Talk Description to Me

Episode 31 - Chaos in the Capitol Building

January 07, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 31
Talk Description to Me
Episode 31 - Chaos in the Capitol Building
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Talk Description to Me
Episode 31 - Chaos in the Capitol Building
Jan 07, 2021 Season 2 Episode 31
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

In this Breaking News episode, Talk Description to Me covers the historic events of January 6th, 2021, in Washington DC. Using images and videos pulled from social media and news reports, be they terrifying, surreal, or gut-wrenching, JJ and Christine seek to follow the visual chain of events that unfolded on this extraordinary day. 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript

In this Breaking News episode, Talk Description to Me covers the historic events of January 6th, 2021, in Washington DC. Using images and videos pulled from social media and news reports, be they terrifying, surreal, or gut-wrenching, JJ and Christine seek to follow the visual chain of events that unfolded on this extraordinary day. 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Christine Malec:

This is Talk description to Me with JJ Hunt and Christine Malec. And this is a special breaking news episode following the dramatic events in Washington DC on Wednesday, January 6. So we are going to talk about the images on the timeline of events from a visual perspective that happened yesterday. And this is going to be very difficult for for many reasons. And I think that one thing JJ and I both feel we'd like to make clear is that we are Canadian, and we're not American. And so I often asked JJ for his emotional responses to the images that he's seeing. And both of us feel strongly that we need to say out loud that we understand that we cannot feel reactions the way we would if we were Americans. And we know many of our listeners, many of our listeners are American. So we just want to say that we approach this with diffidence and respect and great care, and sensitivity so that we know that our reactions as strong and overwhelming as they are cannot, cannot be the same as as those for whom this is your country. So we thought the best way to approach this was to follow the timeline of events and talk about things events as they unfolded in images. And so I think, JJ, you're going to just sort of take the most widely distributed images and talk about what those show. Yes, there are so many photos and video clips being bounced around. And then news reports that have that have pulled those images and, and curated them a little bit and made made some pads that help understand exactly what happened, it was such chaos. And there was there were so many images being this was a mob of people taking cell phone photos the whole time, and videos and posting them online and journalists were already on site because this was understood to be a possibility. So there's so much to comb through, I'm going to do my best to try and follow some of the pads laid out by other media organizations and, and kind of create our own visual path through this extraordinary day. So the New York Times posted a wonderful image, an overhead satellite photograph of the Capitol Building, with various wings of the building labeled and, and notes about how and when what happened yesterday in those various sections of the building, very helpful. And so I'm using that as my core. We had a request from Michael, one of our listeners to talk a bit about the layout of the building. And I think that is helpful. So the the Capitol building has a main rotunda. And then there are wings on either side, there's the House chamber on one side and the Senate chamber on the other very large building each one of these buildings, the main building with the rotunda, and then the two chambers on the side. I mean, they're large structures in their own right, but put together it makes for a massive building. And then coming down from the rotunda this main section is a series of staircases tiered staircases with like mezzanines on several levels, that comes down to a park area. And the police barricades are at the bottom of that staircase, so that none of this staircase is accessible to right now to the general public. And, and, and everything funnels toward a very toward this staircase itself, the base of this staircase. And there's an image that I found taken from inside the building out on to this, this police barricade and the group the mob behind it. So now we're in the building, looking out a window and this is like a leaded window. So it's got some crisscross panes. And the mob that's on the lawn on the far side of the barrier is vast. And because this is taken from some distance that people are they look like ants. That's the scale we're talking about. And it is a flood of people. Lots of American flag. popping out of the crowd, Trump flags blue and red flags in support of Donald Trump. And then it comes to this funnel point where there is an arched barrier. And this is a barrier that's really like a, like a temporary steel fence. That's it. This is not a solid wall of concrete, this is just temporary waist high traffic barrier style fence. And there are police officers on our side. So on the near side of this barrier, and they're wearing black vests and like a neon, like neon yellow, neon green color of shirt, not armed. But they do have Riot helmets on, and when I say not armed I mean, from here, you can't see any major weaponry, they might have side arms. I can't see that from this perspective. But what this is what this is how it began with this mob marching up toward the building and parking itself at this steel barrier. I'd like to ask about the Capitol building and not to, you know, spend 10 minutes describing it as such, but to talk about the the ubiquity of it as an image. So I have this sense that even though I don't know what it looks like, that the image of the Capitol building is something all sighted people are very familiar with. Is that right? Yeah, absolutely. It is. The Capitol building itself is an iconic building. The rotunda, its position on Capitol Hill, because it's used by both the House and the Senate. It's on every TV show, every movie about American politics. It is an iconic structure. I just quickly googled Capitol Building, as I've done several times in the last few days. And a lot of them are taken from this lawn area leading up to the steps, the steps go up. And then you've got the columns on the portico in front of this great rotunda. And, you know, typically there are tours inside the building. So a lot of people have whether from the United States or outside have visited the building, it is a well known building, and it is important. The way you describe the barrier, it doesn't sound very robust. It isn't, it isn't at all. And in fact, some of the images of the moment when it was being fought over, who was staying on what side of the barrier are. I mean, they're they're quite amazing, because you've got these cops who are grabbing onto one side, and protesters who are grabbing onto the other and they're kind of pulling at it one on the other one on one side, one on the other, like kids fighting over a toy like this is the kind of barrier. I mean, at that point if a protesters if a mob member is grabbing on to a barrier and pulling it down, I mean, the battle's already already lost the the barrier is no longer doing a job. It got dismantled quite quickly. And then this mob flooded the steps. Flooded the steps leading up to the building, and started climbing walls and scaling walls, because the whole building is kind of on a massive pedestal and mob members were climbing up this stone pedestal, the sides of this stone pedestal to get up onto various levels of the of the building platform and flooding the the steps. I'm not sure where the police the security force at that point went I presumed just into the building to lock down. But they were completely overwhelmed outside the building. And at this point, which I think was

