Butterfield calls Capitol attack 'unthinkable' | The Wilson Times
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Butterfield calls Capitol attack 'unthinkable'

Posted on January 9, 2021

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Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of a broken window in the U.S. Capitol among the damage left behind after rioters stormed the building on Wednesday.

Contributed photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of a broken window in the U.S. Capitol among the damage left behind after rioters stormed the building on Wednesday.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of National Guard troops walking past Vaclav Havel's statue in the U.S. Capitol halls Wednesday night after police regained control of the building.

Contributed photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of National Guard troops walking past Vaclav Havel's statue in the U.S. Capitol halls Wednesday night after police regained control of the building.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of a broken window in the U.S. Capitol among the damage left behind after rioters stormed the building on Wednesday.

Contributed photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of a broken window in the U.S. Capitol among the damage left behind after rioters stormed the building on Wednesday.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of National Guard troops walking past Vaclav Havel's statue in the U.S. Capitol halls Wednesday night after police regained control of the building.

Contributed photo

Rep. G.K. Butterfield captured this image of National Guard troops walking past Vaclav Havel's statue in the U.S. Capitol halls Wednesday night after police regained control of the building.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7818

Butterfield

Butterfield

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield said Thursday that not since 1812, when the British burned the White House, has Washington been attacked, and never in the nation’s history have the Capitol grounds been overrun in an insurrection or rebellion. 

Butterfield, D-Wilson, called the security breach “unthinkable” and “a planning failure” on the part of Capitol police and the FBI.

North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District representative and a House senior chief deputy whip watched from the Rayburn House Office Building window as protesters surrounded the Capitol.

Butterfield said officials had known about plans for large-scale protests at the Capitol for weeks. 

“My office faces the Capitol from the Rayburn building, so starting around 9 o’clock yesterday morning, I could see Trump protesters arriving at the Capitol,” Butterfield said Thursday afternoon. “Many of them had Trump flags and other paraphernalia. They were assembling on the Capitol grounds. I really dismissed it because we see protests all the time up here. That was really nothing unusual, but as the morning went on, the crowds began to swell, and I became a little bit concerned about it.”

The House and Senate began counting electoral votes around 1 p.m.

“We were told that we would be brought to the House floor in shifts because of the pandemic,” Butterfield said. “We couldn’t have 535 people on the floor at the same time, obviously, and so I was scheduled for fourth shift. The first shift was actually on the floor when this happened.”

Butterfield observed the proceedings in his office with one television tuned in to the House and the other on the Senate. 

“All of a sudden, I saw Mike Pence disappear from the screen, and I knew that was unusual because it was scheduled to be a two-hour debate, and for the vice president to disappear like that caused me some concern,” Butterfield said. “Then, moments later, I saw on my TV screen a mad rush of about 20 people rushing off of the House floor. I have been on the House floor for 16 years, and I know trouble when I see it — and I knew that there was trouble.”

Butterfield received an emergency alert from the Capitol police that all members should lock their doors, shelter in place and prepare to evacuate if necessary.

‘PLANNING FAILURE’

Following police instructions, Butterfield battened down the hatches. 

“So we did that, and then we found out that the crowd that I was looking at from my window was only a small sampling of the crowd that was on the other side of the Capitol, that there were literally thousands of people at the east steps of the Capitol,” Butterfield said. “I later found out that their protesters were more than protesters. They were engaged in a riot. I call it an insurrection or a rebellion.”

Butterfield said the Capitol police were prepared for a protest, but not an insurrection. 

“It was a huge planning failure on the part of the Capitol police and the FBI and all of the other law enforcement entities that protect us,” Butterfield said. “I got word that the protesters first entered the Senate and went on to the Senate floor, and one actually sat in the chair of the president of the Senate and raised his right fist and was taking pictures with his cellphone. To have that kind of breach in to the Capitol is just unthinkable.”

Butterfield said the Capitol police could have responded differently. 

“They could have pulled their weapons and they could have started shooting indiscriminately, shooting protesters as they entered the Capitol, and they didn’t do that,” Butterfield said. 

Experts will spend years debating whether police should have used immediate deadly force, the congressman predicted. 

“On the other side of the Capitol, which is my side, protesters started going up the steps and scaling the walls and engaging in some vandalism once they entered the Capitol,” Butterfield said. “They went in to Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi’s office and sat at her desk and tried to enter the House floor.”

Butterfield noted that the speaker’s lobby is right next to the House floor.

“There is a big glass door that separates the speaker’s lobby from the general lobby, and they tried to enter the door. And once you enter the door, it is only like six steps from the House floor,” Butterfield said. “As they tried to enter the door, the door was locked, and they couldn’t get in. There was a vertical glass pane next to the door, and that’s when there was an assembly of protesters there at the glass window, and they broke the window and a lady started crawling through the window, and that is when the Capitol police shot her and she died.

“When that happened, she was literally six steps away from the House floor and there were still members of the House on the House floor. I was not one of them, but there were still members of the House on the House floor and the Capitol police did what they had to do to secure the safety of the House members.”

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

In the meantime, Butterfield and other members were directed to shelter in place.

“That is when we were hoping that the National Guard would show up, and finally after about an hour, the District of Columbia activated its National Guard and they came out and then some state troopers came over the bridge from Virginia and they contributed to our security,” Butterfield said. “And after about another two hours, then the crowd was under control and they started pushing the crowd back.”

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser instituted a 6 p.m. curfew.

Butterfield could see from his window that not all the protesters were leaving.

“So the riot control police continued to push them back, push them back and push them back, and so finally they had it under control,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield said representatives and senators had to decide whether to continue with the vote certification. 

“We had to do it. We had to do it for two reasons. First of all, the law requires that we do it on Jan. 6,” Butterfield said. “The other reason is that we cannot let terrorists terrorize the House and shut us down. So for those two reasons, we had to continue.”

The Senate reconvened at 8 p.m., and the House reconvened an hour later. 

“We took up the challenges from Arizona and Pennsylvania and finally at 3 o’clock this morning, the Republicans announced that the other four objections were going to be abandoned and that we could complete the certification, and that’s what we did,” Butterfield said. “I walked off the floor at 3 o’clock in the morning just before the certification was complete. There was a curfew in Washington. So I drove to my apartment and it was uneventful. There was no one on the street.”

‘IT IS UNTHINKABLE’ 

Butterfield said, “No one has experienced this.”

“The last time this happened was at the hands of the British back in 1812 when the Brits came in to D.C. and vandalized the White House and burned the White House, but never have we had this type of insurrection on the grounds of the United States Capitol,” Butterfield said. “It is unthinkable. It is nothing less than insurrection.”

Butterfield said he recognizes demonstrators’ First Amendment right to protest. 

“I came out of a protest movement, and I will defend anyone’s right to protest,” Butterfield said. “We are very accustomed to that here in Washington, but protests must be peaceful. Any time protest ventures into a riot, then it’s unacceptable, and the people responsible for it must be punished for participating in this unlawful conduct, so no, I have never seen anything like this and hope it won’t happen again.” 

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