A week after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared that she had had a “close encounter” on that day, one which led her to believe that she and others might be killed. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that many many members of the House were nearly assassinated,” she said during a livestream. What she described as security concerns prevented her then from sharing more. But on Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez detailed her harrowing experience that day in another Instagram Live video, describing hiding in her office, encountering a hostile unidentified man in her chambers that later turned out to be a Capitol police officer, and fleeing to the office of Representative Katie Porter for safety. For Ocasio-Cortez, the trauma of the day was, as she put it, compounded by her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. “When we go through trauma,” she said, “trauma compounds on each other.”
In an interview, Porter shared her memories of the day. “I just hope I get to be a mom. I hope I don’t die today,” she recalled a fearful Ocasio-Cortez telling her.
It’s been less than a month since a band of insurrectionists, some with murder on their minds, stormed into the Capitol, egged on by Donald Trump as well as by Republicans in Congress. Subsequent reporting of the day’s events have shown just how close the insurrectionist came to fulfilling their quest for violence. The traumatic stories shared by Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats underscore not only the severity of the attack, but the need for true consequences for all those who enabled and encouraged the attempted coup. Republicans would dearly love for all of us to move on, but pushing and peddling a lie that led directly to people being targeted and almost killed isn’t the sort of behavior that can be swept under the rug.
House Democrats, led by progressives like Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, who almost immediately called for Trump to be impeached, have moved quickly to push for a forceful response to the events at the Capitol. In addition to impeaching Trump, newly elected Representative Cori Bush demanded that Republicans who had pushed out Trump’s conspiracy about election fraud be investigated; her fellow freshman member of Congress Jamaal Bowman introduced the COUP Act, which would create a commission to investigate possible ties of Capitol police officers to white nationalist groups.
But in the days following January 6, Republicans quickly pivoted to push bland and cynical calls for “healing” and “unity.” Democrats’s attempts to hold people to account are framed as a distraction from the work of bringing our country together, and the impeachment of Donald Trump is “divisive” and an example of cancel culture. How easy it is for parroters of “law and order” rhetoric to drop it once they’re the ones who might face consequences. It’s easy to understand their motivations—after enabling Trump and embracing his supporters, they would prefer all of us to forget their critical role in creating the environment that has allowed violence to flourish. Impunity for Trump is impunity for themselves, as well.
The focus on healing and unity is laughable, a demand meant to create some sort of mythical middle ground which doesn’t exist. What would healing and unity even look like without accountability? It’s impossible, as Ocasio-Cortez recognized. As she put it on Monday evening, “The folks who are saying we should move on, we shouldn’t have accountability, etc, are saying, ‘Can you just forget about this so we can, you know, do it again.’”