I’ve seen this room, I’ve walked this floor: thoughts on the January 6 domestic terror attack at the U.S. Capitol from someone who used to work there.
What kind of West Wing season finale is this, I tweeted last night. The two senators representing the reliably Republican state of Georgia would be Democrats, I learned that morning. With this victory, the Democrats would take control of the U.S. Senate.
I’ve spent a lot of time doomscrolling the last few years, but yesterday’s domestic terror attack at the U.S. Capitol hit differently: with a flood of memories.
When I saw the video of janitors cleaning up after the terrorists, I recalled the janitors I came to know when they cleaned the offices long after most of our colleagues had left for the day, when I was on the night shift. I remembered Frank who mopped the first floor, when he was laid off, asking if there was anything I could do to help (there wasn’t).
When I saw the videos of Capitol Police officers overwhelmed, I remembered the two officers who worked the night shift at the east door of the Ford Building. We came to be on a first name-basis. We talked about workouts, sports, shoes, and cars. They taught me how to get better at passing through the metal detector.
When I saw the pictures of legislators wearing gas masks, I remembered jokes about “hood training,” going to Barry Farm and shooting dice. I remembered my co-worker who taught me how to answer the question what size are those shoes? (Not your size.) I remembered my first week on the job when a small plane entered the restricted airspace above the Capitol, the voice of the woman on the public-address system shouting this is not a drill. Just four years before I started, 9/11 was still fresh in people’s memories. Their stories were closer than mine, some had family or friends in the Pentagon that day. Anthrax in mailrooms followed shortly afterwards.
When I saw the photo of the terrorist in Nancy Pelosi’s office, his feet up on a desk, holding a piece of franked mail as a trophy, it reminded me of the very specific finish of House-made furniture. The feel of a House desk, its weight, its joinery, the way its drawer closed. The look of a House chair, a House lamp, ordered from the House intranet (that my team worked on).
I remember an apocryphal story about horsehair-upholstered furniture and a device that was regularly used by the House furniture shop — the only other one in DC was allegedly at the Smithsonian, as an exhibit.
I remembered being in members’ offices, meeting with staffers, talking shop.
I remember walking from their offices in Cannon, Rayburn, and Longworth back to the Ford Building. I’d sometimes take the long way, stroll through the Capitol. Before the Capitol Visitors Center was built, when tours were typically the improvisational domain of the youngest, lowest-paid staffers, I’d hear some variation of the fact “the Statue of Liberty without its pedestal can fit inside the dome of the Capitol” as I passed inside the dome of the Capitol.
I remember being envious of a friend who got to take a Capitol dome tour.
I remember the feel of worn marble stair treads underfoot. I remember the way the basements of the buildings were all connected. I remember the sound of the old House chamber, when the tour guides would demonstrate how sound carried in that tiled room.
I remember it felt like an incredible privilege to work there. I spent four consequential years there. It’s why I moved to the east coast from the LA suburbs. It was my springboard to a more comfortable, affluent life after an adolescence of constant hustling. Almost 16 years ago, it’s the last job I landed on a cold application.
When I read about the bombs found at the DNC and RNC headquarters, it reminded me of when I’d pass by the RNC headquarters, Bullfeathers, and the Capitol Hill Club on my way home, past the Capitol South Metro station, occasionally passing the smokers outside in their suits and conversation.
It hit differently because DC was home. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where dozens of life-long friends still reside.
I was raised in LA, but I grew up in DC. When people ask where did you grow up, it means where did you get your value system and orientation to the world. I may still refer to interstates with the definite article, but I grew up in DC.
There were terrorists on the campus where I used to work, where thousands of people work, where there are thousands of connected devices. I remember going to look for apartments, and my mom being with me, and the realtor on our way to Cleveland Park telling her how proud she should be that I got a full-time federal job so young.
It’s corny to admit it, but I remember coming home from nights out in northwest DC, taking a bus or a bike down Pennsylvania Avenue, looking at the Capitol the whole way down. It’s a neoclassical hodgepodge, to be sure, but it has presence.
I’d grown so accustomed to having my sensibilities attacked by the president, his supporters, and his enablers for the last four years that I didn’t expect to feel so affected by having my old stomping grounds terrorized by white supremacists.
Imagine them showing up at your old office, climbing the walls and planting flags, tearing down furniture, raiding your co-workers’ mail, and terrorizing people — people you’ve been to holiday parties with — in meetings.
Imagine them planting bombs a couple blocks from your previous address.
This is what it feels like.