U.S. Rep. Sean Casten was waiting to go to the House floor of the U.S. Capitol Building when he heard that the Capitol Building had been breached.
“The House was under COVID protocol, so we weren’t allowed to have more than 44 people on the floor at a time, which in hindsight, probably saved lives,” said Casten, D-Downers Grove. “Most of us were in our offices at the time within the Capitol Complex. I was watching TV and getting alerts on my phone that there’s a bomb threat here and that this building’s being evacuated. There was a moment where the video was cut off on the House floor feed, but the audio wasn’t. A voice came on that said, ‘Get under your seat.’ And that was sort of a recognition that this was going to be really bad. And that was followed by eight hours of confusion and texting my daughters and the rest of my family and trying to give them updates.”
A year later and questions still surround what happened that day. Casten said there needs to be more of an effort to go after the people who actually initiated the Capitol riot.
“The things that we have publicly done so far – and when I say we, I mean as a society – have been to go after the soldiers. We have not yet gone after the generals. I have a lot of hostility towards people who would attack our democracy. I don’t care if you’re an American or you’re a foreigner. If you are going to attack U.S. democracy, that’s a big problem.”
At the same time, Casten said he has sympathy for many of the people who were involved in the riot.
“For the most part, these were emotionally fragile people who were told by people in positions of power that if you don’t like the outcome of an election, you can go to the Capitol, you can commit acts of violence and you will have the support of the President of the United States.”
He is hopeful that the bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot will get the answers it needs. The committee includes two Republicans – U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, and U.S. Rep Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
“I have tremendous respect for Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for standing up to their party,” he said. “It shouldn’t be cause for celebration to say that you’re going to uphold your oath of office under the Constitution, but it’s not lost on me how hard it is for them to do it in that environment.”
Casten had voted for an article of impeachment charging President Trump with inciting the riot. Trump was later acquitted in his impeachment trial.
“Had Trump done what every president in history had done and congratulate his successor for victory, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Nobody actually believes the election was fraudulent. Sixty-two courts have concurred it wasn’t fraudulent.”
And the stark reality is that what happened that day could happen again.
“The problem that Jan. 6 raised is that there is a sizable chunk of people in the country who do not support the idea that a majority of the population will determine the winner of an election,” Casten said. “To the contrary, they think that if you don’t like the outcome of an election, you can go to the Capitol, storm it and threaten to overturn the results. That’s a completely separate problem.”
However, he still has hope in the American people.
“I have complete confidence in the American people,” Casten said. “It wasn’t a majority of Americans who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and it’s not a majority of people who support them today. As long as we trust our democracy and trust our Constitution and are willing to defend it, we’re going to be fine. But this is a time that calls for that defense.”