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tv   Witness to the Siege A PBS News Hour Special  PBS  January 7, 2022 5:30am-6:00am PST

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announcer: this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. judy: on january sixth, thousands came to washington dc to protest the results of november's election. the day started peacefully, but quickly descended into mayhem. after an angry, provocative speech from the president... trump: our country has had enough. we will not take it anymore. judy: a mob of trump supporters stormed the united states capitol building, shattering windows, fighting police, ultimately forcing their way onto the floor of the house of representatives and the senate, where members were in session. for hours, chaos and uncertainty. members of congress, journalists and staff scrambled for shelter inside the capitol.
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law enforcement outnumbered. eventually order was restored, but the damage was done. for the first time in more than two centuries, the people's house was attacked and overrun... this time, by its own citizens. in this pbs newshour special, "witness to the siege" i spoke with my newshour colleagues who were on the ground in washington, reporting on an unprecedented day inside and outside the capitol building and from the white house. judy: hello to the three of you, to amna, to lisa, to yamiche. we don't get many opportunities to have a conversation like this one, but what a week it has been. i wanted to hear from each one of you about what it was like as we experienced this day that is going to be in the history books. um, and-and lisa, let's start with you. um, you were inside the capitol covering what
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was supposed to be a relatively routine, although this one was going to be a little different, set of procedures for counting the electoral votes, but that's not the way it turned out. lisa: that's right. i walked in there, judy, thinking it was going to be a historic day, but maybe a pretty long and boring one. i didn't really, i thought all the drama was what you know would be speeches. and um instead, you know, shortly after that electoral session began, you know we got notification that one of the house office buildings had been breached by... at that time we called them protesters, but they clearly became rioters. and then a second house office building had been breached. and i had to make the decision: do i go into the house chamber and cover this debate about the presidency or do i go to that event? and i went to cover it because i thought, "okay, everyone can see the debate, but ybe not everyone can get and see what's
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happening with these protests". um, you know, that situation died down at those office buildings. but by the te i came back to the capitol, i spoke to capitol police at the capitol at that time told, asked them, "hey, what's going on at those office buildings?" they didn't know anything about it. i walked around the corner from where those capitol police officers were standing outside the house chamber and i was looking at the front door to the us capitol brass door as thick as you can imagine, bulletproof glass, triple panes of glass and faces of that mob pressed right up against the glass trying to break in. and this was the-the mob that had come up the steps. and i did see initially capitol police officers in the black swat outfits, maybe three or four people thick in front of the door on the outside trying to block protesters. but then they-they when i went downstairs
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to look around, i came back up. and then by that point, the, those officers had gone and it was just the mob trying to get in. and they start breaking the glass, which i didn't think was going to be possible. they were using all kinds of implements, inuding the end of an american flagpole. and i stood there looking down. i was on a marble balcony. i felt safe up there. but there were very few people there myself, two other reporters and two doorkeepers, who really just help tourists get around the capitol. no security officers that we saw, though, i think there may have been a couple beneath us that we didn't see. and sure enough, you could hear the brass door, that giant brass door wince and creak under the strain. and eventually a hand came through. we saw the hand. there became a gap. more hands pushed open the gap. and we looked at each other and said, "they're going to break through this door".
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one of the door keepers, i have to say in one of the most surreal and brave moments that i saw, just stood on that balcony unarmed, you know, nothing but, you know, just a basic tie and shirt on. she yelled, you know, "stop it, go back, stay away". she had nothing else she could do, but she wanted them to stop. of course, they kept coming. they were climbing over each other. i saw a few leftover swat police make their way back inside. and i saw one lone police officer who was in a suit and tie indicating that he's someone probably attached to a detail of a dignitary. he was the only person... i saw him run and hurl his body over that gap in the door to try and stop what looked like dozens and dozens of protesters and rioters coming in. he was not able to do it. and sure enough, they climbed over and made it into the capitol. judy: meantime, amna, you are outside watching.
