Rep. Meijer: I experienced the heinous assault on Capitol; now, time to face reality
On Wednesday afternoon in the House Chamber, I assured a colleague we were in the most secure possible place as we unpacked gas masks.
Tear gas had been deployed after violent protestors stormed the rotunda, but as we took cover under bulletproof chairs I assured my colleague we would be fine. After all, there had been incidents in the past, but Capitol Police had maintained control over the seat of our democracy since 1814.
The mob then rushed the barricaded doors to the chamber, trying to break them down. The illusion of security, of the sanctity of our constitutional order, collapsed. With guns drawn, police ordered us to evacuate, leading to chaos as we fled down corridors and into the tunnels beneath Capitol Hill. Several times our group of lawmakers found ourselves alone, with no police escort, fearful of what threats might lie around the next corner.
We eventually took shelter in a committee hearing room, coming to grips with the appalling assault on our democracy we had suffered first-hand. Some rioters were armed, and at least one carried flex-cuffs to take hostages. Pipe bombs were discovered and neutralized. Outside the Capitol, a gallows with a noose for our necks had been assembled. It was clear Capitol Police had underestimated the threat, but they were not alone.
I was one of the few Republicans who had already acknowledged Joe Biden as president-elect, and earlier in the week I had joined a handful of GOP colleagues in noting our constitutional responsibility to certify the Electoral College results. We had seen calls on the far right for the vice president to pull an imaginary “Pence Card” and overturn the election results.
To the fringe, Vice President Mike Pence’s failure to seize fictional powers was tantamount to treason and there were suggestions Pence be put to death. While the Capitol was being assaulted by his supporters who were duped into believing the election was in fact a landslide victory and the true results could be overturned, Trump egged on these violent delusions.
Before the assault, Trump had addressed the crowd and urged his loyalists to march on the Capitol, “to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones … give them the pride and boldness they need to take back our country.”
They took something alright. Hours later, after the Capitol was cleared of insurrectionists, with windows shattered and the smell of tear gas lingering, the consequences of his dangerous lies became clear. As we moved to accept Arizona’s electors, a fellow freshman lingered near a voting terminal, voting card in hand.
My colleague told me that efforts to overturn the election were wrong, and that voting to certify was a constitutional duty. But my colleague feared for family members, and the danger the vote would put them in. Profoundly shaken, my colleague voted to overturn.
An angry mob succeeded in threatening at least one member of Congress from performing what that member understood was a constitutional responsibility.
Worse yet, while a dead woman’s blood dried mere feet from our chamber, other Republican colleagues doubled down, repeating lies of a stolen election, baselessly deflecting blame for the Capitol assault from Trump loyalists to Antifa, doing whatever they could to justify, equivocate, rationalize or otherwise avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
Blood has been spilled, and those who encouraged this insurrection are in too deep.
Those of us who refused to cower, who have told the truth, have suffered the consequences. Republican colleagues who have spoken out have been accosted on the street, received death threats, and even assigned armed security.
I have been called a traitor more times than I can count. I regret not bringing my gun to D.C.
It didn’t have to end like this, with five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. This should be a moment of reckoning for the country as a whole, and the conservative movement in particular.
If the Republican party ever hopes to regain the public’s trust and lead the country forward after this heinous assault, it must first be honest with itself.
Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, represents Michigan's 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.