Our Washington, DC, correspondent reflects on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot

A large Trump flag waves in front of the U.S. Capitol
Protesters outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Pro-Trump extremists later stormed the building. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

It’s the one-year anniversary of a dark day in America’s political life — the storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump supporters trying to keep him in the White House despite his election loss.

Alaska Public Media Washington, D.C., correspondent Liz Ruskin was inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. She joined Alaska News Nightly host Casey Grove on Thursday to talk about what stands out to her about last year’s insurrection and what Alaska’s congressional delegation is saying — and not saying — on the one-year anniversary.

Listen here:

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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Casey Grove: Liz, I certainly won’t ever forget talking to you while you were in the Capitol basically on lockdown that day. What stands out for you?

Liz Ruskin: Casey, it’s really the chaos that stands out. As you said, I was locked down with a bunch of journalists on the third floor of the Capitol. And we were watching out the window at the violence on the West Lawn and listening through the locked doors to the battle in the hallways. And in between moments of reporting, we’d have moments of trying to decide whether we were safe or whether we should evacuate or whether we even could evacuate. I’ve got a little clip here from that day that I can play. It’s one of my colleagues phoning in a live report. I think this was a CBS reporter.

Clip: I don’t know if you can hear some of the skirmishes behind this door, but you can hear police yelling, ‘Do not move!’ And this comes after we’ve learned that, obviously, protesters have breached the building

CG: Liz, Alaska’s congressional delegation condemned the violence last year and voted to uphold the election results certifying President Biden’s win. What are they saying this year?

LR: Casey, they’ve been pretty quiet. None of the Alaska delegation attended the ceremonies at the capitol today. Very few Republicans were there. But as always, Sen. Lisa Murkowski stands to the left of most Republicans. On this, you’ll recall, she was one of only seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump after the Senate trial. She issued a news release early this morning saying in part: “We cannot ignore the riots of January 6 or what led up to the insurrection at our Capitol.” But Casey it does seem like a lot of Republicans would like to ignore it.

As seen from a window overlooking an empty field, hundreds of protesters gather
Protesters outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media).

CG: Well, what are you hearing today from Sen. Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young?

LR: So far today, and it’s pretty late,  I haven’t seen anything related to January 6 from them. No news releases. No social media posts. That is kind of unusual. They usually would weigh in on things like anniversaries of national tragedies. And it’s strange to be quiet about this one since they were arguably the victims of it. Murkowski and Sullivan ran for their lives that day.

I requested interviews on the subject, did not get them. I sent a few questions to all three of them. Only Senator Murkowski’s his office responded. And really, why would Sullivan and Young want to talk about January 6? Polling shows almost 70% of Trump supporters still say President Biden was not legitimately elected. Alaska has a lot of Trump supporters. Why would Senator Sullivan or Congressman Young want to tick them off?

CG: And we should be clear, there’s no evidence of widespread fraud despite lots of election audits and recounts and dozens of court cases — none of which held up. Like you said, Murkowski has been more outspoken about blaming Trump for the attack on the Capitol.

LR: Right and there’s no way she can walk it back. She voted to sustain his impeachment for inciting insurrection. She has spoken. And there’s a political price to pay for that, and she’s paying it. Trump keeps promising to campaign against her. The state Republican Party has endorsed her challenger. She has staked out her ground on this. But it’s interesting to look back at what Young and Sullivan said last year when they explained why they voted to uphold the presidential election results. 

Sullivan was quite detailed last year. In a news release, he said election disputes have to be resolved in court and no court or state legislature or governor — even the Republican governors — found evidence to overturn any state election. So in other words, last year, he wasn’t buying into the big lie that Trump won the election. But this year, neither Sullivan nor Young are out front denouncing the big lie either. They’ve got to deal with the pressure of being Republicans at a time when the Republican litmus test is: Do you support Donald Trump and his false claim that he won the election?

CG: Liz, one thing I remember from talking to you last year while you were at the Capitol and still locked in that room was just about your safety. And, you know, luckily, we were very glad to hear that you were safe and locked in in a safe place. But I wonder, a year later, that you’ve been able to reflect on it, do you feel like you were in danger that day?

LR: Well, I didn’t feel that I was in danger at the time. It is one of those events that got much worse over time. Once, you know, we learned more and saw more. I did not feel unsafe. And I had an unreal amount of faith in this one locked door that guarded the office suite I was in. And the next morning I walked through the Capitol and saw doors just like mine that had been kicked in and shattered. And to be honest, I still didn’t feel unsafe. I just felt really bad for the building. This building is, you know, a symbol like the American flag and I just felt really bad for the building.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Casey here

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