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and i think from watching you, you were positioned more on the senate side of the capitol, but you were still able to see this group gathering outside. amna: that's right. we were on the senate side and we'd been out there our newshour team for most of the morning doing what we do when we arrive at scenes like this. we talk to people. we get a sense of who they are, where they're from, what brought them out there. what was striking, judy, in talking to the folks to find out why they had gathered there was it was it was like walking through a hall of mirrors talking to people there. it was just a festival of misinformation. i mean, there were people who were so clearly just divorced from facts and from any evidence. they believe that president trump had won the election. they believe that this election was stolen. and they-they had flown in at their own cost. they had driven long distances to stand out in the freezing cold weather, because they believed that this is what they
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needed to do to, in their words, to save their country, to protect their democracy. and we heard a lot of the kind of conspiracy theory language we've all covered and we've all heard over the past several months and years. we heard a lot of the same language we've heard from president trump again and again about-about the press, about the election, about draining the swamp, about-about joe biden. and it was generally a calm crowd. you know, we got heckled occasionally, as press do in large groups of trump supporters. it was lot of ridiculing that we were wearing masks; we were obably some of the only people in the entire crowd wearing masks. and then something changed. and all of a sudden you heard a lot of yelling coming from one part of the grounds. and we went over to try to figure out what it was. and you just saw a wave of people coming up the hill from around on the house side. and they'd clearly been breaching barriers and they were now walking undeterred up to a line of just a
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handful of capitol police. and i think what was so striking to us was you could see from the get go they were vastly outnumbered. there were way more protesters, way more now rioters than there were law enforcement there to meet them. and what was incredible to watch was just how completely undeterred they walked. they moved aside the media barriers and the metal barriers that were there and just a flow of people, a flood of people were suddenly moving down in front of the capitol, in an area that you and i and any of us, we have to show edentials to be able to walk. we get stopped... judy: absolutely. amna: to get allowed access to this area. it was just such a remarkable scene. you couldn't believe that it was happening there. judy: yamiche you were at the white house following what president trump had done. and it was just a short time before all this happened that he had been speaking to his supporters who he had invited to washington. so from your perspective,
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how did you see this come together? yamiche: what happened with all of these riots and all of this violence was really, i think in some ways, a slow moving train that was driven by president trump. the morning started on a day that the president had feared and dreaded. he was going to officially lose the white house. he was waking up to the official repudiation of-of all of his ideals, all of his policies, all of his rhetoric, and having to come face to face with the fact that despite all of his disinformation, the congress was going to count the votes and he was going to be gone. and then he went to the rally where he saw the jovial crowd of people who are welcoming him, who were eating up h collage of lies and who and he was getting energy from that. you could see that the president, when he started to speak, he started to say to some of the things that we know to be false. he said that the election was stolen from him, that it was rigged. but the thing that really got this started, the thing that really changed this was the fact that the president said, we are going to fight,
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we're not going to concede and we're going to march to the capitol. and it was in that moment that the president justified people taking that anger that they had over at-at that rally and taking it over to the capitol. and the president himself had said that he was going to march to the capitol with them. and, in fact, what the president did was return to the white house. and i was standing along with where the president was. he was in the residence and not anywhere near reporters. but you saw the security bubble at the white house. things were calm. you could hear the protesters, you could hear sirens, you could hear in the mood and in the wind that things were clearly getting dark because, of course, the capitol isn't that far from the white house. but we were in this in this moment where the president was in some ways shielded from the chaos that he had created. and when they breached those walls, the president and white house staff, they didn't come out and say, we need to stop right now. they didn't come out and condone it. only afterwards did the president say he understood their pain. he loved them. he then told people to go home hours, hours, hours after all of the different chaos and all of
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the different things that happened. so the president in some ways just was someone who was feeding this to people, but who didn't have to deal with the consequences in the way that lisa and lawmakers and so many other people had to deal with when that fierce mob broke through those doors. judy: so these messages from the president, from republican members of congress, from the oth speakers at that rally, those messages were ringing in the ears of these people who ended up going to the capitol and like a mob and-and assaulting the building. and, lisa, that's, these are the people who came, pushed their way through the door and made their way inside that building when you were there. lisa: you know, looking into the eyes of those rioters, they were operating on anger that they were turning into hate and then that they were turning into a sense of completely abandoning any sense of responsibility and deciding that they themselves that they were so right and
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they had so much propriety over the rest of the world and in ft, the us government itself that they were right to break into this building, you know, and that-that it was not violence. you know, i spoke to two of the rioters shortly after they came in and asked them why they did it, you know, and how-how could they explain this violence? and they said, yes, and we don't really want to be violent. but we came up here and look, we were at the door and we could do it. and this is our building. and then they said the american revolution, there was violence there. and that was, honestly, a really tricky moment for me because, except-except if i've been in situations like this before, so i know you can't push back in that situation, because you're putting yourself in danger if you're too confrontational, right? and so you just have to listen and you have to make yourself relatable. but in my mind, when they said this is like the american revolution, you know, had i been in a studio, just me and them and i knew that i was secure,
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i would have said, this is like the french revolution. this is this is this is where a society becomes unraveled, determined to just, um, absolve themselves of any responsibility because they-they are right and in fact, they are more important than other people. but i will say this also, you know, all of these words i'm saying, it sounds like they're sort of these large, like, literary themes, you know, almost like dickens is writing this story. but when you're talking to these people, it was really pretty random. you know, they didn't have a goal. they didn't really know what they wanted to do. they wanted to stop the election from being certified. they want trump to be president again. but they didn't know what they were going to do when they got in the buding. a lot of them were looking for the bathroom. and they just kind of, they were lost, which from a security standpoint, i knew right away was an advantage for me.
