January 6, 2021 Through My Eyes

By: Terron Sims, II, Truman National Security Project Security Fellow

On the early morning of April 5, 2004, as the sun was rising just after the first night of fighting in the Battle of Sadr City, I went with my squadron commander to Sadr City to assess the battle damage to the neighborhood. The atmosphere was eerily still. As we walked down a main street, I began to realize that countless Iraqi men were glaring at us in such a manner to where it was obvious that they were who we were fighting a few hours ago. We knew these men were the enemy and loyal to Muqtadr al-Sadr, but in the moment, we could do nothing because they were not an imminent threat. Our instincts were telling us that they were the enemy, but we had no evidence. I was not worried about a fire fight breaking out, but I was fully cognizant of the fact that one easily could if anyone made a wrong move. Recognizing our strange reality, my squadron commander and I kept on with our battle assessment while not provoking those who appeared unfriendly.

Fast forward nearly 17 years later. In the early afternoon of January 6, 2021 I left my home in Arlington, VA and headed for the Capitol. Why? I really cannot say. Something inside me told me that I needed to be there for the opposite reasons that President Trump’s supporters wanted to be there. Maybe someone would have needed my help. Maybe someone simply needed to be around for the sake of history. President Trump’s rally had just ended and the seething crowd had made its way to the Capitol. I had intended to arrive much earlier, but the responsibilities of life dictated otherwise. I wore a West Point jacket and long sleeve t-shirt and my sunglasses so that no one could see my eyes. Nowhere on my personage did I wear anything that identified me as a Democrat or Biden-Harris supporter. The only blue I wore were my jeans.

I parked my truck at Union Station’s parking garage, which was not smart. I should have parked on the street, in case I needed to get out of the area fast. As I walked through Union Station, I could not help but think how this beautiful, antique train station had been transformed into a MAGA waystation. There was barely any free space to move. There were MAGA supporters everywhere. The few who did speak to me were friendly, which was much appreciated, considering what I was soon to witness.

As I stepped outside, I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer number of people who were actually present, per President Trump’s invitation. Other than a handful of employees, two Asian tourists, and a homeless man who was yelling at each MAGA supporter who passed, there was only a sea of Trump supporters. I paused, lit my cigar, and began walking in a determined manner towards the Capitol. Generally, when I am walking in DC, there is a sense of polite Southern-like acknowledgment, but not this day. Several people looked at me with disdain, but they clearly were not DC folks, so I paid them no mind. I had had several encounters with mobs in Baghdad, so never was I afraid, but I was cautious. I avoided and walked as far away from people as I reasonably was able.

When I got to the intersection of Delaware and Constitution, next to the Russell Building, and looked across onto the Capitol grounds, I knew that trouble was amidst. At that moment, the feeling that I had not felt sense that fateful day in Sadr City seventeen years ago reemerged. I realized that though I was not in direct danger, I knew that if one of them or I made the wrong move, my life could be in danger.

I called a close friend who serves on Sen Tim Kaine’s staff to make sure that she was not in Russell. Fortunately, the staff was working from home. I told her to let Sen Kaine know that I was out there if he needed me. Little did I know, for I was not yet aware, that the traitors had already stormed the Capitol.

I walked alongside Russell and headed for the Supreme Court, keeping my eyes on the Capitol, while remaining alert and attentive of my surroundings. Near the front of the Capitol, I paused to get a better look at the pandemonium and chaos brewing amongst the crowd and smartly stood near the Supreme Court and about ten feet from a group of SWAT-ready DC Metro police officers.

From my vantage point, I saw a handful of Capitol Hill police on the top steps and a few on the roof. There were no police amongst the crowd. Images of me, my Iraqi interpreters, and my NCOs pacifying an angry Iraqi mob in Baghdad began rushing through my head. DC Metro police had officers in riot gear posted at every intersection that I could see, along with the metal barriers at particular locations. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no National Guard presence whatsoever. In fact, the only semblance of the National Guard that I saw was an Army 5-ton truck parked near ChinaTown that I noticed on my way home later that day. Metro Police were ready to enter, but because they had not entered the mob, I knew that they had not received the order, and like me, they may not have yet known that the traitors had breached the Capitol.

As my cigar was close to burning out, a MAGA supporter began shouting that the cops had killed a defenseless woman. That was my cue to leave. As I returned to the intersection of Delaware Ave and Constitution, I witnessed a group of male Trump-supporters, all wearing flack vests, angrily reacting to the woman being shot. They began shouting over and over at the top of their lungs at a small group of DC Metro Police, “Fuck the police!.” Smartly, the police did not engage, but I was not relying on their constraint — I therefore picked up my pace. I needed to get out of there fast. I could not risk being caught in a fight between the Proud Boys and the police. I kept farther from people now than I had during my arrival, lest they too were riled up by the shooting.

I ended up making it home with no worry. My friends and family think I was nuts for going to the Capitol that day, but I had to. It was a historical moment that I felt I needed to see for myself. As I learned in Iraq, what one sees on the news does not tell the full story of what is occurring on the ground. I needed that on-the-ground story. The main takeaway I garnered from being there was that the Trump-supported crowd was not just a mob of angry white men and a few women. What really concerned me was that I saw several children from older toddlers to teenagers with their parents. The children from ages 4 to about 8, I could tell that they did not really know what was going on around them. But, the older children, it was apparent that they did, and sadly, yet not surprisingly, they were mimicking their parents in action and word. It was extremely sad. There were grandmothers and aunties present, as well as young couples pushing baby carriages. If I were white, I would say I was at a family reunion because that was the tener that they exuded amongst themselves, but because I am Black, I felt like I was passing through a Klan rally.

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