Congressman Bennie Thompson arrived at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on January 6 with the anticipation of watching the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
He was in the first wave of people who had been approved to watch the proceedings, which were set to certify Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.
It was no secret that demonstrations were planned that day in D.C., bolstered by supporters of former President Donald Trump, but most in the Capitol building, like Thompson, thought the protests would be confined to the streets.
Shortly after the call of the states began, Thompson said something caught his eye that was out of the ordinary from previous vote certifications he had attended.
“We noticed what was an unusual commotion on the floor,” Thompson, who was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month to lead the congressional investigation into what has been dubbed the January 6th insurrection, said during an interview with Emmerich Newspapers publication The Enterprise-Tocsin last week. “We saw security take the Speaker, take the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader, the Majority Whip – all of those individuals have 24/7 security teams – and they were escorted out the building. And all of the doors, in the midst of this, were shut tight. We didn’t know what was going on, other than this was out of the norm.”
Thompson, who serves as chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he began to receive calls from his wife and his staff, who were watching the events unfold on television.
“As time wore on, we became aware that the demonstrators outside of the Capitol had breached the perimeter for security,” Thompson said, adding that at the time he still did not know the full scope of what had transpired outside of the chamber doors. “At some point, the doors at the gallery were locked, and the security said, ‘You need to put on a gas mask, because they’ve broken into the Capitol.’”
Thompson, who has served Mississippi’s second congressional district for over two decades said he is fully aware of how tight security is around the Capitol. He said he has had to navigate armed security and metal detectors for decades in order to enter the building.
“Once we were made aware of the breach and that tear gas had been deployed in certain areas of the Capitol to secure it, we became quite concerned,” he said.
Thompson spent over an hour in the gallery before being moved to another location.
“As we were exiting the gallery, we saw a number of people spread-eagle on the floor, being held at gunpoint by security, and that was kind of the first real visual that any of us had as to how close we came perhaps to significant harm on our part,” Thompson said.
Six months after living the Capitol breach, Thompson is tasked, along with his 13-person committee, with getting to the bottom of any potential communication and intelligence failures that might have led to the demonstrators making it as far as they did that day.
“(We will) come back with a body of recommendations to prevent that from ever happening again,” Thompson said.
Thompson said, among other things, the committee will look at the Capitol police, the D.C. metropolitan police, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, “as well as other intelligence-gathering agencies,” to better understand “why we were not, as a country, better prepared.”
“We’ll be quite busy,” Thompson said. “We’ll interview a lot of people. We’ll hold some hearings. We’ll hire the best investigators you can find.”
Thompson pointed out at least one potential breakdown from January 6 he said the committee will look into, and that is D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s request for National Guard assistance that he said went unanswered for hours.
“The D.C. guard is controlled by the Pentagon rather than the mayor,” Thompson said. “When the mayor was calling for the guard backup, they told her ‘You have to call the Pentagon.’ From published reports, it took three hours for the Pentagon to respond.”
Thompson said he hopes the committee can bring more clarity to that and other issues and make the necessary recommendations so that something like the January 6 breach isn’t repeated.
“It was a bad day, and one that I hope, with the work of our committee, will never happen again,” Thompson said.