By Adam Pagnucco.
Julie Tagen, who is the Chief of Staff to Congressman Jamie Raskin, wrote the following account of her experience during the attack on the U.S. Capitol this week. We are reprinting it with her permission.
Friends, here is my story of what happened to me yesterday. I am writing this because the process is cathartic for me, and I don’t want to EVER forget the details of January 6, 2021. Forgive me, it’s a long read.
As most of you know, I am Chief of Staff to Representative Jamie Raskin, who had an unbearable family tragedy on December 31 when he lost his beloved son Tommy. You may also know that Jamie is a constitutional scholar, and Speaker Pelosi gave him the high honor of being one of the four key players during the electoral college vote on the House floor.
The day started out normal. I picked up Jamie and drove him to work (masks on, windows down). We live near each other, and pre-COVID, were daily commuting partners. As we drove on 3rd Street NW in front of the Capitol, we could see people with Trump, QAnon and Confederate flags milling around and heading toward the White House (or so it seemed).
We went up to our office in the Rayburn House Office Building, where Jamie worked on his speech in preparation for his big day. Jamie’s family wanted to be with him and see him in action on the floor, so they decided that his daughter, Tabitha, and his son-in-law, Hank, would come to the Capitol. Jamie’s other daughter, Hannah, and Tabitha’s boyfriend, Ryan, would watch the proceedings at home with Jamie’s wife, Sarah. At around noon, Jamie and I walked to the Capitol through the tunnels, the only direction that Capitol Police had ever given us for this momentous day, to meet Tabitha and Hank in a ceremonial room off the House floor. The wonderful staff of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer gave us the Hoyer ceremonial office (H-219) for the week so Jamie could have privacy in his time of mourning and be closer to the House floor.
This is when things began to get crazy; a lot is still hazy to me. The Joint Session started at 1 p.m. The plan was that shortly before Jamie was to speak on the floor, at around 1:30 p.m., Tabitha and Hank would be taken to one of the viewing galleries by security (this was a special privilege, as only Members of Congress were permitted in these galleries during the Joint Session). Jamie left for the floor, which was around 50 feet from our door, and Tabitha, Hank and I started looking out of the large office window at what was taking place outside.
Our windows faced the West Front of the Capitol, in the direction of the Washington Monument. All of the major news channels were showing the activities on the floor, so we only received information about outside activities through Twitter and information other friends and staffers were sending us. Tabitha, Hank and I knew something was very wrong. Our view was slightly obstructed by the inaugural scaffolding and platform, but it was clear that the crowd was getting bigger and more aggressive and there definitely were not enough Capitol Police officers. We could see them taking one or two people away in handcuffs, and smoke, likely tear gas, covering the growing crowd.
After everything the Raskin family had been through over the course of the last week, it became my goal to keep Tabitha and Hank as calm as possible. I told them that we were very safe, that we would be protected, and that there was absolutely no way that anyone could get into the Capitol. I said that because I truly believed it. I was on the Hill in 2010, when the ACA passed and loonies were roaming the halls of the House office buildings since they were open to the public. I figured since the buildings were closed due to COVID, we would be safe. It never once entered my mind that something bad could happen.
I had my laptop on my desk and started getting large pop-up alerts on my screen. I first saw that the Madison Building of the Library of Congress was evacuated. This was concerning, but it seemed like things were under control. Although the floor activities were on the office’s large TV, Tabitha, Hank and I could not stop looking out the window at the chaos outside. At this point, it began to look like mayhem. Scores of angry white men with Trump and Confederate flags stomped around, clad in camouflage and flak jackets.
Despite the mobs outside, Jamie was scheduled to speak on the floor around 1:30pm. Jason Gandolph, a member of Capitol Police Security, came by and said that he could take Tabitha and Hank one floor up to the viewing gallery. They left just as I got an alert that the Cannon House Office Building, where Member’s offices were located, was being evacuated. Jason came back and said, very calmly, that the Capitol was about to go into lockdown. They would have to lock us in the room once Tabitha and Hank returned from the gallery.