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i knew that if a large group came to where i was, i would have an advantage because i knew my way around the building and i could get around much more quickly than they could. judy: and amna you were saying a number of them were reluctant to talk to you. you're-you're a reporter, you're there with-with your colleagues. did some of them want to engage in conversation to tell you, to sort of unburden themselves to share, "here's why i'm here." amna: very few very few were interested in talking to us, particularly after they asked where we were from and we'd say, "the pbs newshour" and they would say "fake news" and then the heckling would ensue. there were a couple of-of really wonderful people we met who at least said, you know, yeah, sure, i'll talk to you after we kind of chatted to them for a little bit and said, this is why we're here. we just want to talk to you and hear your story and understand why you're here. and so we ended up doing a few interviews, but mainly especially as time went on and tensions started rising and you could just feel the atmosphere
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kind of change. suddenly every interaction became much more hostile. and at one point we kind of gosurrounded by a group that had gathered and were waiting to see. and this was the thing. people were just waiting. as we said, there was no real intention behind their presence. they believe president trump, when he said he was going to be out there with them and that rumor had been circulating. they were all saying, "oh, maybe he's going to show up soon. he said he was going to come soon." and as tensions kind of rose, we found ourselves surrounded by this one group where one couple said, "sure, we'll talk to you first." and then all of a sudden they said, "why are you wearing a mask? take that mask off. this is ridiculous." and i said, well, i'm wearing a mask to protect myself and you. and they said, "well, who'd you vote for? where are you from your fake news. no, i'm not going to talk to you unless you tell me where we're from." and then everyone else in the group and around them kind of starts to join in and the atmosphere just change where it suddenly wasn't safe for us to be kind of mixing and mingling in the crowd. judy: and yamiche, how much of this were you and others at
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the white house aware of this and following this? clearly on the outside, they had access to television, they were watching and the internet. we're they following, how closely were they following what was going on? yamiche: the president was doing what he often does, which is spending his afternoons watching tv. he was in the residence for most of that. at some point, he moved to the oval office. the entire time he was monitoring this. and i'm told that the president had mixed feelings. he was excited, i'm told, in some ways almost exciteabout the idea that he was having this power over people that this was and-and a confirmation that he had this this influence over people when it came to the information that he was giving them. and as i was watching those images, the thing that came to my mind was false, false accusations, they have conseqnces. conspiracy theories have consequences. continuing to enable people and make them feel entitled to misinformation, to disinformation that has a consequences.
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and that's what president trump was seeing unfold. the culmination, really, of president trump's lies, his allegations, all of the false things that he's been telling his supporters. he was watching it play out. and people close to the president tell me that while the president did not want the capitol to be burned down, he did have this sense that he wanted to hold on to power by any means. and this was the by any means. the president really never got around to condemning these people in a full throated way on camera with questions. what we've seen from the president so far in the multiple videos and tweets is the president at some time finally saying after multiple videos that he does not like the idea of violence, that these people do not represent him. and he's now saying that he wants to have a seamless transition of power. but, judy, we all watched and we can never call the election of 2020 and the transition of 2021 a seamless or orderly thing. in fact, it was deadly and it was chaotic, with five people at least losing their lives because of all of the things that these people did. judy: there's so much to-to think about.
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and we're l still processing what happened, but as all of you think about this and you all, you know, yoyou, i'm sure you talk to your families about it. what do you think you're going to look back on? i don't know, 10, 20 years from now. what's going to stand out the most to you about-about this day? lisa? lisa: wow, that's it is a hard question, i think. i think the moment that i, that was the most shocking to me was when i left that area, because there were more rioters coming in and i needed to get a second piece of equipment and i wanted to make sure that i was safe. but when i left that area and i went to the house chamber and i was going to where my desk is, which is near the house chamber, and i remember thinking in my head, ok, i know where the police are stationed there. there are four police officers in that next hallway. i'm going to see those police officers. i've got my mask on.
