By Matthew Reagan
In a recent conversation with the Boulevard Sentinel, Jimmy Gomez, NELA’s Congressmember, described his experiences during the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 — and his hope for the future.
For Gomez, the way forward starts with accountability. A week after the attack, with scenes of the siege vivid in his memory, he joined a bipartisan House majority in voting to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection.
That same week, he signed on as one of 47 original co-sponsors to a resolution by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo) calling for an investigation by the Ethics committee into whether House members who sought to overturn the election should be expelled over their role in fomenting the attack. The resolution, which now has 54 co-sponsors, cites the Fourteenth Amendment barring anyone who has engaged in disloyalty or sedition against the U.S. from serving in the House of Representatives.
Gomez told the Sentinel that on the day of the riot, he was watching the proceedings on the House floor from the gallery as sounds of footsteps and shouting began to reach the chamber. He watched as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), who had just finished a speech challenging the election results, was whisked away by security. “I was really annoyed by that,” said Gomez, referring to the swift evacuation of a Member who echoed the attackers’ baseless voter-fraud claims, while lawmakers in the gallery who were there to uphold the election had, for the time being, no escape.
As the sounds of the mob grew louder, the chamber locked down. Gomez heard police orders to hit the ground and what he believed were flashbangs or gunshots just outside. While on the ground, lawmakers searched under their seats for gas masks and struggled to tear them from their packaging. Amid the chaos, Gomez said he ripped open the packaging for Rep. Susan Wild, (D-Pa) who was seen in a viral photo being assisted by Rep. Jason Crow (D-Co) with Gomez partially visible behind Crow. Clutching a gas mask in one hand and his phone in the other, Gomez texted his wife saying he was trying to get out of the Capitol. “I didn’t want to say, you know, ‘I’m on the ground and we’re trapped,’ to worry her,” Gomez said.
Disorder growing by the minute, Gomez recalls the police moving the chamber’s wooden furniture to barricade the doors. Mentally, Gomez began to prepare for the event that rioters could breach the chamber. “I was just watching and I thought to myself, ‘If they’re coming in, I don’t want to look like a member of Congress.’ I took off my jacket because I had a lapel pin and made it into a ball. I took off my tie and put it in my pocket,” Gomez said.
Minutes later, the police instructed lawmakers to run out the far door of the chamber, said Gomez. He remembers running through discarded gas-mask packaging and helping others contend with several railings they had to navigate on the way to the secure location.
Once in the secure room, another threat emerged as some Republican representatives refused to wear face masks, said Gomez. (Since Jan. 6, four Democratic representatives who have tested positive for COVID-19 have said they believed they were exposed during the attack on the Capitol.)
In Gomez’s view, change for the better will require “Democrats and Republicans of good conscience [to] put their country before party or political ambitions.” He is hopeful, he said, that an attack of this nature will be a catalyst for that change but realizes that even now, there’s resistance to working across the aisle. “Republicans like the new QAnon supporters, like Marjorie Taylor Greene [R-Ga], we’re never going to get them,” he said. “So we have a lot of work to do.”
Matthew Reagan, a senior at Occidental College, is a founding member of the NELA Neighborhood Reporting Partnership, a collaboration between the Boulevard Sentinel and The Occidental campus newspaper.