It could have been much worse.
That is the sentiment in the days following the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol as the 2020 election results were being certified. It’s the same statement we too often hear in the aftermath of a natural or man-made tragedy once details start to unfold after the initial shock of the event.
I was stopping by to see my mom during my lunch break; she’d been watching all of the news coming out of Washington, D.C., in the past few days, mostly because there wasn’t much else on TV. Suddenly, the news coverage stated Vice President Mike Pence was being evacuated.
“They’re inside the Capitol,” I told my mom, as the protestors outside breached the barricades surrounding the building. At that moment, the protest turned into a mob of rioters who decided the only way to make their voices heard was to get inside the building.
The live coverage of what was happening dominated social media and news outlets. We started seeing images from various news outlets, showing the scenes from inside the Capitol. Elected leaders were hunkered down under desks – similar to what happens when a school shooter is reported inside a building; armed Capitol police took action to protect lives, which included engaging with the mob; and rioters stormed the building, at times acting violently while some deciding it was important to take selfies or do livestreams of themselves invading the building.
And then we started to see images that went beyond the man smiling at the camera as he carried out Pelosi’s podium. People who were carrying zip ties; a makeshift gallows outside the Capitol; a police officer being beaten with flag poles; and reports later focused on how some of the rioters were armed and a cooler with Molotov cocktails had been recovered. The truth is that some of the people present didn’t just get caught up in the moment as some have claimed; they attended with the intent to do harm.
But for all of the images and videos we saw of people rioting in the Capitol, there were moments showing shining examples of the best of America like Officer Eugene Goodman whose quick-thinking lead the mob away from the Senate Chambers. I don’t want to imagine what would have happened if the Senate Chambers where elected officials were hiding had been entered by people with malicious intent.Some politicians and media personalities have said the mob was trying to make their voices heard about an election they have been told to believe was stolen. Conspiracy theorists and agitators claimed what had been planned as a peaceful protest was infiltrated by opponents of the current administration, a claim that had yet to be substantiated.
As the repercussions of Jan. 6 start to get underway, from arrests to the calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, it has become evident that, much like any other tragedy, the images from the day will be ingrained in the history of the United States. However, unlike tragedies of the past when the entire United States decided to rally together, this one will continue to divide us.