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i'm holding up my badge to show them that i'm with the press. and-and i'm going to be in a good position right there. and i'll find out, maybe th'll tell me something. as i made my way to that area right outside the house chamber, you know, starting to hold up my badge to show them. and there are no police officers there. no, there's no one there. and i was alone. that was, that iprobably, that's a moment that i think i'll remember a lot, the actual absence of people. and then having to really quickly figure out what i would do next, because i never thought that capitol police officers would leave their posts like that. i will find out in days ahead what their orders were, why this happened. but i also never thought tt the house of representatives would be completely unguarded, which is what i saw, you know, and that that's going to be a memory i'll have for a long time. judy: well, your reporting was extraordinary as it
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certainly is amna's and yamiche's was. but to watch lisa make her way through the capitol and confronting officers with guns drawn. it was it was a really frightening moment. and amna you've, as you mentioned, i mean, you've covered you've been around the world. you've covered insurrections and riots in other places. what do you what do you think as you look back on this years from now? what-what do you think you're going to remember most? amna: you know, we talk so much about the consequences of the election and the consequences of our leaders' words and i think all of us, as journalists, think about the consequences of our work. right? what you say and what you do and how you how you handle yourself in those moments where you are tested. and i just, i think long term, whenever i think about consequences of work, i think about, i think about my kids. i do, because they're curious about my work and they're curious about what i do every day. and i have to say, this year i have really struggled to explain to them what is
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going on in this country we call home. and i think that that day is no exception. i think we're all still very much processing what it means and what the consequences of that day will mean and what will change, if anything. and i find myself struggling to answer very basic questions about what exactly happened that day and what it all means. and you know that, for me, as someone who makes a living and explaining things to people and trying to convey what we know to be true, that's a very difficult thing to reckon with. and honestly, in all the stories that i've done and all the places that i've been, i've never, ever found it as difficult as it is right now to explain to my girls what's going on. judy: i think you're absolutely right. we're going to process this for a long time. and you i mean yamiche, this is a president you've covered since he wasunning for president. you've seen him up close day, after day, after day. this was i think it's we would all agree,
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the worst day of his presidency. and there have been a lot of, a lot of days that have been difficult. what do you what do you think, for you, as you look back on this that you're going to most remember? yamiche: the thing i'm probably going to most remember is how much the consequences of president trump's rhetoric he didn't have to deal with. it was surreal to be at the white house and realize the stillness, to realize how safe we were on the white house complex, how-how barricaded the president was, as he could watch on tv, the consequences of his conspiracy theories, the consequences of him egging people on and rallying them up and then abandoning them to do what they may with the us capitol. we've seen this president for years play with fire, and we've seen people close to the president, whwho-who people would say should know better,
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enable him. and he made people feel entitled to be able to break into the us capitol. and in the moment where his words were having physical manifestations, the president didn't have to at all deal with those physical manifestations. president trump's life was never at risk. and that to me, is the thing that that sticks with me. power in the wrong hands, power in the hands of someone who turns it on a mob of people who incites them to do these things. it can corrupt and it can be really, really deadly. and that can happen in the united states. and this is us this is this is who americans can be if they are pushed and if they are given information and if they are not at all told the right things and-and taught how to lose. lisa: i honestly think something i'm going to remember is your voices, the voices of the three of you, because i had my earpiece in. and so whenever i was looking for a place to-to be. i was trying to find safety. i didn't know what was going to happen. i was hearing your reporting and it was it was so important
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to me to hear that and to hear your voices and to feel like i was grounded. i think i'm going to remember that. and i'm really grateful. yamiche: i think that that is something that's going to stick with me when i think about this experience, listening to lisa, genuinely being scared for lisa, genuinely being scared for amna. and then wanting in some ways to look at judy and saying, okay, if judy can keep this together, then i can keep it together. i think that's something that's going to stick with me, because i was, of course, at the white house at times really wanting to get emotional. at times i almost cried and none of you cried, so i didn't cry. and that that's something that is a gift. amna: none of us cried on camera. i think we can all say. none of us cried on camera. judy: that's right. lisa: that's right. judy: i just want to say two quick things that i think i will take away as somebody who first went to the capitol as an intern while i was in college to work for my congressman. this is back in the late 1960s, so it was a long time ago. that building is a place of reverence.
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it's the center of the government, yes, along with the white house. but it's where all of the people are represented. it's the people's house. and to see it defiled the way that it was on wednesday, that to see people climbing on the building and-and breaking in i'll remember that for a long time. the other thing i remember is how far misinformation, falsehoods, lies, the whole stew of-of rumor and-and... conspiracy theory can fuel something like this. it's just, we've watched it. and we've watched it. and this time it led to something really horrible and tragic. and i'm going to, i'm going to remember that, of course, we all are for a long time. but you three are simply remarkable and you inspire me every single day. yamiche alcindor, amna nawaz, lisa desjardins, what a great conversation. thank you.
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as we look back on the siege of the capitol, and how it will be seen for many years to come... we, as journalists, unrstand the important role we have to chronicle history as best we can and here at the newshour, we remain firmly committed to that cause. you can continue to follow our coverage of the aftermath of the capitol siege on our website, and you can find our podcast, "america interrupted" wherever you listen to podcasts. announcer: this program was made possible by the corporation for public broaasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. man: you're watching pbs.
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