Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' personal story of the Capitol attack
As the historic Capitol attack of January 6, 2021 is still being investigated and reconstructed, we keep hearing new details about what went on in the Capitol building during the invasion by pro-Trump rioters. One early, eye-opening testimony of a person inside the building was the story of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Congresswoman who got trapped in an office and feared for her life.
After president Donald Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election, a group of his followers began protesting the results and demanding recounts. They were incited by Republican leadership making the same objections to Joe Biden's victory. In a 'Stop the Steal' march on January 6, thousands of Trump followers walked from the White House to the Capitol with the desire to halt the ratification of Biden's Electoral College victory.
In an unprecedented riot on Capitol hill, costing the lives of five people and injuring many others, protesters stormed the building where Congress had gathered and violently entered its halls and chambers.
Police were overwhelmed and security staff unable to keep the crowd in check. Hundreds of rioters entered the Capitol building without being checked for weapons, roaming the halls and corridors of the complex, vandalizing and stealing its objects, and searching for Congressmembers to hold them accountable for Trump's defeat.
One of the participants, Garrett Miller, was later arrested for entering the Capitol building and threatening to assassinate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Miller, in the center of this photo, was arrested on January 20 on charges that included threats, knowingly entering a restricted building, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
(Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also called AOC) was one of the few Congress members to break her silence about the day in the Capitol building. She did so with a viral Instagram video on the 2nd of February. AOC detailed how she hid in an office with a staffer, heard an intruder approach the space and call for her, and how she feared for her life. This is her story.
The Democratic Congresswoman endorsed presidential candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 elections, but before that she had supported his opponent in the primaries, Bernie Sanders. The group of Democrats surrounding Sanders and AOC is on the left of the political spectrum, compared to the establishment of the Democratic Party. As a result, they are often considered socialists and extremists who, according to conservative media, pose a threat to the country.
The protesters outside the Capitol building were pro-Trump, anti-Democratic Party, sometimes militant and white supremacist, and they certainly posed a danger to Democratic politicians of Latina descent like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The protest did not appear to be peaceful. Gallows were built to symbolize how the crowd would like to 'hang' the 'traitors' who were about to vote to confirm Joe Biden's victory. These included Democrats like AOC, but also Republicans following the official count and Vice President Mike Pence, who had indicated he would respect the outcome of the election.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is known for her use of social media. She tweets and films Instagram videos on a daily basis. However, during the afternoon of the Capitol riot, not a word came from the Congresswoman. "I thought I was going to die," she later admitted.
While spectators from around the world looked at the unfolding attack with surprise, thinking that it happened spontaneously, staff and politicians within the Capitol had already been on edge for weeks. The insurrection was expected, AOC recounts, and she had felt "unsafe" in the days leading up to it.
"The week prior to the insurrection I started to get text messages that I needed to be careful, and that in particular, I needed to be careful about [January 6]," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in her video testimony. "Those text messages came from other members of Congress. They were not threats, but they were other members, saying that they knew, and that they were hearing - even from Trump people and Republicans that they knew in their life - that there was violence expected on Wednesday."
In the days before the riot, AOC and other members of Congress had already had "heightened interactions" with 'Stop the Steal' protesters on the grounds of the Capitol. By January 5, she did not feel safe going outside anymore.
"Anyone who tells you that we couldn't have seen this coming is lying to you. Anyone who's gone on the record and said that there was no indication of violence has lied," she said in her video testimony. "There were so many indications of this leading up to that moment."
The Congresswoman had her staff draw up a security plan for January 6, because she feared there might be some kind of incident surrounding the meeting to confirm Biden as the winner of the elections. On the day itself, Capitol police asked her to come in earlier than usual. They, too, had indications that some kind of security breach might happen.
While members of the Senate and House were deliberating the confirmation of Joe Biden's Electoral College votes, between 1 and 1:30pm, the first rioters entered the building. They overran police officers, broke windows, and stormed in.
The House and Senate Chambers were evacuated soon after. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was in her office at the time, in a building adjacent to the Capitol, as she hadn't been needed at the Senate's confirmation session.
The Congresswoman had just returned to her office after getting her second Covid-19 shot. She was in the room with only one other person, a staff member, when she heard loud bangs on the doors in the hallway.
"I hear huge violent bangs on my door and then every door going into my office," she said. "Like someone was trying to break the door down. And there were no voices. There were no yells. No one saying who they were, nobody identifying themselves."
