Wednesday, January 6, 2021: A US president inciting violence. A failed insurrection. The violent interruption of government proceedings to formalize the election of Joe Biden.
Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were among those rushed to safety as angry pro-Trump terrorists invaded the US Capitol.
"We heard noises in the hallway, someone ran in and called for the Senate to be closed, told us to leave the Senate chamber and then was immediately corrected," Merkley later described to Oregon media. After those inside were told to remain in place, the doors were locked. "It’s a strange thing to be locked in a room that you know is not really designed to be secure when there are angry people outside, so there were a lot of folks starting to check through their cell phones information to try to find out what was going on. Because we had just been immersed in a very unusual debate, and we were all there in the chamber listening to each other, which is so rare in the Senate."
The interruption occurred during the Senate's debate on an objection to the certification of Arizona electors. "I did look around the room to think if somebody does burst in with a gun, what do you do? Hit the floor?" he said. "Thoughts like that were going through people’s heads. We were there, trapped in that chamber." Merkley and his Senate colleagues were eventually evacuated to an undisclosed location.
Merkley added that he laid the blame on all those who failed to push back against Trump's postelection rhetoric.
"I think that this situation is the result of really what has been the failure to have a strong, bipartisan pushback to the lies and conspiracy theories promoted by the president of the US since the November 3 election," he told members of Oregon media. Describing the ease with which the pro-Trump extremists entered the Capitol building as "a colossal failure of preparation," Merkley added: "Because of the type of protest that had been planned, the type of calls to come and stop the process of electing Joe Biden today—a lot of those calls were wrapped in a patriotic fervor, they were so wrongheaded because they were based on lies and conspiracy theories, lies and conspiracy theories promoted by a huge range of the communications systems in America, the talk radio stations, the television, the president using his bully pulpit and getting covered in media. So that type of fervor and that type of belief that people were coming to interrupt the process we should have been very prepared for. And we weren't."
Later, he posted a video on his Twitter feed of his office in the building after it had been broken into by the pro-Trump extremists.
The trail of destruction and looting. What happened today was an assault by the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol, but it was also an assault on our constitution.— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) January 7, 2021
[sound on] pic.twitter.com/BrELF7cMz1
Meanwhile, Wyden, a longtime proponent of national election reform, took the floor Wednesday evening to speak passionately about his proposals for securing voting systems nationwide, condemn the damaging conspiracy theories about election fraud, and warn of what President Trump might be capable in the final two weeks of his single term.
"We saw today an effort by domestic terrorists to try to punch our democracy to the ground, to the ropes," Wyden said. "Donald Trump can do enormous damage to our country in the next two weeks.... This afternoon ... the National Association of Manufacturers—an organization with thousands of businesses, thousands of companies, and not exactly a left-wing outfit—called for moving forward with the 25th Amendment.... That's what we're seeing in our country with respect to the fear of Americans having watched what happened here. I believe that for the next two weeks, we have an enormous responsibility to watchdog Donald Trump, day in and day out, to do everything possible to prevent the kinds of abuses we saw today."