Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opened up Monday night about her harrowing experience running and hiding from rioters inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. In an Instagram Live chat watched live by roughly 150,000 viewers, the New York Democrat described hiding in the bathroom in her congressional office, fearing for her life as she heard people systematically working their way down the hall banging on doors and shouting: “Where is she? Where is she?” “This was the moment where I thought everything was over,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the emotional 90-minute video. “I thought I was going to die.” The people searching for the second term congresswoman turned out to be the Capitol police, not the pro-Trump mob that has targeted her online and in real life, but AOC’s ordeal was just beginning, as the police aggressively urged her to evacuate to a different building as the siege played out.
Recounting the events and feelings of that day was emotional for AOC, who also revealed in the video she had been the victim of sexual assault in the past. “I really just felt like, if this is the plan for me, then people will be able to take it from here,” she said, occasionally wiping away tears. “I had fulfilled my purpose.” AOC, who has been derided by Republicans for opening up about the fear and trauma of the riot, accused other members, like Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, of adopting the language of abusers in their responses. “These folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize. These are the same tactics of abusers. And I’m a survivor of sexual assault,” she said. “I haven’t told many people that in my life. But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”
Republicans have sneered at the idea that anyone might have actually worried about their personal safety that day, despite five people dying in the violent incursion. The terror was very real for many members of Congress; this is, after all, a country where schools are routinely subjected to deadly shooting sprees. Not to mention there is a disturbingly large subsection of the country that has been moved to violence by the words and deeds of an American president and abetted by the Republican Party.
In the lead-up to Jan. 6, AOC had received warnings from congressional colleagues urging her to be careful and make plans to stay safe. That’s a horrifying reality for the country writ large that lawmakers’ safety isn’t assured while at work. Ocasio-Cortez said she felt increasingly unsafe in the days before the siege, as Trump supporters grew more combative with lawmakers everywhere, outraged by the fiction that the election had been stolen. After returning to her car following a vote on Jan. 4, AOC was greeted by Trump supporters waiting for her, and heckling. “It felt actively volatile and dangerous,” she said of the altercation.
Days later, the aggression erupted into coordinated violence for all to see, and during the chaotic and confusing moments hiding in her office, AOC recounted not knowing if she would make it out alive. When the Capitol police officer finally entered her legislative office, an aide told the congresswoman to come out from hiding, but AOC said the situation still felt confusing and unstable. It was unclear who was who, but the congresswoman evacuated to another building that she didn’t name and found herself wandering the halls looking for a place to hide.
AOC said she came across Democratic congresswoman Katie Porter of California and went to her office where Porter’s staff barricaded the door with furniture. Inside, AOC said she shut off the lights, closed the blinds, and looked for a change of clothes, something other than the dress and heels she was wearing, that would be more suitable to escape. She said the group spent five hours in the office, during which time they learned that bombs had been planted outside the Democratic and Republican headquarters.