About one month after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, The 19th reached out to all 143 women in the 117th Congress to ask about their experiences on January 6. Twenty-three shared their points of view from that day. We are also publishing each lawmaker’s full account of that day. Here is what Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
The day of the 6th, we were going to be doing the process of recognizing the results — state by state — during a joint session of Congress. Because of COVID, it was requested that those of us that weren’t going to be speaking sit in the gallery. Because of that, some people were watching from their offices. I was there, up in the gallery.
I was supposed to be there about 1:15 p.m. I believe the vice president was already there when I got there. It was perfunctory, but I knew it was going to gear up to a protest or a stopping of a vote when we got to Arizona.
While all of this is going on, we’re sitting up in the gallery and there’s some updates coming in. People I was seated with were seeing things: They were evacuating Cannon due to low-level agitation.
My husband texted to ask if I was OK. At one point in time, a couple people said, “I’m starting to get a little bit eh.” Some people decided they were going to go back to their offices. There was a negative feeling. [Rep.] Lois Frankel said she was going to go back to her office, so I said to her: “You don’t know who you’re going to encounter. Take your pin off. Don’t let anyone know you’re a member of Congress. Tell them you’re a secretary.”
She left and ultimately went to one of these — I won’t call it a lounge — a sitting room in the Capitol compound. She and [Rep.] Grace Meng ended up barricading themselves there.
There was the protest to Arizona. By that point in time, we were getting reports that [the rioters] were getting close to entering the Capitol. Those of us in the gallery were seated multiple seats apart from each other, but it’s not a huge space, so we were still chitchatting. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in the speaker’s chair. Her security detail came in and took her out around 2:10 p.m., but it looked like she wasn’t inclined to leave.
All of a sudden, there was a rumble of tenseness in the room because clearly there was something wrong.
At that point, even within the gallery, a couple of us just sort of stood up. [Rep.] Val Demings was a police chief. And at one point, Val and I are looking at the situation and she says, “All right I’m going to go stand by the door.” We were talking about what was happening: “Should we leave? Should we go?” There was a tussle at the door where someone was trying to walk in and was denied entry, and a cell phone fell. It was over by the time I turned around. Someone had kicked someone out, and then they started locking the doors. We could hear the slamming doors as people struggled to close and lock them. Some of us are kind of pacing in this space.
I was talking to [Rep.] Lizzie Fletcher. Her husband was down in the cafeteria waiting for her to come back. By this point, we knew people had entered the Capitol. Anyone who had entered was pushing through the police, so she was worried about him. I communicated with my chief of staff, and her husband was one of the people to be locked in my office. We distracted ourselves, making sure he was safe and the door was unlocked to let him in.
We flew into a frenzy when they said there had been gas sprayed. “Everyone get your gas masks.”
From there, it was a chaotic situation, the gas masks were making this buzzing noise, and my husband texted me that it doesn’t look good. Attempting to maintain some level of humor, I had told him, “Don’t worry, my hair’s back in a ponytail,” which to me, means I’m ready to fight. I had my pen in hand, I told him I wasn’t going to go down without stabbing it in someone’s neck — a bit of dark humor. We joked that surely I would gain some Twitter followers if I took down some would-be Nazis. I’m a former CIA officer, trained for a whole host of uncomfortable situations.
I’ve certainly been in risky situations that I wouldn’t want my daughters in. That sort of banter with my husband was the kind of dark humor we use, but he was actually very, very worried.
At that point, some members started praying. I hadn’t remembered that initially. I was taking stock of who’s who and what’s there. The women who were praying, I know them to be very firm in their religious conviction. They’re okay, I thought, they’re doing what makes them feel safe. Check. Then the next day, when someone had remembered them praying, I had an emotional reaction. Clearly, there was very deep worry.
We put [the gas masks] on. They said to put them on. I was quick to unwrap mine. Then I guess they realized that the irritant wasn’t making its way to us. Everyone said let’s take them off. We were getting some direction from Capitol Police. One officer was yelling to put them on, while 10 feet away another was yelling to take them off because we would hyperventilate.
We were on the side where the woman was shot, but we weren’t going to exit on that side. So they said you have to get to the other side. We were seated on the Democratic side and needed to get to the Republican side. Each section is separated by railing, but it’s still not easy when we have many members of Congress and the press trying to make their way around. We started climbing over and under, section by section, in the narrow aisle seating. [Rep. Pramila Jayapal] just had knee surgery, so she was using a cane. It was not an easy pass.
