He spent Jan. 5 at a funeral service for her son, Tommy, who committed suicide after years of living in the shadow of depression. He spent January 6 under siege on the United States Capitol as a mob of Donald Trump supporters staged a deadly insurgency. Almost a year later, Jamie Raskin wonders if he could have prevented either tragedy.
“Just as I blamed myself for missing any clues I might have picked up with Tommy, I also blame myself for any clues I missed regarding the violence, âsays Raskin, carefully measuring every word. “I spent many, many sleepless nights blaming myself and self-procuring for everything that happened with Tommy and with the insurgency. “
Raskin, a member of the Democratic Congress from Maryland, took office in January 2017. Four years later, and a day after burying his 25-year-old son, he was on the United States Capitol under coronavirus restrictions to help to certify the victory of Joe Biden in the presidential election. He saw the citadel of American democracy come under attack by a frenzied mob convinced by Trump’s “big lie” about vote rigging.
“I heard that terrible sound that I will never forget from some people trying to enter the bedroom of the House,” the 58-year-old recalls in a telephone interview from his home in Takoma Park, Maryland. . âI don’t know to this day exactly what kind of physical objects they were carrying, but they kept slamming against the central door of the House of Representatives and so a lot of people started moving there to try. to strengthen it.
âBut then some police from the Capitol came running with their guns in hand, telling us all to come in, and they went up and guarded that door. There were people screaming and it was very chaotic. You could hear people screaming, âWe want Trump! And “Hang Mike Pence!” – a reference to the vice president who ignored Trump’s calls to call off the election.
Members of Congress were evacuated through the President’s Hall, tunnels and stairwells. âWe saw members of the crowd running in different directions. It was like a zombie movie. Every time we saw them, everyone would speed up their efforts to get away. An insurgency is a pretty intimate thing. These people were everywhere. It’s remarkable that more people don’t die.
Finally, they reached the security of a committee room in a House office building. But Raskin’s daughter, Tabitha, 23, and her son-in-law, Hank, who had accompanied her to Capitol Hill that day, were trapped in the office of Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader. They barricaded themselves with furniture and hid under Hoyer’s desk.
âI was obviously very worried,â says Raskin. âI was an emotional wreck anyway, but now I felt intensely responsible for bringing them with me and putting them in danger. It had never occurred to me that the United States Capitol wouldn’t be safe. “
Eventually, the building was cleared by security forces and the family reunited. âI hugged and kissed them and told Tabitha how sorry I was and said it wouldn’t be like that the next time she came to the Capitol. It was then that she said: “I don’t want to come back to the Capitol again”. The immensity of these events struck me at that time. They had fundamentally changed everything by unleashing this violence to support their political coup.“
That night, Congress returned to the building to complete the Electoral College count and confirm Biden as the next president. In a stunned nation, there were demands that Trump face judgment over his role in inciting the riot. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, asked Raskin to become the lead prosecutor.
He says, âFor me the trial was kind of a salvation because I was deeply in shock and traumatized by Tommy and what had just happened on Capitol Hill. It was a time of great confusion.
âIf you remember 9/11 and what it was like, everyone was walking around beaten up and stunned, there was that feeling. But as I became the primary impeachment official, I quickly had to focus on what needed to be done.“
Previously a constitutional law professor, Raskin made a compelling case and was unafraid to display his anger, grief and vulnerability. A majority of senators voted to condemn Trump, but lost 10 votes from the constitutionally required two-thirds majority. The ex-president was acquitted. But Raskin was not finished.
He is now a member of the House of Representatives select committee investigating the events of that day. He gathered documents and phone records and called witnesses in an attempt to produce the definitive account of an event which Raskin said was “as close to fascism as any of us want to come in our lifetime. “.
The congressman, who has written a book to try to make sense of the 50 days that turned his life upside down, says: âI would like to say that January 6 was the end of something but it seems to me a lot more the beginning of something .
âAt the end of the day, it’s up to us. We are definitely fighting for the future of democracy. Joe Biden is the right president to try to get us out of this time of emotional devastation, but at this point Donald Trump’s “big lie” lives on and his control over the Republican Party is absolute. We are therefore still very much engaged in the fight of our lives.
Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy by Jamie Raskin to be published by HarperCollins January 4