DENVER – Reflecting on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists, Colorado’s Democratic members of Congress say protecting the democratic process and preventing another insurrection should be of the utmost importance to every Coloradan.
Thursday marks a year since a violent group of people — spurred by false notions that former President Donald Trump had actually won an election he lost, which were spread by Trump and some others in the Republican party — stormed through police barricades, attacked officers, and broke into the Capitol building as Congress was preparing to certify Joe Biden as the rightful winner of the Electoral College ballots and presidential vote.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., presided over the House Thursday as members talked about their experiences on the day the Capitol was stormed and in the year since, and he spoke with reporters at a roundtable earlier this week about his own experience and what could be done moving forward. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also spoke on the Senate floor Thursday.
“We really are at a crossroads at this moment in time in our history. And really, it’s calling for action by all concerned citizens, by all Americans to reaffirm our commitment to democracy,” Crow told reporters Wednesday of what he hopes to accomplish as he pushes for action to stand up to “The Big Lie” – the false notion that Trump won the 2020 election – and other anti-democratic efforts across the country.
Crow was one of several House members trapped inside the House gallery when the mob invaded the Capitol, making their way to just outside the House doors, which were barricaded by police and lawmakers in the moments before the Capitol breachers arrived. Photos of him helping protect and comfort a fellow lawmaker were seen around the world. The group of lawmakers was eventually escorted by police to a safe room in the Capitol. Crow pushed for investigations into the attack in the days and weeks after.
Crow said he continues to process the experience a year later, thinking about the Confederate battle flag being marched through the Capitol halls, realizing that some of the insurrectionists were fellow veterans (Seventy-three veterans have been charged in the insurrection, according to the GWU Program on Extremism), and coming to terms with the notion that people loyal to President Trump wanted to overthrow the election results and continue to push the same narrative today.
“It illustrates to me the level of division and vitriol coursing through our nation, in our community, and how divided and tribal we have become in the severe challenges that we are facing – and overcoming that toxicity and that division,” the 6th Congressional District congressman said. “It leaves us facing a challenge that we certainly haven’t faced in my lifetime, if not several lifetimes, and an existential one that our democracy is facing a surging domestic violent extremist movement and a movement that’s dedicated to the use of violence to achieve political ends.”
To try and turn those tides, Crow said he would be working on a “Democracy in Action Toolkit” for how people can get more involved in elections and support the democratic process through public and civic service, and working on a resolution to designate Jan. 6 as “Democracy Day.”
“This is a call to action by Americans and Coloradans to stand up and say, let’s figure out what we have to do to prevent this from ever happening,” Crow said. “Let’s figure out — how do we lower the temperature? How do we stop this surge of extremism? How do we reduce the division that is gripping our families, our neighborhoods, our communities?”
Crow also acknowledged that won’t be easy as polarized as the nation has become and as many in the Republican party continue to push for anti-democratic legislation and for Trump to continue being the de-facto leader of the party.
“We’ve always had hate and hate groups in America. This is different. This is different because it’s been allowed to [go] mainstream and grow in a way that it never has before. And the reason that that’s happening is because you have people at the highest levels of the land, you have members of Congress, you have the former president, you have others that are legitimizing it, that are normalizing it, that are inciting. And that is a very nefarious and dangerous trend that we’re facing,” said the congressman.
Crow said he recalled in the hours and days after the Capitol was cleared, and Biden was certified as the next president in the early hours of Jan. 7, how there was a brief moment when some Republicans had condemned the events of Jan. 6 as well as Trump and his false claims about the election. He remembers House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., thanking him by name for helping protect the House chambers.
“There was this sense momentarily that the fever would break, that we would take an off-ramp, if you will, in a different path. And I was momentarily hopeful,” he said. “Unfortunately, that hope did not last long, as I saw folks capitulate to President Trump and fall further into his spell and the fear that he has used to grip so much of his party. So that poses an extreme danger because that means that the checks and balances and the normal protections in our democracy against this level of extremism are crumbling.”
Crow said he was disappointed in the Republican House members from Colorado for not voting to impeach Trump and said their lack of doing so “may have breathed some additional air into The Big Lie.”
