As the Jan. 6 Committee continues its work, “Four Hours at the Capitol” presents a methodical, up-close-and-personal tick-tock of the insurrection, exposing what a chaotic, strange and yes, violent day that was. Interviewing members of Congress, police and protestors/rioters, it’s a visceral account of what transpired through the eyes – and cameras – of those swept up in the moment.
Directed by Jamie Roberts and produced by Dan Reed (“Leaving Neverland”) in association with the BBC, the documentary draws on both personal testimony and an assortment of footage, some previously unseen, reflecting how quickly the police found the situation spiraling out of control.
“I still haven’t made sense of it,” Metropolitan police officer Michael Fanone – who testified before Congress in July – recalls, while Capitol police discuss the grueling process of at some points 40 or 50 of them trying to fend off thousands of angry rioters.
Video captures one of the rioters lighting up a joint inside the Capitol Rotunda (“Because I can,” he explains to a videographer), while the crowd ominously chants “Nancy” in a sing-song manner, indicative of the potential threat to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Democratic lawmakers interviewed discuss their plans for fighting back had they been forced to do so. They also recall their concerns about the message that would be sent if they were compelled to evacuate the scene, determined to demonstrate that a violent attempt to disrupt the process wouldn’t succeed.
Some Republicans interviewed also question the optics of what happened from a political perspective, with Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia calling the breach “stupid,” contending that in terms of public opinion at that point, “We were winning the moral wars.”
The cameras don’t indicate much concern about morality from those storming the building, exposing the violent nature of the encounter, the injuries sustained by police and the way the crowd responded, finally, when then-President Trump sent a video message telling them to leave.
“Trump has asked everybody to go home!” Jacob Chansley, a.k.a. the QAnon Shaman, can be heard shouting in one clip.
Perhaps what comes through most vividly, beyond the sheer chaos that day, is the simmering anger that many legislators and others still feel, as well as their lingering shock that such a lapse could have taken place. “It just never occurred to me that a mob would get into the Capitol building,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) says.
The deftly curated video also conveys the absurdity of those who have sought to deny or downplay the danger that existed, such as Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) having at one point compared Jan. 6 to a “normal tourist visit.”
“Four Hours at the Capitol” might be unlikely to change many hearts or minds, but watching the evidence months removed from the heat of the moment and the chaos that unfolded live on TV makes it difficult to entertain arguments that the media has overblown or misrepresented those images.
While the committee is still seeking to identify and expose the roots of Jan. 6 and “the Big Lie,” “Four Hours” presents a spare and painstaking illustration of precisely where those tendrils lead.
“Four Hours at the Capitol” premieres Oct. 20 at 9 p.m. on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.