I’m sure by now you’ve caught some of the back and forth over whether AOC was telling the truth about her experience during the Capitol riots or not. I finally gave in and went down the rabbit-hole this afternoon and here is my honest impression of this whole controversy. I don’t think AOC intended to lie but a her narrative is so personal and so internal, almost novelistic, that a lot of what she’s describing happened mostly in her head.
To be clear, I’m not saying she made stuff up, at least not exactly. I think her account is her legitimate experience. She was afraid. She was in a panic at several points by her own admission. But if you step back and look at her experience objectively, her panic often had more to do with what she was thinking might happen than what was actually happening. And to be fair, she’s pretty clear about that up front.
“What I’m about to tell you is my account. How I perceived things with my eyes, my ears, my nose,” she said as she started laying out the events leading up to the riot.
“The week prior to the insurrection, I started to get text messages that I needed to be careful,” she said. And then she jumped forward to Monday, two days before the riot. She described driving to the Capitol and she realized “this crowd” of Trump supporters was already in town. She described at length how after a vote she came down the steps of the Capitol and a bunch of people came close to her car. She says they were “so hyped” and began taking out their phones to film and asked her why she hates America. She described what happened as “schoolyard bully silliness.” But she says that underneath the silliness she was a bit worried about this group of people with flagpoles.
Later that night AOC stopped at a local grocery store. She could see people in MAGA hats and said “it felt, like, tense.” “You just can catch a vibe and you can know when things aren’t right,” she said. “Things started to feel not right when I was in that grocery store Monday night.” She doesn’t describe why she felt that way. No one spoke to her but she suggested people were looking at her and she felt something was wrong.
On Tuesday there were more people near the Capitol, some setting up microphones. She said when she returned to the Capitol to pick up her keys there were people watching. “I was already taking my pin off and taking proactive measures because I already felt unsafe on Tuesday.” She’s referring to the pin that identifies members of Congress. She was doing this so that, from a distance, she looks just like another intern. Again, she’s clearly nervous and feels anxious but nothing has really happened beyond maybe some Trump fans eyeballing her.
Now we get to Wednesday and AOC spends a long time describing how she arrived at her office around 9;30 am with her legislative director. She then went and got her 2nd vaccination shot, all of which she filmed. After that she came back and decided to order a nice lunch since her staffer had come in with her early. And as she was trying to decide what to order suddenly there was a pounding on the doors. “I hear these huge violent bangs,” she said. She acted this out several times for the camera, even knocking over her phone in the process.
There’s a bit of storytelling art that comes into play at this point. As she gets to this moment, everything slows down. She spends the next ten minutes describing something that, by her own admission, took place over a matter of seconds.
AOC ran to her legislative director who told her to run and hide. She ran to her back office and then hid in the bathroom. And as she was hiding someone entered her office and shouted “Where is she?!” This is the moment AOC was convinced the Trump fans had found her and now, maybe, she was about to die.
“The weird thing about moments like these is you lose all sense of time,” she said. She continued, “In retrospect, maybe it was four seconds. Maybe it was five seconds. Maybe it was ten seconds. Maybe it was one second. It felt like my brain was able to have so many thoughts in that moment.”
Again, I’m not trying to mock her here. I think what she’s describing sounds like a genuine moment of panic. But of course panic isn’t always helpful or appropriate.
As this person kept shouting, she described hiding behind the bathroom door, peeking through the hinges and a sense that time was dilating in what might be her final moments. But then her staffer yelled “Come out, come out!” And then she comes out from behind the door and realizes this person is a member of the Capitol Police. But she still thinks something is wrong. He seems angry and agitated.
Now take a step back for a second. The reason this officer was there was to evacuate the building because of a bomb threat. So maybe the reason he’s worked up is that he’s worried the building is about to blow up but he can’t leave until he gets everyone else out and AOC is slowing him down because she’s literally hiding from him in the bathroom. I don’t know what he was thinking but it seems reasonable the bomb threat that prompted the evacuation could explain his demeanor.
The officer told AOC and her staffer to run downstairs and enter the Longworth building across the street. AOC literally runs and then goes up to the 5th floor to find another member she knows, but she can’t find the office. She runs downstairs in a panic.
All of this is happening in a matter of maybe 30 seconds. AOC admits a lot of the people around her aren’t in a panic like she is. “All of these developments were happening so rapidly that I think different people were at different awareness levels,” she said.
She describes her mental state as “fight or flight” as she reached the door of Rep. Katie Porter. “I am at like a ten. Right. I’m at a full ten, fight or flight, thought I was going to die like ten minutes ago, then thought I was going to die again because I have to tell you that when I was banging on this door I had thought, fully expected, that by this point the building had been breached and there were people walking the hallways. This is what I had fully expected to have gone on in that moment.
“And so when we’re outside in this hallway alone, I’m banging on this door…and I’m fully expecting one of these insurrectionists to turn the corner with a gun and that it would be over, again.”
Again, I think she was genuinely scared. But even she seems to recognize that a lot of the panic was personal and not fully shared by people around her. She was at a 10 out of 10 on the panic scale and others were not.
What actually happened to her that week boils down to arguing with some rude people around her car, some other people eye-balling her in a grocery store one night and again the next day at the Capitol. Her first fear of imminent death Wednesday was over a police officer trying to ensure her safety. Her second was entirely in her imagination in a moment of panic.
Again, I don’t think her fear was unfounded. If she had been in the Capitol when it was breached I think she (and Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi) would have been justifiably afraid for their lives. The mob beat and crushed police officers, one of whom, Officer Sicknick, later died. They trampled a woman who was on their side, killing her. Mobs are really, really stupid and anything might have happened if they’d come across one of their top targets.
That’s my take. I guess that’s not the clear one side or the other answer some people would like but that’s how I see it. The mob was genuinely terrifying and AOC had particular reason to fear them. Fair enough. But hiding from a police officer trying to ensure your safety is not a genuine near death experience, not like the ones some of the police officers on the front lines of this riot faced.
Here’s the full video. Watch it and make up your own mind.