Once they came back, Tabitha, Hank and I looked out the window again. We could see that the rioters had gotten onto the inaugural platform and were climbing the scaffolding. The police, who did not have riot gear on, remained below. At one point, it looked like they were trying to move forward, and then it looked like they were retreating; one thing was clear –they were not handling or controlling the mob. We watched as one of the barriers was broken down or opened by police and a rush of rioters headed on West plaza toward the Senate side of the building. I assumed by letting them rush the Senate side that it was a strategy to arrest or disperse them. There was a strong line of police holding off the mob from the plaza’s House side. On TV, the electoral proceedings were still taking place, so I figured things couldn’t be that bad.
Suddenly, we started getting alerts on the computer and our phones. Calls and texts from team members came pouring in: the Capitol had been BREACHED!! The House floor was quickly adjourned. The alerts told us to turn off all sounds in our offices and to take cover. Tabitha and Hank crammed under Steny Hoyer’s desk, and I took the chairs in the room and barricaded the door.
I was looking out of the side window at the chaos. I began to panic inside at the thought of the Raskin kids being traumatized again and what was happening to them after everything they’d been through. Outwardly, I was calm. I told Tabitha and Hank that we would be okay. Inwardly, I wanted to crawl up in a ball and hide. I was scared.
Perhaps it was the adrenaline or the reality of the moment, but I had an epiphany, for lack of a better word. I was trapped in a room with a giant photograph of John Lewis on the wall and a bust of Abraham Lincoln on the fireplace mantel. I said to myself, and perhaps out loud, “These people are TERRORISTS, They cannot win.” Some who know me might say that at that moment, I got my “Philly On!!” I gathered anything in the room that I could use as a weapon and put them by the door: a fireplace stocker, busts, a bronze award of a buck with large and pointy horns.
By then, the terrorists had made their way into the Capitol. We could hear their heavy footsteps outside our door as they tried to breach the House floor. We could hear them chanting, “USA, USA!” and “We want Trump!” and “Stop the steal!” We could hear them trying to ram the door of the House Chamber just a few feet away. There were bangs all over the place. Someone jangled our door handle. I picked up the heaviest item I could find (not sure why), the bronze buck bust, and stood in front of the door, waiting for them to arrive.
I started receiving texts from Jamie, who had been evacuated from the House floor, asking if we were okay. I lied and told him we were fine, because I didn’t want to worry him too. I also started getting calls from Pelosi’s floor staff, who were trying to locate and evacuate us. Texts started arriving from friends all around the country, asking if I was okay. I only told a few close buddies how terrified I was. I talked to my wife, De, very quickly, and told her that we were safe and fine. I asked Hank if it was convincing enough.
After what felt like 30 minutes, the chants began to die down. I could hear police in the hallway. They knocked on our door and told us they were there to help. Tabitha and Hank got out from under the desk. We all looked at each other and said nothing. There was a delay to get us out as a result of being locked in – and I hadn’t remembered that I had locked the 3 inside locks too. Five Capitol police officers opened the door. It was clear they were amped up. The said “Let’s Roll!!” and whisked us through the tight stairwells of the Capitol and we finally made it to the “secure location” where we were joyously joined by a super-relieved and grateful Jamie. In the secure location, everyone was exhausted and there was little food or water. Little by little small food items were handed out: Goldfish crackers, berry gummies, Skittles. After four hours, pizza and drinks arrived. I pretty much survived that night on candy and Diet Coke.
At around 9:15 p.m., I was able to get Tabitha and Hank a ride home to Maryland. I stayed with Jamie until the end until 4:00 AM. It was an honor and a privilege to be in the Capitol when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were declared winners, and the next President and Vice President of the United States. I arrived back home a little past four in the morning.
I am still processing all of this but I could never imagine this happening to the US Congress.
There is a long list of people that helped me through the day. I hope you know who you are, and I thank you from the very bottom of my heart. More formal thanks will come later.