Republican congressman: To keep safe during Capitol attack, we barricaded my office door
The Marine Corps makes you buy the sword. That always bothered me. Eight hundred dollars for a fancy-looking but dull blade that I only used once for a sword arch at a buddy’s wedding. But, on Jan. 6, 2021, as I took my sword from its display case on the wall of my congressional office, it seemed like the most practical weapon with which I could defend myself, if it came to that.
The police had directed us to shelter in place. Jumping two stories out the window was not a viable option, so my chief of staff and legislative director devised a plan for how we would defend our position if the rioters came. We covered up my nameplate marking our office door, took down the Wisconsin flag in order to use its pole as another weapon, and barricaded the doors with desks. We left a window open as a decoy.
I had not slept much at all in the days leading up to Jan. 6. I knew many people, including close friends and family, were angry at me. I had opposed the efforts to object to swing state electors on Jan. 6 not only on Constitutional grounds, but also as a practical matter. The objectors were giving millions of people false hope that somehow Congress or Vice President Mike Pence could change the outcome of the election. This was, of course, a lie. Republicans had just lost political control of the Senate because of that lie, and now the country was about to lose physical control of the United States Capitol.
Looking back, it is astounding how quickly it happened.
Around noon, I was in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, where I was bumped from an interview because President Donald Trump was about to speak at the “Save America Rally" outside the White House.
Protesters marched from the rally down Pennsylvania Avenue around 1:00 pm, just as the joint session of Congress to count the Electoral College votes began. About 30 minutes later, Cannon was evacuated due to security threats. Before long, violence broke out as we began debating the objection to Arizona’s votes.
I could hear flash bangs in the distance and see CS gas in the air as Capitol Police tried to gain control of the crowd. Just before 1:30 pm, Capitol Police ordered the evacuation of the Capitol complex, and Vice President Pence, who was presiding over the joint session, was taken away by Secret Service to an undisclosed location. Shortly after 3:00 pm, from behind my barricaded office door, I was pleading with President Trump on Twitter to call off the mob.
I was luckier than my colleagues trapped on the House floor, struggling to evacuate amidst the chaos. What I didn’t know as we sheltered in place, was that a friend I had served with in the Marine Corps, now a Washington, D.C., cop, had been providing security at the rally and arrived at my office building around 2:30 pm to reinforce Capitol Police. He and his colleagues donned riot gear and engaged in sustained combat with anarchists and insurrectionists for the next five hours, using OC spray, CS gas, and “sting balls” in a desperate attempt to control the crowd.
The images are still hard to watch, let alone process: a cop crushed in a phalanx of rioters screaming out in pain, another dragged down the steps of the Capitol and beaten with American flags, an Air Force veteran shot and killed as she attempted to climb through a window into the Speaker’s Lobby, and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel roaming the Senate floor wearing a Kevlar helmet, a flak jacket, and carrying zip ties.
By 8:00 pm, the police declared the Capitol complex secure. Shortly thereafter, we reconvened to vote on the objections to Arizona’s slate of electors — despite all that had just happened, I saw the objectors continue the faux debate.
I removed the barricade from my office door and walked out for the first time in nearly eight hours. The hallways were empty. As I made my way to the House floor, I took a shortcut through the Dunkin Donuts in the basement of the Longworth House Office Building. It was filled with police officers dressed in riot gear, some laying on the floor, some guzzling water and food at the tables, some still sweating, utterly exhausted.
I’m not a particularly sentimental man. Besides the birth of my daughter, I can’t remember the last time I cried. But looking at these men and women, who had spent over six hours risking their lives to keep me safe, I broke down. I slowly made my way through the crowd, crying, clapping, and thanking them. I didn’t know what else to do.
Six people are dead, including two police officers, and the horrifying thing is it could have been much worse. The rioters had a noose and were chanting “hang Mike Pence.” A bomb was found in the alleyway behind a house I share with some colleagues. A wooden gallows was erected near the Capitol reflecting pool.
A little after 3:00 am on Jan. 7, as Congress completed the certification of the election, I wandered off the House floor to the Capitol Rotunda. There was trash scattered on the floor and a few Capitol police officers resting against the wall. I was curious if the rioters had torn down the statues.
Ike seemed fine, as did MLK. I walked over to Lincoln, who seemed sad as usual, but otherwise untouched. I walked home in a daze thinking over the words from his first inaugural: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
Following the second impeachment of the president — an effort I voted against — we must all be reminded of President Lincoln’s words and work together to restore trust in our institutions.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) represents Wisconsin’s eighth district in the U.S. House of Representatives.