Inside the Capitol Lockdown
On January 6, 2021, Rockefeller College BA/MPA student Tanner McCracken was in the first week of his Semester in Washington internship with U.S. Senator Tim Scott’s Office (R-SC). Here, Tanner tells his story of that infamous day in American history from his own perspective.
January 6, 2021 was only the third day of my internship with U.S. Senator Tim Scott’s Office. I knew it was going to be a big day, because for the days leading up to it, there were calls for the Senator to object to the certification of the Electoral College. This was a plan concocted by the former President of the United States, Donald Trump. On January 5th, Senator Scott made a public statement saying he would not object to the certification of the Electoral College, prompting many Trump supporters to be extremely mad at Senator Scott. I also knew that President Trump was holding his “Save America” rally right before the Joint Session of Congress was going to convene to certify the election results. I knew all of this discord was going to happen when I woke up the morning of, even before I walked into the office.
During my commute in the morning, I saw many Trump supporters spread around D.C. The metro subway was packed with people wearing Trump shirts and other hyper-conservative shirts. Many had masks on, but a good amount of them did not. Union Station had more Trump supporters spread around. I left Union Station and began to walk to the Hart Senate Office Building. Now remember, this was before there were any fences around the Capitol Hill complex, so people were able to walk right up to the door of Hart with no Congressional ID. I walked in at 8:30 a.m. and greeted my fellow interns and the staff. Today was a very big day for me, because it was my turn to sit at the front desk. The interns rotate around who sits at the front desk on any given day and this was my first time, so I was very excited. Most of the morning was completely normal and fine. We received many calls in regards to the Electoral College session (both in favor of objecting and against objecting). The real action started a little after 11:00 a.m.
Just before Congress was convening for a Joint Session, the “Save America” rally had already begun with some preliminary speakers. At the front office of Senator Scott’s, there are two desks — one for a staff assistant and one for an intern — and up on the wall there is a TV. We keep it muted to stay alert to the breaking news and headlines of the day, but because of the magnitude of the day, we turned the TV’s audio on to listen to Trump’s speech. You could feel that it was going to be a historic moment. Although I was taking a lot of phone calls during it, I caught certain portions. I remember thinking how crazy it was that we actually had a sitting President who still refused to concede an election just 14 days before his term was over. I heard the loud crowd cheering and some of his dangerous rhetoric. When Trump told his supporters, “we are going to walk down to the Capitol,” I was not scared or nervous. I knew this was going to cause a stir and probably a huge protest, but I still did not think this was going to get violent and ugly. Oh, how wrong I was.
Towards the end of Trump’s speech, we turned the channel to the Joint Session of Congress. We saw Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi up by the House rostrum convening the session. It wasn’t too long until we saw Senator Ted Cruz stand up and object; a standing ovation from many republicans followed. This meant that this objection would have to be debated in the House and the Senate respectfully. We flipped the channel over to the Senate broadcast to begin to watch the debate. Nobody in the front office area was watching the actual news, so we had no idea what was happening on the outside. When we eventually changed the channel to Fox News, there was an absolute swarm of people up and around the Capitol Building. We were blown away by how many people we saw. I was blown away. I was in awe. It looked like there was a person in every possible area there could have been.
We flipped the channel back to the Senate debate to see Senator Lankford speaking, but then, on the bottom corner of my computer screen, I saw multiple security alerts pop up: Rayburn House Office Building, Longworth House Office Building, and Cannon House Office Building. Each alert popped up one after another. And almost in poetic fashion, I looked up at the TV right at the moment when Senator Lankford was interrupted by the slamming gavel and the words, “Senate will stand at recess until the call of the Chair.” We then heard someone run up to Senator Lankford and say, “There are protestors in the building.”
That prompted us to flip the channel back to the news. The crowd of Trump supporters outside the Capitol grew even larger and we then saw protestors on the inside of the building. I heard gasps around me to see most of Senator Scott’s staff now moved to the front of the office, glued to the screen. There was instant shock amongst us. The staff could not even believe the protestors were able to get into the building. Then, more security breach notifications popped up on my computer. The office then was required to go into a lockdown mode. We turned off the office phones and we were all required to stay in the office. Glued to the TV screen, all of the interns and staff watched our nation’s Capitol become filled with protestors. Images were shown of the House and Senate chambers under siege. The Senate chambers were already taken over by protestors and the House chambers were being defended by heroic Capitol policemen.
My cell phone began blowing up with family and friends asking if I was okay. Over 40 texts flooded my phone. I received too many texts to respond with a lot of information, but I wanted everyone to know I was okay. So I sent this picture to everyone, with the text, “I am safe and okay.”
I obviously texted my mom a lot of information, considering she was absolutely worried sick. I kept her updated often. Also, Joan Marso was incredible throughout the entire insurrection. Joan texted me right away with this text: “Tanner, I’m just seeing the news. I wanted to check to be sure you were safe.” I responded with, “Hi Joan, thank you for reaching out. We are safe here at the Senate Building. Capitol police are providing updates constantly.” Joan then continued to check in with me all afternoon and evening, and provided information on how the University would support me, such as contacts I could reach out to and also paying for an Uber home. At this point, there was no way for me to leave the office.
