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D.C. Memo: It’s been a year

An inside look at January 6, GOP midterm strategies and a snub for MyPillow Guy

Tear gas is released into the crowd of rioters during clashes with Capitol police on January 6.
Tear gas is released into the crowd of rioters during clashes with U.S. Capitol police on January 6.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Happy New Year and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. The District started off 2022 in shambles with a snow day that shut down many schools and businesses. It might not sound like much to hardy Minnesotans, but D.C. and surrounding areas got anywhere from 3-12 inches of snow on Monday morning. I can say with certainty that D.C. and Northern Virginia are not very well prepared for snow compared to Minnesota, but I didn’t realize it was this bad: Hundreds of drivers were stuck on Interstate 95 between Richmond and D.C. for over a day. Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine was stuck for 27 hours as he tried to make it to the Capitol for the first day back to session. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, on the other hand, was enjoying the rare heavy snowfall in the District — she said the D.C. snow was “a sign of good things.” Here’s what we’re discussing this week: an inside look at January 6, GOP midterm strategies and a snub for MyPillow Guy.

What January 6 was like for a D.C. resident (me)

We’ve all heard about the events of January 6, 2021 by now. I’m sure many are tired of hearing about it. But in the media, we love anniversaries: They’re emblematic days that allow us to rehash or come to new conclusions about big events. So, in the spirit of Thursday being exactly one year since the disastrous Jan. 6 insurrection, I thought I’d tell you all what it was like from my perspective.

I wasn’t working for MinnPost this time last year (I officially joined the team in March), but I was regularly writing freelance stories for local outlets. So although I wasn’t working out of the Capitol at the time, I first noticed that something was wrong in D.C. when I heard siren after siren pass by my apartment in Capitol Hill in the direction of the Capitol building. I lived about six blocks from the building, and when I opened my window I could hear the faint noises of what sounded like a protest going on in the distance.

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It was immediately apparent on social media that the “peaceful protest” to support former President Donald Trump had turned violent. As the police and medical sirens kept blaring past my apartment, I got a call from an editor at The Forward, a Jewish magazine out of New York. They needed someone on the ground at the Capitol and knew my work from protests I’d covered before.

The instinct to run into dangerous situations, where “history is unfolding in front of our eyes,” is perhaps a journalistic one or perhaps something I need to work out in therapy, but either way, I jumped at the chance to get out there and record history as it happened. I contacted my friend and photographer, Mike Zhang, to tag team with me on the project, as well as a friend who worked in security that lent me his bulletproof vest and accompanied us as we approached the scene.

By the time we got there, the mob had already breached the Capitol and members of the Capitol and Metropolitan Police forces were attempting to create a line with their bodies to keep the rioters away from the building’s entrances. Then, we started trying to interview people.

Most people I approached were extremely wary of our group. We stuck out: the three of us wearing masks in a crowd of nearly all maskless rioters, my companions both men of color in a sea of almost exclusively white people.

It was strange, then, that as the smoke around the building cleared and the citywide 6 p.m. curfew began, the people I spoke to kept repeating that the movement was “multiracial, multicultural and nonviolent.” Many repeated the phrase “we’re peace-loving people.”

“I was right up there at the top steps of the Capitol,” a man from Alaska told me. “I didn’t go inside – I’m not trying to break and enter. Besides going to the Capitol today, I always say, we’re peace-loving people.”

When I asked one man about the presence of many alt-right and neo-Nazi symbols in the crowd that day, he dismissed the idea that Nazi ideals were behind the crowd’s actions. He said the police were actually the ones working to overturn the law: “That’s what Nazi Germany is all about – the police overthrow the law, and then they claim they are the law…the police are helping ‘them’ steal the election.” Standing calmly in front of the line of riot-geared police, he told me that Trump was just trying to follow the constitution. “That’s why we’re here.”

The conversations I had with rioters a year ago highlighted a certain detachment from reality in many of them. In a sea of mostly white men, they called it a “multiracial, multicultural movement.” As people stormed the Capitol in Auschwitz shirts and swastika symbols, they said that the Capitol Police were the Nazis. After several people died and many were injured, they called it a “nonviolent” movement.

In the weeks after the insurrection, my neighborhood felt like a conflict zone — not because of any violence, but because armed National Guard members stood at the end of my block all day and all night.

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And for D.C. residents, the events of January 6 weren’t just an attack on the Capitol. It was an attack on our home, and we continued to feel the effects for months afterwards. For those who were present at the Capitol or downtown during the insurrection, memories of that day will likely last a lifetime.

