turn the attention of Republican voters to the economy and border security, away from Democrats’ warnings that the violence and attempts to undermine the electoral process that marked the waning days of his presidency are an existential threat to the nation’s governing institutions.
“We’re still in the fight of our lives to defend democracy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, who led the impeachment case against Trump in the days after the attack. The Maryland Democrat held a press conference Friday on the Hill to spotlight the issue, joined by Rep. Glenn F. Ivey, D-Md., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. As Republicans continue to promote Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, the danger is hardly past, they said.
It comes on the heels of a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll that a quarter of Americans believe a theory circulated by right-wing media outlets that the FBI was behind the Jan. 6 attack. Ivey called the debunked concept “revisionist” and evidence of how both the country and Congress remain deeply divided in how they view the mob violence that sent lawmakers running to safe rooms.
Looking ahead to next year’s anniversary, which will coincide with the certifying of the 2024 presidential election results, Raskin said he believes law enforcement will be better prepared than in 2021. “But of course, history doesn’t repeat itself exactly. And if there are efforts at an inside political coup or a violent insurrection, one supposes that the sequence of events would unfold differently,” Raskin said.
Fanone, who before joining the Metropolitan Police served as a Capitol Police officer in the wake of 9/11, said he has yet to see the same level of attention placed on the security failures of Jan. 6 that he saw after the attacks on Manhattan and Washington. “I was at the Capitol immediately after 9/11 and watched the security posture and the security apparatus of the Capitol change dramatically,” Fanone said.
But the Capitol Police says it has “made dozens of changes to improve intelligence, planning, communication, training, staffing and equipment” since rioters breached the Capitol in 2021.
“It’s precisely because of those changes that I feel safe as I go next week to the Congress,” Norton said.
Last January, lawmakers marked the anniversary on the House steps with a 140-second moment of silence. The crowd of mostly Democrats gathered to honor the 140 law enforcement officers that incoming Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said were injured during the attack. Family members read out the names of several officers who died in the days or weeks afterward.
As of Friday, no such memorial event had been announced. That’s not exactly surprising, given the anniversary this year falls on a weekend, and at the tail end of Congress’ winter break.
But staff for Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer confirmed that neither leader has plans to mark the anniversary next week when lawmakers return to Washington, where a busy legislative to-do list — including funding the government and breaking an impasse on border security and aid for Israel and Ukraine — awaits.
Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, said Congress should not sweep the events of Jan. 6 under the rug. As staff file into congressional offices next week, managers should be flexible with those who may be negatively affected by the memory of violence in their workplace, Fitch argued.
“Employee wellness isn’t just an altruistic, nice thing to do. It relates to job engagement, it relates to employee retention,” Fitch said.
A record number of congressional staffers sought counseling in the year after Jan. 6, 2021. The Congressional Progressive Staff Association blames the event for leading to “a mass exodus of staffers from Capitol Hill.”
“We will continue to help congressional staffers connect with mental health resources as they recover from the trauma,” the association said in a statement.
While lawmakers are still deeply divided on how to characterize the events of Jan. 6, Peter Loge, a George Washington University associate professor who specializes in the ethics of political communication, said he can see a different future. A former staffer for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, he floated the idea of a lasting way to mark the anniversary.
Loge suggested a federal holiday that celebrates democracy, in the same way that Veterans Day recognizes the sacrifice of servicemembers or Martin Luther King Jr. Day centers on the Civil Rights Movement.
If that sounds unattainable, and even absurd given the current political climate, Loge pointed out that King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — quoted by Democrats and Republicans alike on the holiday bearing his name — was not well received from coast to coast when first delivered by the civil rights leader.
“We will retroactively impose meaning … that helps us move forward,” the professor added.