The Capitol policeman stationed outside our office was the biggest bada** ever — he came in with a massive rifle, sweating from his forehead, but completely focused and calm. He looked at the staff and said, “Don’t worry, we are locking it down in this building. I love Tim Scott, I love you guys, and nobody is getting in here.” This definitely put me at ease. I was happy that we had THIS guy outside OUR office. I felt incredibly lucky, blessed, and safe. Although the protestors had access to the tunnels, thus had access to our office building, the Hart Building was secure. We also found out that Senator Scott was safe and secure at this time.
Around this time, Trump released his video statement. I was in disgust. Being on the ground at the time, being right in the middle of the danger, I can tell you that that statement was way too weak. I felt like he was still worried about not offending the protestors, because he cares more about his popularity amongst them. His statement was “wish-wash” and did not make us safer at all.
Around 4:00 p.m., we were asked to move down to the ground level to stay tucked away for a while and get some food rations. As an office, we all were shuffled to the ground level to wait in line for sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. Right when we got to the sandwiches — who was going up to the table to grab a ham and cheese? Senator Lindsey Graham! He looked up at us and said with a nice southern twang, “This is Scott’s team? Hey, how you doing?” He looked stressed and tired.
We then moved back up to the office and heard that Mayor Bowser was going to announce a curfew. The office shifted focus on how we would all get home. I knew one thing: No way was I taking the metro! Joan let me know that Rockefeller College was willing to pay for an Uber to get me home safe. This meant so much to me to know how much UAlbany and Rockefeller College cared about me during these tough times. We then heard on the loudspeaker of the Hart Building, “Mayor’s orders: Curfew at 5:00 p.m. and it does not apply to government workers.” I now had a choice, either stay in the office for the rest of the night or try to get home now. I decided to get the he** out of there.
A staffer from Senator Scott’s Office offered to give me a ride home, so I followed him out. We lined up by the Dirksen exit door. Lines of scared staffers preceded us. As soon as I stepped outside, a vast array of loud sounds (sirens, screaming, horns beeping) flooded my ears. It was so loud it felt like I was in silence for so long, and now I was finally hearing sound for the first time all day. I saw Trump supporters in the distance running towards Columbus Circle. We went over to the street where my co-worker’s car was to find three massive armored police vehicles surrounding it. They set up a temporary base of operations around my co-worker’s car! He asked them if they were going to move and one of the officers said, “No, we are staying here like this all night.” They were armored up with riot shields, just beginning a march down the street to clear the area of violent protestors. My co-worker had to go back to the office. He asked what I wanted to do and I thought, “I probably should take that Rockefeller College Uber now!” I went over to the Columbus Circle to call for one.
There were protestors all around the area, but I kept a safe distance. I knew wearing a suit and tie definitely made me look like the enemy in their eyes. I then saw one of the most horrible things I have ever seen — someone carrying a Trump flag with a pitchfork at the top of it. It was such a terrible sight to see. For me, it encapsulated the whole situation. This was all about one man’s ego and violent nature that he has tapped into.
The Uber came, and I immediately began to thank the driver for picking me up so promptly. My driver was a man who immigrated from Afghanistan about six years ago. As we drove by rioters, looters, and protestors in the streets, we talked about what just happened. He said some very impactful words: “You know, everything with the government of Afghanistan is fraud and corruption. Every day is dangerous, unsafe, and unfree. I left Afghanistan to come to America because this is the greatest country in the world. I came here to leave behind all that crap. Today, I cannot believe that type of crap has just reached the Capitol building of our nation.” I will never forget those words.
Right when I got home, I texted my family and friends. I also texted Joan: “Home now. Safe in the apartment. Thank you so much for caring about my safety and for your help.” Joan wrote, “Great! Thanks for the update. How are you doing with all of this?” I said, “I’m doing fine. I feel safe and fine. Just sad for our country.” Joan said, “Me too.”
At this point it hit me. I cried. All day long — since the start of the riot — I was in danger. Never once did I feel like I had to cry; never once was I consumed with absolute fear and sadness. But when I was finally in the safest place I could have been, I let my guard down and let my emotions set in place. I love this country so much. I believe in our values and our institutions. I believe we have the greatest democracy the world has ever seen. So, to see our very own people — radicalized by a sitting President — storm our precious center of democracy, it hurt me in ways I could never describe.
However, after this day, I have never wanted to serve in government more. I want to fix the type of things that led us to that day, and other violent days like we saw all last summer. I want to reinstate a more civil, passionate, and attentive culture surrounding our political participation.
January 6th will live forever in my head, but instead of letting it bring me down, I will allow it to motivate me to make things better for our country in the future.