The footage was more violent, more mind-bending than any prime-time crime show on the network. And it was real.
Video footage capturing the furious anger and violence of the mob ransacking the United States Congress provided a vivid and visceral picture of the 2021 insurrection on Capitol Hill.
Dozens of journalists, politicians and congressional staffers crammed into the Capitol’s stately Cannon Caucus Room Thursday for the first hearings on the Jan. 6 committee’s findings, their feverish chatter quickly turning to stunned silence as speeches opening ceremonies were followed by a video of the riots unfolding on a giant screen
A minute-by-minute visual breakdown, much of it made up of new footage, served as a painful reminder of the chaos that unfolded as a mob attempted to disrupt lawmakers’ formal vote to transfer power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
The committee showed the moment when the crowd, encouraged by members of the neo-fascist Proud Boys, overwhelmed the police on the perimeter of the Capitol complex, knocking down barricades as they went.
Police officers were seen desperately and unsuccessfully trying to keep the crowd at bay as rioters climbed up scaffolding, hurling chairs and eventually storming the halls of Congress.
The public gallery sat spellbound, watching graphic images of clashes that could have turned into a far greater tragedy had lawmakers not been evacuated.
Some people in public seats looked away at times, but many held up their phones to record the footage as hordes of rioters, some in tactical gear, were seen entering the Capitol through broken windows and other breached entry points.
The video juxtaposed footage of insurgents storming the compound from outside with footage of the mob roaming the Capitol, and video and audio of Trump lashing out at the crowd beforehand and praising the mob afterward.
‘Blood, sweat and tears’
US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards also gave an account of the violence, in which she suffered a concussion when she hit her head on the steps of the Capitol after being run over by the rising mob.
She spoke of her “literal blood, sweat, and tears…shed that day defending the building in which I spent countless holidays and weekends working.”
Roughly the size of two tennis courts, its gilt walls adorned with floor-to-ceiling Corinthian pillars lit by crystal chandeliers, the spacious and masterful Cannon Caucus Room in an annex to the main Capitol building is designed to inspire awe.
Just feet from the main Capitol building in downtown Washington, it was the venue for House anti-American activity hearings in 1948 during the Soviet “reds under the bed” moral panic and, more recently, Trump’s first impeachment hearings.
The former president, who remains the closest thing Republicans have to an official party leader, was not present when lawmakers made their case that he was to blame for the insurrection that left five dead in January 2021, just the other side of the street.
However, his presence was almost palpable on the “opening night” of what is sure to be a summer of blockbuster audiences.
Viewers had become part of the story when the rigid-named Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol opened its case, and the story did not disappoint.
The meticulously staged, made-for-television session was the panel’s first opportunity to show the public what they have learned from more than 1,000 witness interviews and 140,000 documents.
Its central mission has been to assess the catalysts for the violence of an unprecedented day in history.
But investigators were also tasked with assessing the extent of Trump’s many suspect attempts to cling to power and how they played into the bloodshed.
There were excerpts from taped interviews with the Trump administration and campaign officials who told members of Trump’s inner circle that there was no justification for nullifying the election.
Trump Attorney General Bill Barr was shown telling investigators that the defeated president’s fraud claims involving rigged voting machines were “all nonsense.”
Trump’s eldest daughter and former aide, Ivanka Trump, was shown speaking for the first time about the fraud claims, saying she “accepted” Barr’s rebuttal of the false accusations.
With no real prosecutorial powers (the Justice Department is conducting a parallel criminal investigation), the panel sees its job as convicting Trump in the court of public opinion.
This may not be much of an effort, since the question of Trump’s criminality has already been partially resolved, by a landmark ruling in March by a federal judge who said it was “more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the joint session. of Congress on January 6.”
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” he said.