A longtime area congressman had a front-row seat to the crush of protesters that surrounded, then stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday.
“I saw the entire thing happen. … It was like a wall moving up,” U.S. Rep Bob Latta said Wednesday afternoon in a 25-minute interview with the Sentinel-Tribune. “Holy cow. It’s awful.”
From an undisclosed location within sight of the Capitol building, Latta spoke about the status of the electoral vote count, as rioters supporting outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the Senate chambers.
“Our First Amendment gives everyone the right of peaceful protest. What I saw … people breaking into the Capitol, that’s not peaceful protest. That’s riot. That, that can’t be tolerated. I hope that all the ones they got will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Latta said.
Members of Congress were supposed to be certifying the electoral votes that would make Joe Biden president on Wednesday. Alaska and Alabama’s votes were certified, Latta said. As Arizona was to be entered, an objection was filed. Then members returned to their respective chambers to debate for two hours. It’s necessary that both a House member and a senator file the objection.
“All of a sudden I heard the alarm go off, telling us to stay where we are,” Latta said.
“What we saw was this mass, there were people literally trying to capture the United States Capitol. I don’t know what else you can call it. When you break into a structure and you’re trying to break into the chambers and then they were successful in the Senate, and you see people walking around the United States Senate chamber?
“On the House side that you see our brave U.S. Capitol Hill police had barricaded the door,” he said. “They broke the panels out of the glass. Then the police had their guns drawn and they are going to shoot anybody that comes through the door, because there were members still on the floor. It’s, it’s, it’s absolutely incredible to describe this for this interview.”
During the interview, Latta interrupted his train of thought to describe events as they unfolded.
“There were thousands and thousands of people all crushed in there,” Latta said of the protesters outside. “For some reason they seemed to be coming from the Senate side, the Pennsylvania side, and that’s why the crush hit. But then there were people who came over from the Grant, I mean Garfield, memorial. That’s where they were all running. They just took off running. They overran everything.
“I just heard an explosion from over near the Capitol,” Latta said. “The police are detonating tear gas. I just just heard an explosion. I’ve got my binoculars out. The police are trying to take over the stands.”
The stands are the bleachers set up for the Biden inauguration, which are a temporary construction, along with a stage.
Latta was describing the Trump supporters scaling the walls of the Capitol building, when there was another blast.
“Oh my gosh, they just let something loose over there now. There’s a massive amount of smoke in the reviewing, I mean inaugural stands. They just detonated something. I think it’s tear gas, because there’s a massive amount of smoke coming up now.”
Latta said that Congressional staff members were told to stay home Wednesday, because there was an expectation of possible violence. Only he and his chief of staff were in the office and when violence erupted, Latta sent home the staff member, after determining a safe route to his car.
Latta was texting with one of his friends, a House member from Michigan, when the rioters stormed the building.
“I asked him if everything was OK and I’m watching everything unfolding in the assault on the west front and then I saw everything unfolding on the east front, on the House side and they were trying to get up the front steps. The police officers, they were trying to barricade to keep people from breaking through.”
Latta was in his office, directly across from the Capitol building as it happened. Because of coronavirus restrictions Congress members and staff were limited from being in the building all at once. Groups go back and forth and he had just returned. Members and staff had been warned to not go outside and to use the connecting tunnels.
Latta said he was shaken by events and thankful for help getting to shelter.
“I’m looking and there are still hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that the police are trying to move out. It’s going to be a tough night for the police,” Latta said. “It’s been a long day. I’m not sure if that’s helpful. It’s sort of disjointed. It’s been a disjointed day.”
He also talked about when he was a child and walking around the Capitol with his father, Del, also a congressman, and there were no barriers or metal detectors. Anyone could just go into the Capitol and the House office buildings.
“Like I said, it’s incredible and it horribly, horribly saddens me,” Latta said. “If I hadn’t looked outside my window and watched it happen, I wouldn’t have believed it. Never.”