A year ago Thursday, Congresswoman Jackie Speier was lying on the ground of the U.S. Capitol building with her cheek on the cold, marble floor.
“All of a sudden, I heard a gunshot,” she told the Nob Hill Gazette in an exclusive interview last year. “The only thing between me and a bullet is the seat back cushion of that chair in front of me.”
Speier and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reflected on their experiences of the Jan. 6 insurrection in separate interviews with the Gazette. Both described feelings of horror during the harrowing hours rioters stormed the Capitol, looting their offices and threatening their lives.
“It was something from hell,” Pelosi told the Gazette. “It was an assault on the Capitol, the Congress, the Constitution, our democracy.”
While Pelosi was confined with security in an undisclosed location — alongside adversary Sen. Mitch McConnell, whom she had to strategize with — she said she was most concerned for the safety of her staff.
“My staff had gone into a room, closed the door, pushed the furniture up against the door and went under the table, silent, for 2½ hours,” she recalled. “When I saw (my staff), when I came back, the most traumatic thing for me was to see the fright in their eyes.”
Speier, meanwhile, was reminded of when she suffered gunshot wounds in the South American jungle at the beginning of her political career while on a fact-finding mission to investigate the Jonestown cult in 1978. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, 43 years ago, I’m lying on a dusty airstrip in the jungles of Guyana, and I survived that,” she said. “But now I’m in my own country, in this tabernacle of democracy, and I may not survive this.”
Once the Capitol building was secured, Pelosi and Speir, along with the rest of Congress, worked until 3 a.m. to certify the election of President Joe Biden.
“A lot of people were stunned and unable to comprehend what had happened,” Speier said. “And there was this expectation that surely when we went back to certify the vote there wouldn’t be any question about it, but there was.”
Indeed, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in the aftermath of the insurrection many lawmakers still refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the election. Speier and Pelosi decried the toxicity of disinformation campaigns that incite events like last year’s riot.
“We cannot allow a disinformation campaign to undermine our democracy,” Speier said. “They had no evidence of widespread fraud. And (Trump) just kept spreading it.”
The Nob Hill Gazette is the San Francisco Examiner’s companion magazine, published monthly and distributed throughout The City and the Peninsula. For more, read the full conversations with Jackie Speier and Nancy Pelosi.