Republican Reps. Ken Buck and Lauren Boebert have not commented publicly Thursday on the Jan. 6 anniversary. Rep. Doug Lamborn sent a tweet in which he said, “Comparing Jan 6 to Pearl Harbor & 9/11 is repugnant & totally non-comparable.”
Bennet, in his floor speech Thursday, continued to hit on the point that some Republicans continue to push the lie about the election results a year later.
“There shouldn’t have even been a surprise about the results in the election. There was little reason for suspense. And it’s tragic that a year later we still have to come here and say Joe Biden won the election, and he did by any fair study of what happened that day,” Bennet said. “…And [Trump] still claims the election was stolen, even though there is no evidence that that’s true.”
Bennet said that has resulted in hundreds of local and state laws nationwide that cut down on voting access. He pointed to Colorado as the model for upholding democracy through elections. But he said now was a momentous point in deciding the future of the republic.
“I think one needs to ask oneself – even people that support President Trump – what future does the ‘stop the steal’ movement imagine for our country? What future do they imagine for this democracy where every election is going to be contested, where political violence replaces the ballot box, where elections are discerned by strong men, not votes?” he said.
Bennet said Colorado’s elections model should be replicated across the country and said he believed the way Colorado has come together in the wake of the devastating Marshall Fire last week for the victims shows that bridging the division is possible.
“This is our choice. We either save this democracy, which I believe we will, or we let it go. And it’s going to be on us. And if we let it go, generations of Americans are going to indict us for that,” Bennet said. “And if we save it, I think they’ll celebrate the work that we did here just as we celebrate the work of the people that came before us, that made our country more democratic, more fair and more free.”
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said she believed the second impeachment of Trump, which followed the Jan. 6 events and for which DeGette served as an impeachment manager, achieved “the primary goal” of showing the depth of the attack on the Capitol.
“Our democracy has been tested in ways that it’s never been before,” she said in a statement. “As Americans, it’s now up to each and every one of us to do our part to protect it, and to strengthen it, and to ensure that no rogue president can ever threaten the foundation of our country — free and fair elections — again.”
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., who also served as an impeachment manager in Trump's second impeachment, said in an interview on CNN Thursday that last Jan. 6 was a surreal day and that it was a tough question in terms of whether the country is in a better or worse place than a year ago.
Today I am in Washington D.C. with my colleagues as we reflect on the terrible events that unfolded on January 6th.— Rep. Joe Neguse (@RepJoeNeguse) January 6, 2022
Only together, in unity, can we defend our democracy and our Republic. pic.twitter.com/zINCRxaYq2
“There are many of us who are deeply concerned, myself included, about the disinformation and the misinformation, the lies that have only metastasized since Jan. 6, and that should give us great cause for concern,” he said. “At the same time, I drive great strength from knowing that at the end of the day on Jan. 6, those who tried to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power ultimately failed.”
Neguse added that the question now is if the bedrock principles of free and fair elections will hold up in the U.S. in the future.
In a tweet, Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., called Jan. 6, 2021, a “dark day” for the country.
“The violent mob that stormed the Capitol showed how fragile our democracy is,” he said. “The endurance of our nation rests on our shoulders.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., shared similar sentiments as the other Colorado Democrats in needing to uphold free elections and the democratic process. He pushed for the Senate to pass the House-passed John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is still awaiting a Senate vote.
“While we preserved our democracy that day, efforts continue across the country to undermine and interfere with Americans’ right to vote, free and fair elections, and our democratic way of life,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “…As Republicans continue to litigate and lament the 2020 election, we must also work to make the U.S. Capitol complex more secure for the thousands of people who work there as well as support the work of the January 6th Select Committee as they shine a light about the true events of that day and to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.”
Fourteen people who either live in Colorado or who traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Jan. 6 events from Colorado have been charged in federal court with crimes related to the attack on the Capitol that day. Two of them have already pleaded guilty. They are: Hunter Palm, Timothy Williams, Patrick Montgomery, Klete Keller (pleaded guilty), Logan Grover, Robert Gieswein, Glen Wes Lee Croy (pleaded guilty), Jacob Clark, Jeffrey Sabol, Daniel Morrissey, Thomas Patrick Hamner, Avery MacCracken, Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr., and Lisa Homer.