close to about 1:

30 yesterday afternoon. The entire outside of the building, the front steps, and leading right up to the main entrance that was completely controlled by the mob. And then they started pounding at the doors. And I mean that literally pounding at the doors. You and I have covered other kinds of protests. And it's impossible not to try and put this in some kind of context by comparing so the police that you see at this first stage. Are there a lot of them? How would you characterize the number and appearance relative to some other protests that you've seen in 2020? Yeah, there have been a lot of a lot of people online, pulling photos of the initial police force here yesterday, and police forces that have been put in place on the steps of capital of the Capitol Building during other protests this year. We're not talking ancient history. This year. And they are.. I mean, it's stark. Totally different. I've called up two different images, one image of the security force as the protests were starting to clash at the at this security fence, from yesterday, and again, these like neon, they're actually jackets, these neon yellow jackets and, and black flak jackets over top, the police forces are wearing masks, black COVID masks, and they're wearing bicycle helmets, white bicycle helmets. And they are literally tugging back and forth, trying to hold the fence up while while the mob is trying to pull the fence down. So in contrast, some of the images from other protests, I mean, it's dramatic. So there's one image that's been going around about the police response to the Black Lives Matter protest. And there's a one photo that's been shared over and over again, of the steps, the steps of the Capitol Building, covered by row after row after row of a military members in fatigues, with Riot helmets, and their faces covered with cloth, COVID masks, dark sunglasses, and they're all standing like, you know, at attention with their hands in front of them. Full military response. It's intimidating. It is absolutely intimidating. And again, to compare that with the police presence at the beginning of yesterday's protests, where you have a security force in bicycle helmets, I mean, it's it's dramatic. It's so different. Let's go back to the timeline. So the the mob had sort of reached the doors and we're banging on the doors. What happened then?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, they were beating at the front doors, pounding on the front doors. At some point someone brought out a hammer, and started smashing windows. And there are images and videos of from inside the building, of the windows in these very old, very thick wooden doors, with window panes in them. Double glass, triple glass window panes. In these wooden doors being smashed with hammers pounded and pounded and pounded until the dolt until the windows in the doors break. There were also windows on the building itself. So the you've got the the main front doors of the building that contains the rotunda in the middle. But there are also kind of you because this entire tier was flooded with the mob. They had moved beyond the doors and they had gone to some of what are basically office windows to the sides to the to both sides of the front door set back in on the building a little bit. And people smashed the windows there and climbed in the windows and climbed into the rotunda. And this is when it got absolutely bizarre because the rotunda itself just a beautiful space filled with statues and paintings and this intricate marble floor. And there's a there are stanchions with velvet ropes that would normally guide tourists across the rotunda because there are parts that you're not supposed to visit. You can't get too close to some statues and various points. Members of the mob were following the stanchions they were actually walking through them. It was absolutely, truly absurd. Oh! I shouldn't laugh, but I can't not. Oh my God. It was outrageous. So one minute, they're literally smashing windows with what looked like hammers and the butts of - so a lot of the protesters with flags on flag poles, and so using the butts of the flag poles to smash out the windows and then once they're inside obeying (for a while anyway) the rules of the stanchions. And then and then it gets really chaotic and the whole rotunda is flooded. And that's when people got I mean, it got quite bad. There was some looting. I've got a photo here of a young man with long hair and a great big smile. By the way, everyone in this mob is white, so I'm not gonna say "a white man, a white woman". Every single person in this mob is is white, so we can just start there. So this is a photo of a gentleman who's smiling and waving at the camera again, walking between the velvet ropes, and he's got a podium, he has stolen a podium off the senate floor. It's got a gold emblem on it. It's got microphones attached to it. And this guy's got a great big smile. He's waving to the camera, he's got a Trump to ue, a woolly hat with a pom p m on top, wearing running s oes. And he's smiling and w ving at the camera as he l aves the building, having s olen a podium from the Senate f oor. There are other images of p ople taking selfies. One ima e is of a young guy with dark air. And he's got a smile kind f a buck tooth smile and an a oatee. And he's he's got a eather jacket and an American lag bandana around his neck. nd he's taking a selfie while