The Capitol Riots, 1 Year Later: Witnesses Remember the Nightmare — and What Comes Next

"If we want our children to grow up in a true democracy — not just one with elections, but one where every voice matters and every vote counts — we need to nurture and protect it," Barack Obama said on Thursday, marking the anniversary of the attack

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Rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty

As lawmakers participate in a "solemn observance" to mark the one-year anniversary of the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6., many are looking back at the events of that deadly day — and what comes next.

A House of Representative committee's investigation of the deadly rioting continues even as former President Donald Trump and many of his allies continue promoting the lie that helped spur the chaos: that the 2020 election he lost was actually stolen from him and his voters.

Below is a look back at the events of that day, from those in the Capitol as it unfolded around them, plus more about what's happened since and what comes next.

For more on the one year anniversary of the insurrection, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

Elsewhere on Thursday, to mark the first anniversary, President Joe Biden will speak and other leading political figures are highlighting the costs of the rioting and the lessons it can teach.

"Our system of government has never been automatic," former President Barack Obama said in a statement. "If we want our children to grow up in a true democracy — not just one with elections, but one where every voice matters and every vote counts — we need to nurture and protect it. Today, that responsibility falls to all of us. And on this anniversary, nothing is more important."

How the Riots Unfolded

Thousands of Trump's supporters had gathered in Washington, D.C., early on Jan. 6 to show their support for the outgoing president amid his baseless claims of election fraud following his November 2020 loss to President-elect Biden.

As lawmakers gathered inside the Capitol to certify Biden's election — typically a mere formality — Trump addressed his supporters at a rally Wednesday morning near the White House, declaring "we will never concede," and urging them to "march to the Capitol."

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Riots at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. Jon Cherry/Getty Images

March they did, with scores of people moving from the Mall to the Capitol where the massing group of protesters eventually overtook law enforcement (even beating Capitol police officers) and storming the building in the afternoon.

Video footage taken at the scene showed people carrying "Trump 2020" and "Don't Tread on Me" flags clashing with police, many in full riot gear, near the Capitol complex.

The lawmakers inside were forced to seek shelter, some even donning gas masks before they fled the building through tunnels underground.

Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Annie Kuster, D-N.H., center, take cover as rioters attempt to break in to the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote
The Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Recounting the scene to PEOPLE in the wake of the riots, Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger, said he "just went back to Ranger mode. I put all the emotions of the moment into a little box and began to work through the situation."

Crow watched as the few remaining Capitol Police inside the House chamber began locking everyone inside the room.

"I saw them them grabbing furniture and barricading the door," Crow said. "The entire security infrastructure had broken down, we were surrounded and trapped, and that the mob had completely encircled us."

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild, who was photographed being comforted by Crow during the ordeal, told PEOPLE afterward that she contacted her grown children, Clay and Adrienne, as the rioters neared.

"I did have that one thought: is this going to be the last time I talk to them?" Wild said. "You know, that maternal instinct kicks in big time. I was much more worried that they would be left with, in terms of hearing my voice, what they would be left with. Was it better getting that phone call or was that phone call going to cause them more harm? And that's just a classic mom response."

Critically, the electoral votes that were set to be certified were also moved to a secure location as the insurrectionists pushed to get inside the chamber.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar later recalled to PEOPLE what it was like being moved with other lawmakers for their safety.

"We went on this circuitous route to this room, and then we get to the room and then we're all in there together. And that was, I'd say, one of the more interesting things. Press is not in the room. And that was a lot of discussions were going on about, 'Can we…? We're going to…' I remember [Missouri Sen. Roy] Blunt and I stood up at the front and said, "Whatever happens—" I said it first, "However long we're here, we have to finish our job. We have to go back.' " And everyone clapped and said, 'Yes.' "

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., comforts Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., while taking cover as protesters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., comforts Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., while taking cover as protesters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Then-Vice President Mike Pence , who Trump had urged to somehow overturn the election results in his favor, was one of the first lawmakers to be whisked away. Later reports showed that rioters — some of whom chanted "hang Mike Pence" as they entered the building — were about one minute away from reaching Pence before he left.

The situation grew violent quickly, with reports of gunfire and at least one death being reported — Ashli Babbitt, shot by Lt. Michael Byrd while trying to enter a secure part of the complex — as rioters were still in the building.

Trump, meanwhile, had not yet made a statement.

