By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
On Jan. 6, television viewers across the county and around the world watched in disbelief as a mob of pro-Trump protesters in Washington D.C. moved afterward from a ‘Stop the Steal’ speech by the President to overwhelm an undermanned police force and forcibly break into the Capitol Building.
The insurrectionists scaled the Capitol Building, then smashed windows and doors to enter the halls of Congress. Once inside, individuals broke into the offices of national political leaders and eventually stormed the Senate floor where moments before, lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes.
The violent protesters forced members of Congress to flee to secure locations in the complex. Following hours of unrest, police finally cleared the Capitol Building, allowing legislators to return to their work and, in the early morning hours, complete the certification of the Electoral College vote.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of the 6th Congressional District began that day with an uneasy feeling.
“I started my day with a conversation with my two kiddos and actually said to them, ‘Listen you may see some upsetting things on TV today. There may be rioting in the streets but don’t worry, Dad works in the most secure place on the planet’,” the 47-year-old congressman said, reflecting back on a day that proved to be historic on several counts.
“I went to work that day with an expectation that things could get a little ‘hinky.’ I actually brought an extra change of clothes and a day’s worth of food, just in case.”
Once at his office, Kilmer waited for his time to enter the House chamber where certification of the Electoral College votes was taking place. Not all House members were allowed into the chamber at once due to COVID protocols. Instead, lawmakers reserved times to enter the chamber in waves to watch the debate and offer their testimony.
The Gig Harbor lawmaker, who is serving his fourth term, had signed up to be on the floor later that night. In the meantime, he remained in his office in the nearby Rayburn Building just across Independence Avenue. That day lawmakers were advised to travel to the Capitol Building via a tunnel for safety concerns.
A system had been put into place in which legislators could be notified by text concerning any unusual activity taking place in the capitol. That precautionary system was put to the test that day.
“Before the Electoral College certification began, we started getting text messages saying there were pipe bombs that were placed near the Capitol. We started getting texts even before things really went haywire,” Kilmer recalled.
“I was in my office in the Rayburn Building watching the debate on television, so I saw what everybody else in America saw, and the House went into recess [as the mob breached the Capital].
“Simultaneously, we were getting text messages to shelter in place, as you would during an active shooter situation. The message was along the lines of ‘Lock your doors, shelter in place, stay away from windows, be silent’,” he recalled.
In the midst of the crisis, Kilmer called his family to let them know he was okay.
“So I hunkered down in my office. Several hours later we got the ‘all clear.’ I was able to go to the House chamber for the votes on Electoral College certification.”
It was a lucky happenstance that Kilmer was in a building not targeted by the violent insurrectionists.
“Thank God I got to avoid more substantial trauma. I think those who were on the floor and in the gallery had a much more harrowing experience,” he said.
Though the day was a chaotic ordeal, how it ended during the early morning hours was noteworthy.
“Frankly, I think the most important part of the day was the fact that Congress went back to work once the building was cleared of rioters and did its job to certify the will of the people. The work got done by about 3:30 a.m. That is the most important takeaway from the day,” he said.
“My reaction to the day was not dissimilar to the reaction of many Americans. It was awful to see what was not just an attack on a building, but an attack on our democratic republic. It was not an accident that this was happening during the vote to certify the Electoral College [results]. You had rioters that had made it pretty clear they were there to try and prevent the peaceful transfer of power.”
Following the attack on the Capitol Building, the face of Washington D.C. changed. To wit: seven-foot, “non-scalable” metal fencing was placed around the perimeter of the Capitol Building, 25,000 troops were brought in for the Inauguration Day ceremony and a metal detector was placed where representatives enter the House floor.
On Jan. 13 — a week after the riot — a single Article of Impeachment of former President Trump was introduced in the House, charging him with “incitement of insurrection” over the violence at the Capitol Building. After several hours of debate, the article was adopted by a mostly party-line vote of 232 to 197.
Kilmer — along with 10 Republicans — was among the Democrats who voted for impeachment.
“What we saw on the 6th of January was an attempt to override the will of the American people to prevent the certification of the Electoral College vote. It was incited by the President who summoned people to our nation’s capitol and lit the flame of the attack,” Kilmer said.
“And that’s not just Derek Kilmer saying that,” he said. “You also have folks like Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Her words were: ‘The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack. None of this would have happened without the President. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the constitution’.”
The Washington State congressman said he will not predict the result of the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. Still, he is clear about what he hopes will happen:
“To me, when you had a mob that was incited by the President of the United States who sought to hunt down the Speaker of the House and called for hanging the Vice President. You had 140 police injured.
“I think it’s important that there be accountability for that,” he said.