ehind him there are people illing about and wearing, you now, Make America Great Again ats, and again on the walls, th curved walls of the of this r tunda, are huge oil painting from America's history. Again, there's one image of a group of people, four men sitt ng under one of these oil pain ings, on benches that are arou d the outside of the room. And o e's got an old American flag wi h the stars in a circle. And th other one's got a flag that I can't quite make out. It's al scrunched up and I can't quit tell what it is. And, you kno , they're resting. Two of the are looking up at the at the eiling of the rotunda, which is quite magnificent. And so the 're resting in the middle of the protests. Sorry - it's no longer a protest once they re in the building. We're beyond protest. It's a mob. There are other images, I've seen a video that's been going around of the mob as it's moving through the building a one member of the mob actually stopping to pose and take a selfie with a police officer. And the police officer lets it happen. He poses, stops and poses. And when the selfies done, they kind of share a nod and then the the mob member goes away. It's a very, very, very strange time. And it's oh so chaotic in there. There are moments where it's absurd and and it's hard to take the mob seriously. And then there are moments when it's absolutely terrifying. There's a video going around (it was published in The Guardian, on their website and on social media) of a lone black police officer trying to face down part of this mob as its as it's pushing its way through the building, further and further. So at the beginning of the video, this black police officer who's just dressed in a straightforward, dark blue or black police uniform. He's got his COVID mask pulled down so that he can be yelling clearly at this group of young men, all white young men, who are trying to make their way through a doorway. And basically he's saying "Get back", and they're trying to yell at him and force their way through, but they're keeping a bit of a distance. And then he - the police officer - backs up a little bit, and the mob pushes into the room that he's in. And so the police officer kind of goes half up a flight of stairs, and the mob kind of runs after him and this police officer is all by himself, at least as far as we can tell except for the person who's filming and they work their way up several flights of stairs. These are big beautiful marble staircases with brass hand railings, and their you know, paint oil paintings hanging on the wall and this mob of young white men, like step by step chased this black police officer further up in through the building until finally they enter a level they enter a wide open space. And there are other police officers there, and then only when they get to the point where other police officers there are around and supporting this one lone black police officer only then does the mob stop. At some point they actually try and break their way into the the two chambers. So break their way into both the Senate chamber and the House chamber. And there's video of and photographs of the smashing of the windows on the doors that lead into the chambers and there's one image from inside the house chamber where they've pushed a great big piece of furniture, I don't know if it's a bench or if it's a bureau of some kind, but it's dark brown wood and in leather with with brass studs. And they've pushed this piece of furniture in front of the door to barricade the door. And then there are two undercover or plainclothes police officers, white men wearing suits. And they've got pistols on top [of the furniture] ready to fire at the windows. And the frosted glass in the window has been shattered. It's leaded glass with criss crossing, like a diamond pattern of lead framework in the windows, and the frosted glass is shattered, and there's a there's a face poking through the broken glass. Just feet away from the guns of these police officers inside the house chamber. And at some point they got in. The mob got in. They got through, basically anywhere in the main building that they wanted to get into. There are photographs of one of the mob members sitting at Nancy Pelosi's desk in her private office. He's got his foot with a big work boot on the desk. He's wearing blue jeans and a blue plaid shirt and a baseball hat. You know, middle aged white guy with a graying stubble beard, and he's talking to people. He's in the middle of talking to people who are off camera. There are various shots of this where he's smiling at cameras for people as they walk by. There's an American flag draped across a piece of furniture in the room. And there's a later shot of Nancy Pelosi's desk. She was cleaerly in the middle of work, right? There's a cell phone on it, there are a couple of notepads, there are some coffee cups, like a coffee thermos, and some file folders, and an a squirt bottle of hand sanitizer. And right on her the keyboard of her computer is a Manila file folder, and scrawled in red pen, in bold letters is: "We will not back down". That was left on Nancy Pelosi desk. They got into the chamber at one point. There's an image of a protester hanging down to the press gallery is above in the Senate chamber. There's that there's a press gallery above the room and then you know, on the sides and then down in kind of a pit is the chamber itself. Does that make sense? As a description?