AOC and the staff member hid in the bathroom of their office. She tried to make her way across the room to slip into a closet, but as the noises came closer, the Congresswoman decided it was safest to stay in the bathroom.
"I just started to hear these yells of, 'Where is she? Where is she?'" From behind the bathroom's door, Ocasio-Cortez could see a man in a black beanie moving through her office and opening several doors.
"I have never been quieter in my entire life," AOC said. "I held my breath. This was the moment where I thought everything was over."
The man with the beanie turned out to be a police officer, although he initially did not make himself known that way. As soon as her staffer found out, he told AOC that she could come out of her hiding place. But "it didn't feel right," she said in the Instagram video. "Things weren't adding up." Ocasio-Cortez felt the man was looking at her with "anger and hostility."
While rioters were entering the Capitol on another side of the complex, the police officer told Ocasio-Cortez and the staffer to "go down" to another building where it would be safer. "The situation felt so volatile with this officer," she said in her video, "that I run over, I grabbed my bag and we just start running over to that building."
Ocasio-Cortez and her staff member ran unescorted. They did not know where exactly to go, because they hadn't been given specific directions. At that point, the two started hearing the noise of rioters storming the hallways of the Capitol. Quickly, they looked for just any place to hide.
Ocasio-Cortez and the staffer knocked on the door of several offices and looked across different floors until they ran into Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat from California. They went into Porter's office together. Meanwhile, rioters were fighting to get into the House and Senate Chamber from where the attendees of the confirmation meeting had been evacuated.
"Once inside Porter's office," CNN reports, "Ocasio-Cortez said staffers barricaded the door and they found casual clothes she could change into to blend in and be more mobile in case she had to escape." AOC estimated that she was inside this barricaded office for approximately five hours.
"All these crazy thoughts go through your mind," Ocasio-Cortez said, sharing what she felt while in Porter's office. "Are some offices safer than others because they have White sounding names? Or male sounding names?"
After approximately five hours, it became safe enough to leave the room. However, staffers and representatives could not yet leave the building, Ocasio Cortez remembers. Ayanna Pressley, the Democratic Congresswoman from Massachusetts, texted AOC to invite her to 'come and eat' in her office. The two are friends and considered as members of a progressive group of Congresswomen called 'The Squad.'
The lockdown did not end for them until 4:00 am, the morning of January 7. At that point, Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez and other Congressmembers and staffers could finally leave their hiding spaces to be escorted by the police.
The Capitol building had been considered under control by law enforcement and military in the evening of January 6, at 8:00pm. The Senate returned to its confirmation meeting and voted to validate the Electoral College victory for Joe Biden. "Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol," Vice President Mike Pence said. "Let's get back to work."
Behind his confident demeanor, Pence must have been shaken though. There had been direct threats against his life from the side of the Capitol invaders. Just like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Pence feared for his life.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made her video to emphasize the trauma that people inside the Capitol building had gone through. As opposed to the euphemistic 'Let's get back to work' attitude, she advocated that people reckon with the terror of what had happened during the Capitol attack.
"The reason I'm getting emotional in this moment," she said, "is because these folks who tell us to move on, that it's not a big deal, that we should forget what's happened, or even telling us to apologize. These are the same tactics of abusers."
And she knew about abuse, the Congresswoman added, because she's a survivor of assault. "I haven't told many people that in my life," she said. "But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other." The feelings she had, as she was hiding in the bathroom of her office - peaking around the door and hearing a man shout "Where is she?" - they brought back her trauma of a violent past.
AOC also wants the people responsible for the riot to be held accountable. "A lot went on, and a lot led up to what went on, and I think that it’s important to talk about it," she said.
"So many of the people who helped perpetrate and who take responsibility for what happened in the capitol are trying to tell us... to forget about what happened... They’re trying to tell us to move on, without any accountability, without any truth-telling, or without actually confronting the extreme damage, physical harm, loss of life and trauma that was inflicted."
Ocasio-Cortez emphasized on Twitter that her "story isn't the only story, nor is it the central story of what happened on Jan 6th. It is just one story of many of those whose lives were endangered at the Capitol by the lies, threats, and violence fanned by the cowardice of people who chose personal gain above democracy." She added that the US could only "move on when the individuals responsible are held to account."