Jan 6, 2022 - News

1 year later: How the Capitol insurrection changed Washington D.C.

Workers remove security fencing around the U.S. Capitol six months after the riots of Jan. 6, 2020.
Workers remove security fencing around the U.S. Capitol in July. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection left violent scars across the nation's capital, leading many who live and work in the District to forever rethink security.

Why it matters: The attack left scores of Capitol workers traumatized, and the difficult memories have led some Capitol Hill residents to contemplate leaving the neighborhood altogether.

  • María Helena Carey thinks about the attack every time she walks past the Capitol. “Of course you think about it, right?” said the 45-year-old co-owner of the blog "The Hill is Home." “It's no longer kind of something that you take for granted.”
  • For the U.S. Capitol Police, the attack shifted how the force will use intelligence about potential violence. Local and federal officials are optimistic about advancements made in law enforcement preparations, but they stress it’s still early days.
  • The day still haunts a wide range of people inside the Capitol, from legislative staffers to workers who keep the building up-and-running.

What they’re saying: “I don’t think anybody in America experienced it the same way as those of us who live closest to the Capitol,” said Ward 6 council member Charles Allen, who represents the neighborhood.

  • “On 9/11, I can tell you incredibly vivid, specific memories over the course of that day,” said Allen, who lives three blocks from the Capitol and recalls consoling his 8- and 4-year-old children about what happened on the night of the 1/6 attacks. “I think January 6 is the same.”

Capitol Hill resident Lindsay Bonnano remembers how “eerily quiet” it became once the insurrection ended.

  • “I cried. I was doing ‘Dry January.’ That did not last,” the 38-year-old told Axios. “What made it worse, with Covid, I was avoiding people. It was a very isolating time.”
  • Bonnano says she now feels safe, but unnerving moments can strike. “A few months ago when that guy drove up to the Library of Congress [in a truck with a bomb threat], that kind of hit again,” she said. “It comes back very quickly.”

In other ways, the mob of Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6 didn’t permanently alter the tight-knit neighborhood of rowhouses, small shops, and families who call the Capitol lawn their backyard.

  • An attempt to dramatically expand the security perimeter around the U.S. Capitol failed.
  • Residents and local leaders banded together — with bipartisan support in Congress — to scuttle the U.S. Capitol Police chief’s proposal to “harden this campus.”
  • Just this week, kids and families were back sledding on the Capitol’s hill.
Children sled on the U.S. Capitol front lawn with the building in the background
Children sled on the U.S. Capitol front lawn on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images.

Between the lines: No progress has been made in gaining local autonomy for the District, even though the attack highlighted how powerless local officials felt during the breach.

  • Leaders saw a ripe opportunity for Congress to give the city control over the District of Columbia National Guard. It’s a right other states have, but Mayor Muriel Bowser had to wait over three hours before local troops got approval from the Army to assist at the Capitol.
  • Today, legislation to give D.C. control over its Guard and local representation on the Capitol police board have floundered in Congress.
  • “The worst-case scenario — of our inability to control our own National Guard — played out in front of Congress, and they still can’t find a way to give the District the authority,” Allen said. “Just absolutely shameful.”

While memories of Jan. 6 are still fresh for many on Capitol Hill, some long-time residents shrug it off as a one-time catastrophe.

  • Phillip Bush, a 91-year-old retired Navy captain, said he felt adequately distant from the riot that day — even though he lived two blocks away.
  • “It was all at the Capitol building,” he said, walking up his front steps on Tuesday. A conservative who said he has lived in the same house for six decades, he disagreed that it was an assault on democracy, but helped provide meals for National Guard troops during the four-and-a-half months they guarded the Capitol.

But for District resident Monica Sharp, the violence and disbelief turned her away from visiting for months the capital city’s iconic landmarks.

  • “It lost its allure — the National Mall and the Capitol Building,” she said.
  • Nowadays, the sight of the Capitol building reminds her more of the heroic defense of democracy than of the insurrectionists.
  • “I'm more accepting of the fact that it happened,” the 34-year-old said. “I'm proud of the people who did try to stop it. I'm proud of those people.”
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