What we saw and learned at the U.S. Capitol, White House last Jan. 6

NewsHour correspondents who were covering the events of last Jan. 6 include Lisa Desjardins, who was inside the Capitol, Amna Nawaz, who was outside the building as the crowd gathered, and Yamiche Alcindor, who was at the White House. They spoke with Judy Woodruff this week about how the country has changed in the year since.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we end this week of remembrance of the attack on the Capitol, we return to some familiar faces, our own "NewsHour" correspondents who were on duty covering the events of January 6, Lisa Desjardins, who was inside the Capitol, Amna Nawaz, who was outside the building as the crowd gathered, and Yamiche Alcindor, who was at the White House.

    The four of us spoke last year in the days following the insurrection for our podcast "America, Interrupted."

    And when we came together again earlier this week, we talked about how the country has changed in the year since.

    Lisa, let me start with you.

    You were inside the Capitol — I remember it vividly — as the rioters broke through the glass in those doors. You were eyewitness to the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in 200 years.

    From a political standpoint, Lisa, it looks like a much more partisan place. What does it feel like from the inside?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I didn't think that the Capitol could get more partisan than after the 2020 election ended in 2020, but it has.

    And I also have to say, a year ago, we all felt these palpable, very raw emotions from lawmakers right after January 6. And I knew they would continue. I thought they would continue February, March, April, Democrats just seething with anger.

    Democrats who don't usually express this kind of anger were saying things like this to me, that they couldn't look at Republicans, couldn't even get in an elevator with some of the Republicans who had objected to the election. I was sure that that would wane by the end of the summer, and I have to say, it really didn't.

    It continued through the fall, as we saw some Republicans increase their rhetoric on the other side.

    I will say, just this one holiday break, this past holiday break, I have sensed in my phone calls with lawmakers finally a little bit of breathing and a little bit of relaxing of that anger. But I just don't know what's going to happen when they return to Washington.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    And, Yamiche, you were at the White House. You were on the lawn as all this was unfolding at the Capitol. You were trying to stay in contact with then-Trump administration officials on the inside.

    How has our understanding of what then-President Trump was doing during all of this, how has that evolved and changed over the last year?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, Judy, I do remember standing on the White House lawn and watching people break into the U.S. Capitol.

    The president was watching it all unfold on TV, like so many other Americans. And he was, in some ways, both enjoying the idea that his supporters had taken his lie about the election being stolen so seriously that they were breaking into the Capitol to sort of defend his lie, his idea of what should be happening in this moment, but he was also, in some ways, fearful, because there was real violence happening.

    The president's lie has metastasized. It's grown all across the GOP. And now you have GOP lawmakers, elected officials who at first were outraged, who at first were telling me that the president had gone too far, they have now all sort of fallen in line.

    So, the president, the former president, has continued to lie about the election, continued to say that the election was stolen. And his power that seemed to be teetering, that seemed to be almost coming to an end on January 6, it's only grown and grown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then, Amna, you were outside the Capitol. You were talking to the protesters and others outside, watching as all of this unfolded.

    Recollect for us some of the language you were hearing from them, and talk about how that's evolved in the year since.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, in terms of everyone we talked to outside that day, there was one thing everyone had in common, and that was that they believed the election lie, they believed that the election had been stolen.

    Beyond that, in terms of rhetoric, it was really a mishmash. I mean, there were conspiracy theorists out there waving QAnon flags. There were anti-vaxxers and COVID deniers who harassed me and our team for wearing masks out there. They were far-right extremists. They were white nationalists, white supremacists openly wearing the insignias of these groups and walking around.

    And it was this overlapping, this sort of toxic brew of ideological beliefs and personal grievances that really caught a lot of people by surprise and caught a lot of national security and counterterrorism experts by surprise at the time too. They hadn't seen it before.

    Well, how much has that changed in the year since? Not much. If anything, it's gotten worse. I mean, we know the potency of that election lie that millions of people still believe. We know where we are with anti-vaxxers and COVID deniers.

    And we also know where we are with the larger threat to the U.S. from some of those groups. Those blending of beliefs, experts say, is more volatile than ever. The top two lethal threats, domestic threats to the U.S. today are violent white supremacists and anti-government extremists, and those remain the top concerns for counterterrorism officials.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in terms of holding people accountable, we have seen over 700 people arrested, charged in connection with the assault on the Capitol.

    Lisa, you have a firsthand connection with this. What is it, two of the people who were following you inside the Capitol have been sentenced in the last week or so.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    And, Judy, I didn't know that I was being followed until this summer, when the Department of Justice contacted me and said, we see on video that two of the rioters followed you for a significant distance.

    Those two, two men from Pennsylvania, were just sentenced this week, and their attorneys were both asking that they be given no more than one day in jail. This was their first offense for both of them. Neither of them harmed anyone when they were in the building. They did pick up some papers, some congressional papers at some point, and put them down.

