Valor Amidst the Violence: The Heroes of Jan. 6
Jan. 6, 2021 will be remembered as one of the darkest days in American history. For three hours, the Capitol was mobbed by a crowd spurred on by the president of the United States due to his narcissistic inability to concede the 2020 presidential election. Five people died, dozens of law enforcement officers were injured, and Capitol Hill was heavily damaged. The certification of Joe Biden’s victory was halted, stopping the peaceful transfer of power this country has taken for granted. Donald Trump’s actions have validated my reasoning for not voting for him, and the cowardice of many elected Republicans in the weeks following the election contributed to this mass delusion.
I don’t want to talk about that today, though. Countless pieces have been written about the evils that occurred at the Capitol. Much ink has been spilled over the moral failures of elected officials and lack of planning by law enforcement leadership. The legal, political and societal fallout from the insurrection has been and will continue to be substantial. Rather, I want to highlight courageous actions taken by individuals before, during and after the events of Jan. 6.
Leading up to the certification of the 2020 election results, Mike Pence had a choice to make. He could preside over the joint session of Congress and certify the results against Trump’s wishes. Trump and his allies seemed to think that Pence could reject the electors, so they called on him to “come through.” (Anyone with at least a rudimentary understanding of civics knew that Pence had no such power, but elements in the right-wing media complex pushed this as a possibility.) Alternatively, he could have recused himself from the process and have Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley (R-IA) preside in his stead, saving himself the ire of Trump supporters and potentially ensuring their support in a potential 2024 presidential run.
Mike Pence chose to put our institutions and democratic norms over his personal ambition. After Trump’s giant “Stop the Steal” rally and right before the joint session of Congress began, Pence issued a statement explaining that he couldn’t reject the electors due to his oath to defend and protect the Constitution. Pence remained at the Capitol throughout the duration of the insurrection and took the lead in coordinating a response with the Department of Defense. Once the Capitol was secured and the Senate reconvened to finish debating the objection to the Arizona electors, he gave a speech stating: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins, and this is still the people’s house.” At 3:41 a.m., Pence announced the completion of the certification of the election results, ensuring that, indeed, the mob did not win. When the mob stormed the Capitol, they were targeting Mike Pence for his commitment to preserving norms and respecting democracy. Pence will be remembered as Donald Trump’s VP, but the courage he displayed need not go unnoticed.
Jason Crow (D, CO-6) probably didn’t expect to feel like he was an army ranger in Iraq or Afghanistan ever again. On the morning of Jan. 6, he was likely prepping for a long day of fierce debate with his Republican colleagues planning to object to the certification of certain electors. Everyone was aware of the “Stop the Steal” protest/rally the president was leading, but he assumed that security forces would keep the peace. Yet there he was that afternoon, trapped in the House chamber with roughly two dozen individuals being told by officers to shelter in place and get to the ground. Gunshots and flash grenades were heard in the hallway, and rioters were pounding on the doors attempting to get in. Lying on the ground next to him was Susan Wild (D, PA-6), shaking and terrified. Crow took her hand and tried to comfort her, telling her firmly, “We are going to be OK.” Crow told the remaining members to remove the pins identifying them as lawmakers. He also began to seriously consider the possibility he’d have to fight his way out. “I had a pen in my pocket that I could use as a weapon,” Crow told CNN, “and I was looking for other weapons as well.”
Representative Ruben Gallego (D, AZ-7), an Iraq war veteran who served in the Marine Corps, was thinking along the same lines as Crow. “I thought I’d have to fight my way out,” he told The Washington Post in an interview. Earlier, he had assisted members who were having trouble putting on their gas masks, telling them to breathe slowly to avoid hyperventilating. The chamber had been in chaos. “The problem is that there was no leadership on the floor,” said Gallego. “Once they took away the leadership, there was Capitol Police. They didn’t give us clear instructions. They were telling us to do this and do that, but they weren’t communicating.”
Gallego had jumped on a chair in the House floor to direct traffic, guiding members off the floor toward an undisclosed secure location. He was wondering how to best fight his way out of the Capitol when Capitol police told the remaining individuals on the floor to continue the evacuation. Gallego, Crow and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D, CA-15) were the last people on the floor before the chamber was completely cleared. Gallego also took six journalists who were turned away from entering the undisclosed secure location to shelter in his office for several hours, where he entertained them with war stories and brought them food.
Perhaps the most consequential act of heroism was performed by Eugene Goodman, a member of the Capitol Police force. Officer Goodman may have saved the Senate, and this is by no means an exaggeration. Goodman led a mob of deranged Trump supporters away from the Senate chamber, putting himself in great danger. Goodman is Black, and it was widely reported that the mob was hurling racist slurs at him and other officers of color. The mob carried Confederate flags through the corridors of the most sacred place of our Union, which even the Confederate Army hadn’t managed to plant there. Igor Bobic of the Huffington Post recorded the harrowing 85 seconds that Goodman tried to hold back the rioters, ending up luring them away from the Senate chambers where lawmakers were sheltering, and armed officers were securing the doors. His actions likely preempted what could have been a violent confrontation, Kirk D. Burkhalter, a professor at New York Law School and a former New York City police officer, said in an interview.
The Capitol Police were heavily criticized for their lack of preparedness and the irresponsible actions of a few of their officers, but the vast majority of them showed great courage and bravery on Jan. 6, and one of them tragically lost his life after being bludgeoned by a terrorist with a fire extinguisher. The bravery shown by officers doesn’t make headlines the way misconduct and leadership failures do, but something tells me Goodman is fine staying out of the limelight. “My job is to protect and serve,” he told co-workers after the video of him went viral. “And on that day, I was protecting.” Goodman is a hero in every sense of the word, and Congress should formally recognize his actions.
The actions of Mike Pence, Jason Crow, Ruben Gallego and Eugene Goodman were all courageous in different ways, but all of them won’t get nearly the attention they deserve. The history books will not feature Pence’s commitment, Gallego and Crow’s leadership, and Goodman’s heroism as what was notable about Jan. 6, 2021. That does not make their courage any less impactful, however. As C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”
Photo Caption: Eugene Goodman led rioters away from the Senate chamber.
Photo Credit: Twitter