Christine Malec:

Um hmm.

JJ Hunt:

There's a photograph of one of these mob members wearing

Christine Malec:

Ya. Mm hmm. all black with a some kind of helmet on and a black backpack.

JJ Hunt:

All of this is happening in such a chaotic way And he's hanging from the ledge preparing to drop down from the press gallery down from the balcony and the press gallery into the Senate chamber. And then later there are images of someone like sitting at at the speaker's. I think it's the dias, is that what they call it? The dias in the chamber. where, like I say, sometimes there's incredible violence; someone was shot trying to break in through one of these doors. The woman died. And yet at the same time, you've got mob members in the rotunda... I've got an image here, there's this guy dressed like a... dress like a bull or something. A guy wearing like a raccoon skin hat with horns, and he's bare chested, and he's got tattoos all over his torso. I've read somewhere that the tattoos are kkk insignia. I can't see that myself. I don't have enough information. I haven't been able to confirm that, but I have heard reputable academics discussing the tattoos on this guy's torso. And in this one image he's howling with his eyes closed and an American flag painted on his face. He's howling at the ceiling. And beside him are two, slack jawed - literally slack jawed men. One has a really thin wispy beard and a Trump hat perched high on his head. And on the other side of this guy dressed like a bull is a guy in a yellow hoodie with a really, really long bushy beard, and they're all having a conversation with a police officer. It doesn't look like it's a particularly aggravated conversation. It doesn't look overly heated. But this guy dressed like a bull is howling at the ceiling. And there's another image from the rotunda of a man who has climbed up onto the pedestal upon which a life size statue of Gerald Ford stands. The statue of Gerald Ford has one arm at its side with his hand holding the lapel of his jacket, his blazer. And so the Trump supporter has tucked a Trump flag - the flagpole - into the crook of the arm of the statue. And he's put a MAGA hat on the statue. And he's climbed up onto the plinth with his arm around the shoulders of Gerald Ford, screaming. This big, burly guy in jeans and a sweater. All of this happening at the same time, the violence, the absurdity. The fear. I've never seen anything like it.

Christine Malec:

The topic of flags has come up a few times, and you've referred to American flags, but I've read references to Confederate flags as well. Did you see that? Yeah, I have. Pretty disturbing. So there were lots of flags inside and outside the building; Trump flags, Trump's support flags, American flags, and you're absolutely right, Confederate flags. So the one image that's being that's going around and around is of one man in jeans, boots. He's wearing like a brown, it looks like a suede vest over a sweater. Kind of got a buzz cut. And he's got a flag over his shoulder on a big long stick. And it's a big, proper confederate flag. And he's striding through one of the side rooms off of the rotunda, I believe. And, I mean, there's so many extraordinary things about this image. First of all, my understanding is that a confederate flag has never been on display or flown in any way inside the Capitol building. It's never happened. That's my understanding. Secondly, there's a police officer, it looks like, behind him. I can't confirm that it's a police officer, but it's someone wearing an all black uniform standing at what looks like attention. Maybe it's not a police officer. But they're just standing and watching this guy stride through this room. On the wall behind him, in the background, are two oil paintings. I saw an article where they were breaking down this image, the historical implications of this image. The two oil paintings in the background, one is of Charles Sumner, he was a Massachusetts Senator who protested slavery. And then the another oil painting is of John C. Calhoun, who was the seventh US vice president. And he was a staunch defender of slavery, and in fact, influenced the ideology that ultimately led to the South's secession. So to have this this man, this member of a mob, storming Capitol Hill, storming the Capitol Building, striding through with a Confederate flag past paintings of thesefigures... it's just, it's extraordinary. Were there other examples of Confederate flags that you saw or was on an isolated incident, There were many, many flags outside the building. Confederate flags, American flags, and then some truly bizarre flags. There's an image I saw of a woman on the steps. So after the building had been breached, and looting had started, this woman had clearly come back outside. She's got an American flag wrapped around her arm, and she's holding up a piece of wood. It's a piece of wood with gold writing on it. And you can see part of the writing; you can make out "the house" and "Nancy Pel". It's clear that this woman has ripped a sign off of either a door, or a wall, or a desk. And flying behind her someone's got a large flag that has a photoshopped image of Rocky Balboa on it. Like "Rocky", Sylvester Stallone from the Rocky movies with Donald Trump's head on it. Okay.

