• February 27, 2021

I Need Closure After Capitol Riot, Not That Trump Impeachment Charade

 I Need Closure After Capitol Riot, Not That Trump Impeachment Charade

The Capitol Dome. Photo by Matt Laslo

Thousands of things were left out of this rushed impeachment trial of former-President Donald Trump. Sadly, that included most all of us — those of us who aren’t elected officials — who were trapped inside the Capitol on that dreadful day.

Personally, I’m still filled with sadness, bewilderment and intense feelings of betrayal by the nation’s politicians – those who are supposed to represent us and serve our Constitution. I’m also still really pissed off sometimes, and scared to unsettled at others.

I was surprised, and obviously didn’t broadcast, that on my first day back at the Capitol after the riot I broke into cold sweats. Even with thousands and thousands of National Guard troops, new layers of sturdy fencing and barbed wire, I didn’t feel safe in the building I’ve worked in – and felt safe in – for 15 years now.

Why wait for a commission when you have constitutional subpoena power?

That’s because, like countless others, I was moments away from…being kidnapped with the hand ties some of the rioters carried? Being hung from one of the nooses the mob so proudly tied in at least two spots – including a television crew’s own cord, after they stomped on their equipment and before some discussed taking reporters’ names — on the Capitol grounds that dark day? Or being savagely beaten, like some of my colleagues? Or forced into hand to hand combat, like the battles that left 138 officers injured and now three dead?

Who knows what was in store for other members of the press corps if we had encountered the conspiracy-fueled rioters. What I do know is I was moments away from the furious mob.

This week impeachment managers released a new video of officer Eugene Goodman turning Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) back as he was nearing Mitch McConnell’s suite, just moments away from encountering the angry gang of rioters.

That heart-stopping Capitol surveillance video of Goodman and Romney is time stamped at 2:13pm ET on Jan 6.

That’s the same time stamp on my video of the breach.

Romney was ushered away and took a right turn. Had he taken a left, he would have seen me recording videos and taking pics out of the windows between the Senate Chamber and McConnell’s office.

No one told me to move. After a water bottle was lobbed at the window where a photographer and I stood, I uploaded the video immediately while also rushing up to the third floor.

On the way I saw senators being commanded – and in the Capitol lawmakers rarely get orders from anyone but party leaders — to get on the Senate floor. I asked one officer what the press should do, but he saw Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and turned his attention to him. I’ll never forget the ghost-like face of that young, buff and friendly senator who I’ve interviewed countless times: When I asked if he knew what was going on, his lips didn’t move, only his feet.

By the time I got up to the third floor, my phone finally beat the spotty wireless service stemming from the masses, and it posted at 2:15pm ET.   

Like a fool, or like a journalist, I then ran to the East Front of the Capitol to see what the scene was like in between the Capitol and the Supreme Court. It wasn’t good, especially because one officer dutifully informed a few of us reporters that we weren’t allowed to record from the third floor of the Capitol – the very spot where dozens of marauders stormed through minutes later recording, breaking things and dangling from whatever they wanted, including the front edge of the balcony above the very seat from which then-Vice President Mike Pence had just been evacuated.

I’ve written about — or talked about — some of the other things I saw and felt, along with some of what the journalists huddled with me did to survive the hell thrust upon our home away from home, your Capitol. But I now realize I have more questions than answers, and I longed for the impeachment trial to answer some of them. That wasn’t meant to be.

Instead, Democrats melted into Republican hands and played mere softball. After threatening to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) in order to let the nation hear her account of a call between Trump and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy during the riot, Democrats capitulated to Trump’s lawyers and the conservative media machine that moved past the trial before it even reached the Senate.  

Her testimony, which was eventually included in the record, is that on Jan. 6, as McCarthy pleaded for assistance, the president ripped on congressional Republicans and subtly praised the rioters.

I’m in tears after having to write that – that a sitting American president encouraged rioters, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told his colleagues after voting to acquit Trump on Saturday — because it was once unfathomable to me and so many.

Let’s face it: Only nerds like me read the Congressional Record. So why did Democrats back down and take just the boring reading of an impassioned congresswoman’s account? Since she spoke out about what she was told by the Republican leader in the House, the Republican Congresswoman has already been threatened by the new, conspiratorial and anti-compassion ranks of the GOP – aka, Trump’s wing of the party.

It’s surely not about me, but as a reporter who was dubbed “the enemy” for some five years who was then trapped inside a ruthlessly planned attack, according to Trump’s own impeachment lawyer, on the heart of America – along with thousands of others — I personally want to hear from Herrera Beutler. But I’d rather hear from McCarthy himself. And I’d like to hear from Sen. Josh Hawley — a Missouri opportunist who many allege helped incite the mob (alongside Sen. Ted Cruz) after he clenched a foolhardy, alt-right fist to a mob that included self-declared white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and militiamen and women.