While this was happening, the floor beneath us was evacuated. We were like, “We’re still up here!” After the floor got hustled out, the Capitol Police officers started barricading the doors. And obviously, that’s not an ideal scenario. The whole visual. That’s not the intended use and clearly signals the dire circumstances.
We make our way around to the other side, and by that point in time, things had escalated.
We could hear the banging the whole time and yelling. The doors are heavy, so it was muffled and we couldn’t discern what people were saying. A mush of sound. Police officers yelling. The protesters succeeded in breaking the glass of the door — a decorative glass with beautiful metalwork. So then the Capitol police officers have their guns drawn, and they’re yelling at us to get down.
After I got to the other section of the gallery, we were getting on the ground. Where I was, if one of the insurrectionists had a gun and shot, I was downrange from them. I could’ve been downrange from a police officer too. We get down on the ground. “Get down! Get down!”
When I was a federal agent, I was weapons trained. I had anticipated that it might be a day of heightened engagement, so I had dressed accordingly, in slacks. Old CIA mentality. If needed, I could be undiscernable by just taking off my blazer. At that point, I had taken off my pink blazer and was trying to take cover in between the seats of the gallery.
I also didn’t know if any of the other doors were being breached. There’s people around me making really tearful phone calls. People were really scared. There was a woman — my feet were where her head was — who was experiencing real serious concern with a loved one, and I couldn’t spin around to offer her comfort.
That’s the place where I got a little bit concerned. I looked at [Rep.] Mikie Sherrill in front of me, took a deep breath, smiled and I was able to sort of recenter. I was trying to not think. I took a selfie of myself smiling because I thought, “Well, if this goes really badly, I’ll want my family to see that I was doing a cheerful selfie and was OK,” which is totally strange. Looking at it now, it wasn’t actually that cheerful. Not much of a smiling image. Because you can’t also escape if you’re all lying down in between chairs, I was trying to figure out: “Do we get up? Do we get down?”
Some people were seated; some were lying down. It was a frenzied circumstance. There’s a video one of my colleagues took and you can hear the gunshot in the video. Somebody said, “Do we put on gas masks now?” And Mikie Sherrill says “No, no, you’ll know when you need it.” If you didn’t know it was in the middle of this insurrection, she could’ve just been like the “nice mom.” So it was kind of funny on that front.
Then there was banging on the doors right where we were. A police officer there started to open it, and I remember screaming at her: “Don’t open the door!” On the other side, they were yelling, “Police!” I remember being super bossy and said, “Talk to them; have them radio.” It took a little bit to confirm that. We were told everyone needs to be ready to evacuate.
At that point, we left the gallery, had to go down two flights of the big marble stairs and then we went into a back staircase. Going down the marble stairs, we could see easily where there were insurrectionists on the ground. Capitol and Metropolitan police had control of the situation, and I was in this chunk of people, including a number of the journalists. I have since teased them about this, but as we see all these insurrectionists prone down on the ground, some stopped to take pictures. Come on. What are you doing? I was teasing one of them about it on Monday or Tuesday.
So then from there, we went down the two big stairs and into the more utility-style steps, and it was just us: the group of people from up in the gallery. At the very beginning, when we were trying to make our way, there was a smaller group of people that were rather fast at hurdling over the railings, so there were a couple members and members of the press who just got out of the doors before it really escalated. So by that point in time, it was about 25 of us. We’re just going down the steps — no one leading us. We all kind of huddled together. You keep getting to these levels, and asking each other, “Is this the way?” I hustle up to the front, and it’s just Mikie Sherrill and Pramila Jayapal at the front. We have joked since: “Oh it’s just us.” We got to the door that just opened into a hallway, and there were additional Capitol Police in those hallways.
I think many people were still scared. We were moving and weren’t trapped in a place where people were banging on those doors, it felt more productive and a little bit safer than where we were before. We had something to do.
We got to the hallways and from there, we’re making our way to the place where we were evacuated. We were one of the last groups to get to the safe room.
As I understand it, people that had evacuated out of Cannon went into other people’s offices. In my office, there was another member from Cannon and their team members who spent the whole time in my office. But those of us in the Capitol had evacuated over to this room.