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One year ago, the nation watched as a mob of thousands of Trump supporters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to protest a joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.
Angered by false claims of election fraud and encouraged by former President Donald Trump’s calls to action via social media and his speech earlier that morning on the National Mall, rioters stormed the premises, trespassing on federal property as they breached the Capital Hall and the House Chamber. The group caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol and forced members of Congress to evacuate or shelter-in-place during the attack. Five people died as a result of the attempted coup, including one woman who was shot by a Capitol police officer. Four more law-enforcement officers would die by suicide in the days and month after the attack. More than 140 officers were injured.
The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies have since labeled the attack an act of domestic terrorism, and several leaders in Congress, including members of Colorado’s delegation, have been outspoken in pressing for proper consequences.
“Our democracy is facing a surging, domestic violent-extremist movement that’s dedicated to the use of violence to achieve political ends,” Colorado Representative Jason Crow said at a press conference Wednesday ahead of the one-year anniversary. Crow, who was present on the day of the attack and found himself trapped inside the House Chamber as rioters attempted to break in, recalls fearing for his life that day in a way that he hadn’t experienced since his time serving as an Army Ranger.
Once the initial panic settled, he said that the true threat became more clear. “We really are at a crossroads at this moment in time, and it really is calling for action by all concerned citizens, by all Americans, to reaffirm our commitment to democracy,” he said, “starting with reflections on that day—what was a very dark day, not just for those who were in the Capitol, but for our democracy as well.”
Here, we examined what we know about the role Coloradans played in the insurrection, where we stand with investigations, and ways local groups hope to help move the conversation forward.
In the days and months following the siege, the FBI has arrested and charged at least 710 people in connection to the January 6 insurrection. At least 12 of those charged have been Colorado residents, two of whom have already pleaded guilty.
Colorado House Democrats called for Republican state Representative Ron Hanks’ expulsion earlier this year after Hanks was notably absent from the first few days of Colorado’s 2021 legislative session in early January. Hanks later confirmed his participation in the January 6 attacks. No such action was taken, however, and Hanks has since filed to run against U.S. Senator Michael Bennet in the 2022 midterm election.
U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert also faced backlash for social media posts she sent during the insurrection from inside the U.S. Capitol. She tweeted “Today is 1776,” and sent out info about House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s whereabouts during the attack. Twitter temporarily suspended her account in the aftermath. Two organizers of the January 6 events later admitted to having met with “close to a dozen” members of Congress while planning the protest that led to the violent attack, including Representative Boebert. But in June, the U.S. House Committee on Ethics decided not to investigate Boebert’s alleged role in the insurrection. Boebert has yet to be officially implicated in any of the ongoing probes through the bipartisan select committee now tasked with investigating the riot.
Where Investigations Currently Stand
After Republican members of Congress used a filibuster to block the formation of an independent, bipartisan commission (similar to the one created after the 9/11 attacks), a nine-person House select committee was formed in June to investigate the deadly insurrection and determine whether the Justice Department should pursue charges against any individuals. The group has since issued more than 50 subpoenas, interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and recently called upon other members of Congress to cooperate in investigations. (Notably, Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, is suing to block his subpoena for testimony. And former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was indicted by a federal grand jury in November on two counts of contempt of Congress for failing to comply with the investigation.)
The first hearing in July 2021 centered around the testimonies of law-enforcement officers who were on the ground during the January 6 attack. The committee is still trying to get testimony from a number of witnesses and battling in court to obtain evidence related to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s correspondence about the events of January 6. There are plans to hold public hearings in the coming months. The group is pushing to conclude the investigation by summer, with midterms, and the potential for the Republicans to regain control of the House, looming.
Denver saw its own crowd of nearly 700 demonstrators gathered at the Colorado State Capitol on January 6 to protest the election. And though the local rally that day was not violent, there has been an increase in similar threatening rhetoric and political extremism throughout Colorado in the year since the insurrection. Arapahoe County Clerk & Recorder Joan Lopez said during a community roundtable on Tuesday that her office saw unprecedented levels of misinformation and voter intimidation during the 2020 election, and that her staff still faces constant threats and accusations of false election results.
Dr. Bobby Pace, Vice President of Academic Success at the Community College of Aurora, said he’s observed a rise in hate groups gathering and organizing openly on campuses across the state.
“It just shows how different this challenge is because we’ve always had extremism. We’ve always had hate, and hate groups in America. This is different,” Representative Jason Crow said Tuesday about the normalizing of dangerous rhetoric. “This is different because it’s been allowed to grow in a way that it never has before.”
While investigations into the January 6 attack continue to unfold, Crow and other leaders agreed that avoiding similar disarray in the future hinges on maintaining and protecting strong voting rights and protections in Colorado and nationwide, as well as continued education efforts. Thursday morning, Crow announced several new initiatives aimed at just that, including introducing a House resolution to officially designate January 6 as Democracy Day. The congressman also launched a new “Democracy In Action toolkit” in partnership with local and national civic organizations to offer a list of ways for Americans and local groups to get involved, participate in the election process and “reaffirm their commitment to our democracy” through advocacy.
“We have to have that call to that new form of American patriotism—that love of country,” Crow said. “We have to appeal to folks’ love of what this country is and can be. How we can be better, and how there’s strength in that truth, in that honesty.”
Editor’s Note 1/6/22: This story was updated to include more information about Representative Jason Crow’s Democracy Day House resolution and Democracy in Action toolkit.