Following waves of condemnation from lawmakers on either side of the political aisle, Trump finally did address the rioters in a pretaped speech that urged them to "go home" but continued to push unfounded claims of election fraud.

"I know your pain. I know you're hurt," he said in a video he shared to Twitter. "But ... we have to have peace, so go home. We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel."

That video was later removed or restricted from social channels including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter due to what the platforms called a "risk of violence," and Trump himself was ultimately banned from the social channels as a result.

Within hours, the rioters were forced out of or left the Capitol complex, but not after more violence and damage to the building itself including startling scenes of them ransacking offices and other spaces.

Congress reconvened later night and certified Biden's election victory before sunrise.

In a small act that nonetheless went viral, New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim was photographed personally cleaning up among the trash and debris from the rioting.

"This is a building that deserves and demands our respect," Kim told PEOPLE at the time.

"As I stood there, looking at the rotunda, my heart was broken," he said. "I just felt compelled. It wasn't something I planned to do. I just saw this room that I love so much, and it was in such disrepair and I wanted to fix it. For the first time that day, I had a mission and my mission was cleaning."

Five people died due to the events of that day, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who suffered two strokes hours after engaging with rioters. Four law enforcement officers who responded to the deadly riots have since died by suicide.

Sicknick was honored last February with a ceremony at the Capitol that was attended by Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. His partner, Sandra Garza, has become an outspoken supporter of reforms and investigations to address the rioting.

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Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden pay their respects to late US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, as he lies in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

The Legal and Criminal Fallout

Trump faced sharp rebuke in the immediate aftermath of the riots, being impeached by the House for "incitement of insurrection" — the only president to ever be twice impeached. He was later acquitted by the Senate, largely along party lines, though seven Republicans voted to convict him.

The Department of Justice took up its own investigation, using a federal grand jury to investigate the events that led to the Capitol attack — a move that legal analysts say could hypothetically lead to charges against Trump or his allies. (Trump has long denied any wrongdoing related to his supporters' rioting.)

The separate probe into the insurrection by a bipartisan House committee remains ongoing, as well, and already spells trouble for those in Trump's orbit. In November, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, for instance, was indicted on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas from the House panel. Bannon pleaded not guilty.

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Rioters breach U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Win McNamee/Getty

The Trump supporters who participated in the riots, meanwhile, face their own legal ramifications.

So far, the Department of Justice says it has charged more than 700 individuals for storming the Capitol and more than 150 have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from assaulting police officers to felony obstruction.

One of the most-photographed rioters from that day — Jake Angeli, dubbed the "Qanon Shaman" because of his bizarre attire — was sentenced in November to 41 months in prison.

In an address delivered Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the the Justice Department "remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law," adding the department would pursue those responsible, "whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy."

What Happens Next

The House committee investigating the riots has issued dozens of subpoenas for the players involved with the planning of events preceding the assault on the Capitol (like the rally near the White House). Among those subpoenaed were members of the Trump administration and some of the former president's closest allies.

A judge in Washington, D.C., denied the former president's request to withhold relevant documents from investigators. According to the judge's decision, the committee is seeking written communications, calendar entries, videos, photographs or other media related to Trump's Jan. 6 speech and rally, the march that followed, the violence at the Capitol and the White House's response.

Despite the ongoing investigations, some of Trump's staunches defenders have, in recent months, tried to shift blame for the attack away from the former president, even as they denounced the violence in its immediate aftermath.

Republican Andrew Clyde, a Georgia representative, downplayed the assault on May, comparing the rioters who breached the building to the events of a "normal tourist visit."

Clyde was one of 21 Republican lawmakers who voted against awarding Congressional Gold Medals to three officers who responded to the Jan. 6 attack.

Despite their resistance, the Democratic-led Congress in August passed a measure calling for the Treasury Department to award three total gold medals to the officers who in some cases fought for their lives that day.

Some of the lawmakers who found themselves running from a mob of angry Trump supporters last year say the trauma lingers. Speaking to the Associated Press ahead of the first anniversary, they said they now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or have sought therapy in the event's aftermath.

Others said they felt more deeply bonded to one another, due to what they had faced together.

Speaking to the AP about a virtual Zoom meeting held by lawmakers one week after Jan. 6, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal said emotions ran high.

"There were a lot of tears," Jayapal told the AP. "There was a lot of anger. There was a lot of, you know, just how could this be? How could we be in America and have this happen in our Capitol?"

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