I also want to hear from then-Vice President Mike Pence. Under oath. He has thoughts and knowledge — or so we were led to believe. I long to know what they are, or if they even exist anymore after four years of being Trump’s caddie. Because it’s astounding he hasn’t answered many of the questions lingering to many of us on his own. Like, did he not have the head of his Secret Service detail contact the head of Trump’s detail? Or their command center? Or their bosses? Or their bosses bosses? Or their bosses Boss?

Hell, even bring in the former Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security and FBI.

Bring in Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Bring in the custodial staff who had to wipe up the bloodshed in the sacred Capitol. Bring in every single police officer who was at the Capitol that day. Bring in the congresswoman who clenched a pen in her hand as her last means of self-defense.

Bring in every intelligence agent who was on duty. Bring in the now disgraced former House and Senate parliamentarians (who should also be investigated; just ask any officer, lawmaker, staffer and grounds worker they brazenly endangered) — I know lots of reporters besides me wondering simple things, like why weren’t there any emergency escape hoods (supposedly they protect you for 30mins. after a dirty bomb hits. Supposedly…) in the Radio Television Correspondents Gallery? Or even why, in more than a decade working in that sprawling complex of a known international target, was I never offered a training on how to use those emergency escape hoods?

Hell, even bring in the former Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security and FBI. Why wait for a commission when you have constitutional subpoena power?

I have time to spare. Take a year for these proceedings if needed (the Senate controls the Senate’s schedule and can deal with coronavirus, the recession, mass incarceration, immigration, health care, the failed war on drugs, foreign policy, etc. in the middle of the night or on weekends — or on the Mondays and Fridays lawmakers usually spend on planes instead of legislating). That is, unless the Capitol falls again, and the rioters do what they said they would do “next time” and bring guns, and it’s clear to anyone who wants to see it that Jan. 6 was those people doing exactly what they said they were going to do for years.

I believed them before. Please, believe them now.

For those of us still learning how closely we came to whatever evil many of those rioters may have concocted for us on that dread-filled day, we just want closure. No, we need it. I know I do.

And I also know that this impeachment trial was the opposite of closure. It made me feel as if I don’t exist.

At least some of the rioters previously gave me personal death threats on social media: They recognize my humanity enough to want to snuff it out. Congress didn’t give me — and so many others — even that.

It was a made for TV (and fundraising) charade. Leaders on both sides of the political divide — a divide that, ironically enough, exists because of the utter lack of leadership displayed on both sides of the aisle for decades now — flashed their shiniest cards. Then they went home.

I want to go home already. I want my Capitol back. I want Your Capitol back. But that Capitol — our Capitol; what was once America’s beacon of hope, freedom and light to other nation’s — died on January 6th and then was buried on February 13th.

I’m writing this with a kitsch American flag mask next to me. It was given to me by a family member in December. It’s something I would never wear, just as I would never don a DON’T TREAD ON ME flag – or any flag, really (I wear collared shirts and ties, or I rock tees of my friend’s bands – true patriotism for the silent majority).

But on Jan. 6, when another reporter and I were venturing out of the attic where we all hid, I paused our rapid pace.

“We need to go,” the reporter I was accompanying to safety yelled.

He was right. We didn’t know if safety existed, because one officer had told us the Capitol had been secured and we could end our lock down, even as another quickly offered contradictory advice and through a pale, caring face told us: Don’t risk it. Hold tight.

But I had already entered survival mode. Besides the wrench and makeshift shank I had in my pockets earlier (the doorstop turned weapon still sits on my desk), I’d already torn my tie off, put my collared shirt in my bag, ripped the white undershirt so I could flash a tattoo I have on my chest, then put my collared shirt back on once we knew we’d likely be running into more officers than rioters and finally took a shot (or three…) of moonshine that I keep under my desk at the Capitol. Pure survival — anything to calm the explosion of contradictory nerves that were firing.

That’s why I stopped to rip a bright yellow Gadsden flag off the thick, Moses-like tree limb it was tied to. I then hid it in my coat pocket because I didn’t want officers to see me with it — Trump colors. But I also knew – for the first time in 15 years – that the Capitol Police were overwhelmed and may not be there to protect us.

I was fully prepared to exit the Capitol draped in that flag, because we longed to be anywhere else in the world than the building we love most in the world.

That’s why whenever I go to work now, besides a Wu-Tang Clan mask (patriotism comes in many forms), I always have the stupid Americana mask in my work bag — just in case I need makeshift camouflage to exit my office, your United States Capitol.

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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