JJ Hunt:

What does one do with that? This is... THIS is the mob that's outside. This is the mob that's storming the building.

Christine Malec:

I've seen many written references two images describing people smiling and you've referenced it as well. And so I'm no student of mob psychology, but I envisioned mobs looking angry or determined, but it doesn't seem from what I've been hearing that that was the mood. Can you get any sense of that based on the facial expressions and the body language that you're seeing?

JJ Hunt:

Ya, it's really all over the map. Truly. There are times when the mob is in the act of breaking down doors, smashing windows, screaming at people, where it's violent, and it's angry. And it's rage and fury. And it looks scary, it looks terrifying. And then there are these other moments where, like I've described, people are hanging out in the rotunda. A lot of people taking selfies, just a ton of people taking selfies. And some of the selfies themselves are popping up online and on social media and in the news reports. Also images of the people taking selfies. It was so extraordinary to see many people not using their cameras, as we have seen in many other protest situations, to film egregious behavior - perceived or otherwise - egregious behavior by others. But to film the behavior of... people filming themselves, so that they can either share it and express pride in their own behavior, or just to keep it themselves and show their friends and think it's hilarious. There was a lot of that kind of selfie taking; smiling, laughing, gleeful recklessness, that I would suggest I'm seeing on these faces and in the body language. And truly moments where it's terrifying, right? Moments where people are facing down guns. And in moments of people being pepper sprayed. There was tear gas used. At some point when they finally cleared the space, tear gas was sprayed inside the rotunda. Gas masks were handed out to Senators and journalists inside the building. It was serious. This was a serious situation. And both of those energies are there; the terror and the violence on one hand, and then this gleefulfulness. They're present in the images that are floating around, for sure.

Christine Malec:

You referred to the crowd being all white, what was the gender breakdown?

JJ Hunt:

A good question. Lots and lots of men. But women too. Hard to know the exact breakdown because it's a mob. I would say more men than women. But by no means exclusively men.

Christine Malec:

When you see the people doing the aggressive actions, like banging on doors and breaking windows, do you see both genders doing that? Or is that an exclusively male activity?

JJ Hunt:

I did see both breaking down doors and windows and climbing in. In fact, I think the one woman that was shot and died, she got shot while climbing through a window. That's my understanding. I think it's fair to say more men engaged in that behaviour, in those initial waves of violence. But again, by no means exclusively.

Christine Malec:

So clearly some came with hammers. Did you see other evidence of weaponry among the mob?

JJ Hunt:

That I didn't. I didn't see anyone with guns in the mob. I didn't see any. It was mostly these the flag poles which were all you know, big, heavy sticks, big heavy dowels.

Christine Malec:

So my understanding is that at some point, the police and security response change dramatically. So what happened there?

JJ Hunt:

Other police agencies were called in. Federal agents were called in. And I think both the the sheer number of agents that were called in, and the the very different look of those agencies mattered. We've talked about this before. You know, when you're facing down people who look like soldiers, people who are armed, people who have riot shields, people who are in fatigues, it's a different situation. And that's who was called in. I've got an image here of from the DC National Guard. And this is a group of soldiers in camouflage. And they've got black shin pads n, they have the Plexi las transparent shields in front of them that go from knee p above the head. And they've go flak jackets on, full military elmets and COVID masks underneat . And they're standing in fo mation, blocking a street. This is what was seen in the in the s reets later in the afternoon, in o the evening and overnight. It was a just a wild day, full of xtraordinary images. Perhaps I'll say thank you to those listeners, and friends and colleagues who sent us notes, knowing that we were going to be covering this, asking us about how we're going to cover this, and encouraging us to do so. This is a strange way to start the new year - for all of us. And I was really touched by the number of people who sent us notes knowing that this is the this is what we do on this show, and being supportive of it, and thanking us for it in advance. I thought that was really lovely. So thank you to all those listeners out there.

Christine Malec:

I second thought. And as usual, JJ, you'r the one who does the heav lifting here. So peace to bot of us, and all of our be t thoughts for for peace of spir t to our American friends a d listener