Supporters of President Donald Trump surround the U.S. Capitol following a riot on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) Capitol Insurrection
Supporters of President Donald Trump surround the U.S. Capitol following a riot on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The chief of staff for longtime Congresswoman Alma Adams on what he saw when Trump supporters stormed American democracy.

John Christie III was one of several Capitol Hill staff members who were close by when a violent horde of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building in an attempt to overturn election results a year ago. 

Christie is the chief of staff for Congresswoman Alma Adams, who has represented NC’s 12th Congressional District since 2014.

The pair were in the same room in a building across the street from the US Capitol when the nation’s legislative building went on lockdown during the attack. That day, Adams assured the American people that she was safe after images and video of the insurrection scoured social media and televisions. 

A day later, Adams told C&P that Trump needed to be removed from office immediately, blaming the former president and his enablers in the GOP for inciting the insurrection.

“I don’t want to talk about how some of them looked,” Adams said then. “Some of them looked pretty damn scary to me.”

The Washington, D.C., native joined Adams’ office in 2017 as a legislative assistant, working on issues related to education, labor, criminal justice, immigration, and trade. 

C&P spoke to Christie about the day of the insurrection and the year in American politics since.

C&P: What was it like when you realized the demonstration and rioting and everything had moved onto the Capitol grounds?

Christie: I’ll never forget that day. I was located in the Rayburn House Office Building which is adjacent to the Capitol, literally across the street. And of course, as a result, our entire building went into lockdown mode. That day, two of my staffers, the congresswoman, and I were all here in the office because we had a staggered office presence due to COVID. That always will stick in my mind, just seeing the pictures and the videos of folks just running into the Capitol, breaking windows, things like that.

C&P: What was Congresswoman Adams’ reaction during that time? 

Christie: Her reaction was a lot like mine, incredulous, at the fact that this was happening. That day she had planned on going to the Capitol to watch the certification of the electoral college and at the last minute she decided to not go. And it’s actually really lucky that happened. I can’t imagine what could have happened if she was there, having to evacuate, or hide, or run away from those rioters. 

When she got back to the office, we were just starting to see some of the videos of folks breaking into the Capitol. She looked at it just as aghast as we did. And she started receiving phone calls from her family and her friends who were really concerned about her safety.

There was really just a sense of, “I can’t believe this is happening,” sort of a disbelief, the fact that you’re watching on TV private citizens attack the center of the US government. I think that really just stuck with everyone’s mind.

C&P: What has the year since been like for you personally? 

Christie: It’s been tough. I will say that, first, going back to that day, a part of me will always feel a little bit of regret, and feel a little bit responsible, because I had the decision whether to allow staff to come in that day or not. I allowed them to come in mostly because I didn’t think that anything like what happened could happen. I wasn’t even thinking on that wavelength. And to have it happen, to have staff who were here because of my directives, really in the center of all that, that really weighed on my soul for a bit. 

Since that day, we really take any sort of threat or anything that even resembles a threat seriously, as far as reporting it to Capitol police. There’s a lot of distrust and resentment towards our colleagues across on the other side of the aisle.

And it makes it hard to work. It makes it a really stressful environment because folks don’t know who to trust. They don’t know whether people have their best interest at heart. Due to what happened, there’s a bit of distrust that’s gone towards Capitol police, unfortunately. 

And you’re talking about all of that climate while we are also focusing on a pandemic that’s still infecting people, getting people sick, killing people. I’ve seen more staffers take advantage of the resources that Congress has as far as mental health, or counseling, or other things, than I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been here for seven years. 

C&P: How does it make you feel when Republicans and right-wing media try to downplay the insurrection? 

Christie: It’s amazing to me how folks can deny what they can see with their own eyes. I understand it on one hand, one other hand, I don’t. I understand that that was a situation that makes one party or one ideology look bad and they want to downplay it as much as possible because it’s an embarrassment. And it also just makes them look like a radical outfit that should never be gifted with power. 

But on the other hand, those rioters weren’t just attacking Democrats. They were looking to hang the vice president. They were looking to go after Republicans who were willing to tell the truth that the election was fair and free, and that Joe Biden won it.

And all that happened while those who were tasked with protecting Congress, protecting the staff, etc, didn’t receive any sort of guidance or assistance from the man who’s in charge of enforcing the law. 

It’s scary that there are folks who are willing to delude themselves into believing outright lies. I don’t think it bodes well really for any of us. The idealist in me, the optimist in me, would like to think that the people will break at some point, but just given the events in the last year, it’s kind of hard to see that happening anytime soon.

Interview edited for brevity and clarity.