Minnesota delegation on Jan. 6

Many of the Democrats in Congress are using Thursday as a way to memorialize January 6 and push forward some legislative priorities.

Third District Rep. Dean Phillips introduced a resolution Thursday to permanently designate January 6 as “Democracy Day.” Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum is also a cosponsor of the resolution. The holiday would “commemorate the U.S. tradition of successful and democratic transitions of presidential power and honor the sacrifices of those who have preserved this hallmark of democracy,” and state and local governments would be asked to observe the day with programs or activities.

“Today marks a somber anniversary of one of the darkest days in our country’s history. Future generations can never forget the actions that took place in the U.S. Capitol one year ago and the bravery required to preserve our democracy,” Phillips said in a press release announcing the resolution. “I am leading this resolution to designate January 6th as ‘Democracy Day’ so that the American people never forget how fragile our democracy is and the vigilance required to maintain it.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced legislation in the Senate to honor law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol with the Congressional Gold Medal. The Gold Medal bill unanimously passed Congress and was signed by the president during a Rose Garden ceremony in August. Medals will be displayed in the Capitol, the Smithsonian, The D.C. Metropolitan Police headquarters, and the Capitol Police headquarters.

Minnesota Republican Representatives Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber have been quiet on this anniversary.

All eyes on the midterms

We’ve got almost exactly ten months until Election Day for the 2022 midterms, which means that politicians are gearing up for a messy season of polling, advertising, fundraising and probably hating on social media. The Associated Press quoted Rep. Tom Emmer, the head of the House Republican campaign arm, who they said was hoping to prioritize electing more women and candidates of color this year.

“The winning formula is getting people who are from Main Street,” Emmer told the AP.

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2020 was not a great year for the GOP. The party lost the presidency and the House in November 2020, and lost its Senate majority in early 2021. A year later, though, things are looking up for Republicans. Historically, the party that controls the White House tends to have a big disadvantage during the first election of a new presidency.

And speaking of the presidency: According to the New York Times, Sen. Amy Klobuchar privately expressed that she’d be interested in a 2024 run if Joe Biden decides not to run (the current President has not yet publicly announced that he will run for a second term).

Politico also published some analysis on Klobuchar’s 2024 chances this week, writing that she failed to outpace Biden last time because she lacked “significant African American support.” Politico argued that Klobuchar has become more partisan this past year, for example abandoning her past support of the filibuster so that Democrats can pass voting rights legislation. I’m not sure that a filibuster rules change is top-of-mind for many voters (if any), but that remains to be seen.

Taking the stuffing out of MyPillow (Guy)

As you all know by now, there will always be room for MyPillow Guy in the D.C. Memo. Mike Lindell, the Minnesotan CEO of MyPillow, got torn apart by retired military general Steven M. Anderson in a recent CNN interview with host Pamela Brown.

Lindell has become well known for spreading baseless claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election. Anderson urged people to ignore such claims and “stop listening to the Pillow Guy” in favor of educating themselves about how elections work.

Anderson made these comments referencing Lindell while talking about what he called a threat within the military. He said that ignorant people within the armed forces have grown in power.

“We need to do what we can do now to identify those people, get them out of our ranks, and train the rest of the force on civics one on one about how our country is supposed to work, how elections work, stop listening to the pillow guy and start learning about our country and how it’s actually supposed to run,” Anderson said.

Lindell has claimed his first encounter with Trump back in 2016 came about through “divine appointments,” and often appears on TV, radio and podcasts where he repeats his claims that former President Donald Trump was the true winner of the 2020 election.

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Recently, he told Business Insider’s Cheryl Teh that he’d spent $25 million trying to overturn the 2020 election and was willing to spend everything he had and “sell everything” for his cause.

What I’m reading

  • “How bad are plastics, really?” The Atlantic. I love stories with a family connection. This one is written by an author trying to explain how bad plastics really are, grappling with the fact that her dad had made a living off of manufacturing polystyrene in the 1960s and was obsessed with the material. In a world overcome with wildfires and other climate disasters, it seems like plastics are getting a backseat in pollution dialogue. This article convinced me to pay more attention.
  • “What Parler saw during the attack on the Capitol,” ProPublica. This story was actually published last January, but I still find myself coming back to it sometimes. Reporters at ProPublica captured photos and videos of the insurrection from the conservative social media site “Parler” and compiled them in chronological order. If you want to really remember what that day was like, I highly suggest this article.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or your own memories of January 6, 2021 to ahackett@minnpost.com, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.