News outlets are publishing more and more videos, photos and testimonials from Wednesday’s pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill. And it’s becoming clear that as heinous as the attack looked in real time, on live TV and in our social feeds, it was even worse than we knew then.
It was even more violent. It was even more treacherous. And Trump’s behavior was even more disturbing.
On Wednesday we witnessed history through a handful of soda straws, to borrow a metaphor from the 2003 Iraq invasion. Journalists bravely covered the riot in real time and deserve enormous credit for doing so. But in the fog of chaos, it was impossible to see the full picture as it was happening. The public didn’t find out that a US Capitol Police officer was gravely wounded until Thursday, for example. Officer Brian D. Sicknick died Thursday night, and federal prosecutors have now opened a homicide investigation.
As is the case with many traumatic events, it has taken some time for the reality to sink in. “I was in the crowd and didn’t realise how bad it was until a day or two after,” reporter Richard Hall of The Independent, a British newspaper, tweeted Saturday.
Reconstructions of the events and follow-up reporting by news organizations are bringing it into focus.
CNN aired a horrifying video Friday night, first published by investigative outlet Status Coup, showing a police officer pinned between a door and the mob. The officer screamed in agony.
There are all sorts of practical reasons why these scenes weren’t shown live on Wednesday. Inside the Capitol, many correspondents were locked down and shepherded to secure locations along with lawmakers. For more on the absolute terror of this ordeal, read NBC reporter Haley Talbot’s account from inside the House chamber.
On the outside, some reporters had a hard time getting news out because wireless towers were overwhelmed. Additionally, some news crews were threatened by groups of Trump supporters, making the working conditions even more difficult.
Some of the TV live shots on Wednesday afternoon were from a distance, by necessity, and the most important live cameras of all — inside the House and Senate chambers — were turned off by the respective legislative bodies. So the world only saw snippets of the riot in real time.
Think back to your own processing of Wednesday’s events: A handful of chaotic videos on social media stunned the world, and immediately confirmed that the police had lost control. But the views were limited and time-delayed. Information came in bit by bit in ways that harkened back to 9/11.
There was so much news that it was hard to process: Reports of explosive devices, an armed standoff, a shooting and evacuations. Viewers were able to see some of it with their own eyes, but most of the information was secondhand, from tweets and phone calls and emailed dispatches from congressional reporters, many of them locked in the Capitol..
Only later did it become clear that lawmakers feared for their lives; that some of the attackers were hunting for congressional leaders; that there could have been a massacre.
On Wednesday “the images broadcast were largely not the most horrifying ones of the day,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said Friday night. “Much of what we saw — silly costumes, people taking selfies, grabbing the speaker’s lectern — looked like of kind a group that might even attend a Trump boat parade. But there was something way, way darker, more violent, more sinister, and more organized happening in that Capitol on Wednesday. And it’s time we see it clearly.”
On the internet, Hayes’ segment was titled “Must-see new video shows Capitol riot was way worse than we thought.”
He pointed out that “it is entirely possible that there were people in that crowd, looking to apprehend, possibly harm, and possibly murder the leaders of the political class that the President, and people like Mo Brooks, and even to a certain extent Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, have told them have betrayed them.”
It understandably took some time for journalists to digest what they’d witnessed and ingest their video from the Capitol. The Washington Post, for instance, produced a video titled “What it was like to report from a Capitol under siege.”
The fuller videos that came out on Thursday and Friday provided much more detail. The Daily podcast from The New York Times played audio clips of rioters chanting “Where’s Mike Pence? Where’s Mike Pence? Where is Mike Pence? Find Mike Pence.”
Progressive writer Mike Konczal, a director at the Roosevelt Institute, tweeted on Friday, “That the occupation of the Capitol was far more violent, and had the capacity for far more violence, than I understood while it was happening is the most jarring thing I’ve learned about the putsch over the subsequent days. It’s terrifying.”
As for the president and his behavior, CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty, Devan Cole and Alex Rogers revealed on Friday that Trump “tried to call senators” and pressure them to overturn the election even as the riot was raging.
Something else that was even worse than we knew at the time: The attacks against members of the media. Erin Schaff of The New York Times later described what happened when the mob saw her Times ID. “They threw me to the floor, trying to take my cameras. I started screaming for help as loudly as I could,” she said. “No one came. People just watched. At this point, I thought I could be killed and no one would stop them. They ripped one of my cameras away from me, broke a lens on the other and ran away.” She fled and found a place to hide.
Having a full accounting of what happened, and how, is vital. After I wrote about this subject in Friday night’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California responded on Twitter, “We have already learned and will continue to learn that what happened on Jan 6, Insurrection Day, is even worse than we knew.” Lieu then called for action: “Congress’ response cannot simply be giving speeches with gravitas. Unless Trump resigns or is removed through the 25th Amendment, we must impeach.”
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for free here.