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The coup is still underway

Make no mistake — an aspiring dictator, egged on by his allies in Congress, failed to hold on to power this time. But those very same people haven’t given up.

US Capitol Police with guns drawn stand near a barricaded door as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

“Are you OK?”

“Where are you? Be safe.”

I’ve seen a lot in my years on Capitol Hill. But nothing prepared me for the events of Jan. 6, and the texts I received that day from my daughter Molly as I evacuated the House floor.

I’d been presiding over the House at the request of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been ushered out of the chamber moments before by her security detail. I thought she would be right back because she left her phone on the desk in front of me. My access to information was limited, and I wasn’t able to fully understand Molly’s texts until I was rushed out of the chamber by Capitol Police.


Representative Jim McGovern presides as the US House of Representatives goes to recess as a pro-Trump mob storms the US Capitol.
Electoral proceedings halted, Pence rushed out after Trump supporters storm Capitol.

There I came face-to-face with a violent mob that had broken into the Capitol building to stop the lawful certification of the presidential election. They had pushed past barricades, broken property, and severely injured Capitol Police officers. Now, they were smashing the windows on the doors to the Speaker’s Lobby to try to get at us as we rushed to safety.

People ask me if I was afraid that day. I wasn’t. Not because I’m brave — but because I couldn’t process what I saw. It is unlike anything I could have ever imagined witnessing in America. I felt in that moment the same way I feel today: The people who stormed the Capitol were there to kill us. I looked into their eyes and saw evil.

I’ve spent my career in public service working in the Capitol. It’s more than just a workplace to me. It’s a living symbol of America; of our government of, by, and for the people. It shook me to my core to see it being ripped apart by people who had been radicalized by a lie.

A year has passed since that dark day. I still remember the bitter smell of tear gas as we walked back into the building later that day. I can feel the crunch of broken glass under my shoes and see the small drops of blood on the white marble floors. But those memories are less crisp now and they have taken a backseat to anger, outrage, and frustration.


I’m angry that many Republicans failed to denounce political violence, disavow the Big Lie, and say loudly and clearly that the election was not stolen.

I’m outraged at the cowardice of so-called leaders like minority leader Kevin McCarthy who still embrace the very conspiracy theories that led to violence.

And I’m frustrated at the hypocrisy of right-wing television hosts who privately begged Donald Trump’s chief of staff to end the insurrection — while publicly downplaying what happened.

I serve with colleagues who I can’t even stand to be on the elevator with — their unapologetic embrace of the lies that led to violent extremism makes me sick.

A bipartisan select committee established by Speaker Pelosi and supported by brave Republicans like Representative Liz Cheney is thankfully now bringing the full story of Jan. 6 to light.

It’s already clear through the e-mails, texts, and documents they’ve uncovered that the planning for the insurrection reached deep into the West Wing — an unconstitutional coup, meant to keep the former president in power, planned at the White House.

The committee is continuing its work. The broken glass has been cleaned up. The damage to the Capitol has been repaired.


Some wounds — like those sustained by law enforcement officers during the violence— may never heal. And no amount of time will ever bring back the Capitol Police officers who died in the wake of the attack.

But a year later, a fundamental question remains: Will the Jan. 6 insurrection be swept under the rug, or seen for what it could be — the beginning of the end of American democracy as we know it.

Many of the people who failed to overturn the election are now using the levers of power at the state level to rig future campaigns.

They’ve introduced more than 440 bills across 49 states designed to hijack the election process and suppress the right to vote. This represents a dagger to the heart of the American experiment: that the people get to decide who is in charge. Chillingly, 34 of those bills have become law in 19 states.

Those who manufactured the crusade to steal the 2020 election know how and why they failed. They are laying the groundwork to overturn the next election successfully. The coup is still underway.

Make no mistake — an aspiring dictator, egged on by his allies in Congress, failed to hold on to power this time. But those very same people haven’t given up — they are analyzing their failures and will continue their brazen attempts to seize power by any means necessary. This is not some academic debate: In future elections, they might succeed in the unthinkable.


To thwart them, we must continue to expose what happened on Jan. 6, to demand accountability for those who planned and participated in the attacks, and to take every action necessary to defend our democracy. We may not be so lucky next time.

Jim McGovern is a US representative from Massachusetts.