    And that is one of the things the judge said was serious. The judge did give them 30 days in jail, which was a disappointment to their attorneys. But the judge said, it is not enough to say that you just wandered into the building, or you didn't mean to be there, or you wished you could have left, or that you regret it.

    The judge was very strong, and said, this was an attack on our democracy, and I cannot condone this kind of mob violence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of the language we heard from these rioters that day, clearly, there were racist elements to it.

    Yamiche, we have talked over the past year about how that language has persisted and how it's played into what was already a fraught controversy, conflict in our in our nation, across our nation, over racial justice.

    How do you see that coming together a year later?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, a year later, the language that we saw used at this attack on the Capitol has sort of spread and deepened across our country.

    We had seen really an evolving of the conversation on race, where we saw, of course, the murder of George Floyd and the swelling of this idea that America really needed to be better when it came to not only policing Americans, but also the way that we talk about justice and race.

    And there's been a big backlash to that movement. And what we seen really is that January 6 was not the end of something, but it was really the beginning of this ugly phase.

    So, we have really seen a lot of people, I think, twisting the idea of pushing for racial equality in this country and making excuses, frankly, for the people who broke into the Capitol. And that has been detrimental, I think, to our democracy. And that continues to be the case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amna, I want you to pick up on that, because this notion of how we use language with racist overtones and just arguments over what word to use about what happened on January the 6th, the words to use, whether it's white supremacy, whether it's insurrection vs. a coup, all of these things are — have not only been — they have filtered out into the public discourse.

    But there are things that journalists have had to think about.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's absolutely right, Judy.

    I think it's important to point out that some of those forces that we confronted face to face that day on the Capitol grounds have always represented some of the biggest threats to people of color and to marginalized people in this country.

    And it was a mostly white crowd who had openly talked about bringing violence to the Capitol that day, who authorities did not see as a threat, who felt entitled to storm a federal property and try to overturn a democratic process because they were angry.

    And I think we have all done this long enough to know what that response would have been if that had been a crowd of all Black people or all brown people or all Muslim people or all immigrants.

    And this kind of organized eruption really laid bare what so many of us have long known and lived, which is that white anger is seen differently here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to close by asking each one of you to think about what stays with you, what sticks in your mind as you go back and you think about that day.


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think one that stays with me — this is going to sound so corny — there are two things — it's just the walking away from the Capitol that night.

    We were there until 3:00, 4:00 in the morning for the election to finish, and it was so important for all of us to stay there. And I just — I think about that image, and it was just — I just have such faith in the Capitol.

    Sorry. I'm getting emotional.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one year later.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think I just had — it was just — it's a beautiful place.

    And I really — walking away from the Capitol that night, looking at it, I just remember that feeling of faith in our Constitution and in that building.

    And one more thing. Someone loaned me a phone charger at a critical moment, and that is something I will always hold on to. It is my lucky phone charger.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, for you, what memory stays most with you?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The memory that sticks most with me watching the Capitol being attacked is that sense of entitlement that these white protesters had, to break in.

    And I kept picturing what it might have been like had these people been the protesters that I covered so closely in Ferguson, the Black people that were demanding justice and police accountability. It's very easy to see those people being shot, frankly, dead on the steps of the Capitol if they were Black or brown or immigrants.

    And to see some of some of the white protesters walk away with their lives, I think it's something that sticks with me, because, to me, it taught a lesson of who could be outraged, who could break into the Capitol and keep their lives, and who are the people who, if they stand peacefully on a street and demand justice, they might die just for asking peacefully for respect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Amna, what stays with you?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Judy, as you know, I spent years as a war correspondent, a conflict reporter overseas, parachuting in and out of places where, quite frankly, scenes like this were expected.

    And I said on the day — and it is still true — that I never expected to see that scene unfold in my own home country, but also on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

    And I think what last year has shown me is that, while America is absolutely unique as a nation with its democracy, it is not immune from a lot of those same forces that can wear away and tear away and eat away at foundational parts of our democracy. And that includes journalism, right, a free a free and fair press.

    So I think what I carry with me, what sticks with me is really just this — the sense of duty to continue to not just report on everything we see and to bear witness, but also to remind people about what's at stake.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the three of you were absolutely essential to the "NewsHour"'s reporting on that historic — tragic and historic day in America, so we cannot thank you enough for what you did on that day, and the reporting ever since, and, of course, right up until right now.

    So, I want to thank you, Lisa Desjardins, Amna Nawaz.

    And, Yamiche Alcindor, this is your last program as a "NewsHour" correspondent, White House correspondent. You are leaving us to go on to NBC News.

    We wish you the very best. We're going to miss you. You have contributed so much to the work of this program. But we will miss you.

    And we thank you, all three. Thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you so much, Judy.

    It's been an honor to work and report with you and so many others on this program.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you. Thank you all.

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