First Public Jan. 6 Committee Hearing Shared With Community
WASHINGTON — About 250 people gathered around a big screen with picnic blankets, take-out and coolers on a nice crisp early summer night at the Taft Memorial Carillon overlooking the Capitol.
The event also drew people who were just out for their nightly walk or run, some bringing their dogs. It wasn’t a typical movie night.
Instead, they clustered around the screen to watch the first public hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The crowd was mostly quiet, hanging on every word of testimony and piece of evidence laid out by the panel detailing the “attempted coup,” according to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the panel.
“There’s an ongoing criminal conspiracy to hurt our Democracy and Jan. 6 was the most visible point. We are here to stand together and hold people to account,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of the Public Citizen’s protecting democracy campaign. “It helps us remember it’s not over.”
Freechild was one of the organizers of the event which drew about 250 people and was one of dozens of Jan. 6 watch events held around the country. She and others The Well News talked to Thursday night agreed: It’s important the people who stormed the Capitol and everyone who organized the insurrection be held to account.
“Donald Trump never got it right. He didn’t get the beauty of elections,” said former Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., who was part of the panel talking about the insurrection before the public hearing.
He explained the humility and excitement of asking fellow Americans for their votes.
“Democracy only works if the candidate who loses is willing to accept the verdict of American voters,” he said.
He recalled playing basketball in the Rayburn House Office Building with fellow legislators of all political stripes. They were able to talk and see the humanity in each other and create more bipartisan legislation.
He urged lawmakers now to do the same and go above their politics for the sake of democracy.
The start of the hearing drew some laughs when video testimony of former Attorney General William Barr played, in which he said former President Donald Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud were “bullshit.”
But there was an overall melancholy to the crowd watching the hearing, which mostly responded with polite claps.
“What happened with the Jan. 6 insurrection puts us all at risk for something worse in the future,” said Sandra Harrington of Virginia, who joined the watch party while she was walking by. “We need to stand up to it because no one is above the law.”
As the sun set and the lights of the Capitol lit up behind the screen that showed 12 minutes of new footage of the attack, many in the crowd teared up.
“Never could I have dreamed I or my country would be in way more danger from this domestic assault on our democracy than when I was getting shot at from 10 feet away,” said former Special Operations Soldier Ian Austin of D.C. while he fought back tears.
Austin joined the army in the wake of Sep. 11 because of “what felt like an attack on our democracy.”
However, the events of Jan. 6 and the “big lie” of alleged election fraud that perpetuated the violence are “very concerning because [lawmaker]) are systematically putting the legal steps in place to make [challenges to votes] appear above board. Because in some ways it is, if it’s the law. But they are going against their oath” of office, Austin said.
Austin took that very same oath to “defend the Constitution… against all enemies foreign and domestic,” and he challenges lawmakers and fellow veterans to uphold that oath above political beliefs.
In 2016, Austin voted for Trump and also considered himself “the biggest flag waver,” like those he saw storming the Capitol. And he knows people who could have likely been in that crowd.
He grapples to this day with asking “If your heart is with defending America, how can I make you see this is actually an attack on America?”
Madeline can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ByMaddieHughes
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