In an interview with The Boston Globe, the Chief Of Staff for Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Sarah Groh, said all of the panic buttons in their office had been ripped out before supporters of President Donald Trump
attacked Congress in the failed hopes of stopping the certification of the 2020 election.
According to Groh, the House sergeant-at-arms told all Congressional members and staffers to get to the building early because of the rally Trump had planned nearby. Groh, Pressley and her husband Conan Harris got to Capitol Hill early but she immediately noticed something was off.
“I was deeply concerned. It felt like the heat was being turned up in terms of the rhetoric and Trump’s aims to incite violence,” Groh said before detailing what happened once the Trump supporters were in the building running amok.
Staffers were securing the door to Pressley's office when they realized the panic buttons were no longer there.
“Every panic button in my office had been torn out — the whole unit,” Groh said.
She had used them before so she knew where they were supposed to be. Groh later told NewsCenter 5 that the entire day was filled with harrowing events.
"To try to go through the day of keeping her safe and also filing responsive legislation while there was a noose with a functional platform hung on the West Lawn was incredibly jarring," Groh said.
Pressley later wrote on Twitter that she was terrified because she, like other members of Congress, were worried that their Republican colleagues were giving the domestic terrorists information during the attack.
"The second I realized our "safe room" from the violent white supremacist mob included treasonous, white supremacist, anti masker Members of Congress who incited the mob in the first place, I exited," Pressley said on Twitter, later referencing the fact that her husband, along with other members of Congress tested positive for COVID-19 after having to shelter with Republicans who would not wear masks.
"Furious that more of my colleagues by the day are testing positive," she added.
The second I realized our "safe room" from the violent white supremacist mob included treasonous, white supremacist, anti masker Members of Congress who incited the mob in the first place, I exited. Furious that more of my colleagues by the day are testing positive.
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) January 12, 2021
“Our staff has used these devices before and they are regularly tested and maintained,” Pressley said in a follow-up statement to The Hill, explaining that there were duress buttons that were “installed throughout the congresswoman’s office suite.”
“The safety of the Congresswoman, her family and our staff remain our top priority and at the direction of the Congresswoman, the Sergeant at Arms oversaw the installation of new duress buttons throughout the office following the attack,” her office added.
She later described her experience during the attack to NBC10 Boston.
"Barricaded in my office, sitting or lying on the floor, in the dark, with a gas mask in my hand, alongside my chief of staff, my husband, another member and their aide," Pressley said, adding that she has since called for an investigation to be done into what Republican members of Congress knew about the attack.
The small note in the longer story about how representatives from Massachusetts dealt with the Capitol Building attack caused a stir online as more information poured in from members of Congress about how the day played out.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) highlighted the situation on Twitter, writing, "Even if one assumes this as some totally innocent oversight, how does the department responsible remove ALL the panic buttons from a highly visible member’s office and NOT inform that member or their staff?"
Even if one assumes this as some totally innocent oversight, how does the department responsible remove ALL the panic buttons from a highly visible member’s office and NOT inform that member or their staff? https://t.co/yH0uBKJv5P
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 13, 2021
In an Instagram Live with her constituents, Ocasio-Cortez explained that she had her own terrifying situation that day. She said she could not share the full story because of security concerns, but she openly said she worried that her Republican colleagues would reveal her location in order for the attackers to hurt her.
“There were QAnon, white supremacist sympathizers and frankly white supremacist members of Congress in that extraction point who I know and who I had felt would disclose my location,” she said. “I can tell you that I had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die. I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive.”
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told The Cut that some members of Congress told their staff members to wear normal clothes in order to blend in with the rabid mob of white supremacists. This, as she noted, was simply not an option for congresswomen of color like her, Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley.
“I think we all understand, but particularly as a woman of color and an immigrant woman of color, what happens when you have white nationalist, armed, violent individuals. One of my colleagues was talking about how she had instructed her staff to wear just regular casual clothes in case they needed to blend in with the crowd at any point, and she herself was wearing black pants and a black turtleneck because she wanted to fit in if she needed to,” Jayapal said.
“And when I saw that description, I thought to myself, That’s not an option for me," the congresswoman continued. "That’s not an option.”
Multiple members of Congress have said they too noticed strange things that day. New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill appeared on MSNBC and said she was confused to find Republican officials the day before offering tours of the Capitol Building to random groups of people.
Because of COVID-19, all tours of the Capitol Building have been cancelled, and the only way anyone can get inside is as part of a group attached to a member of Congress.
"Visitors aren't allowed in the Capitol complex. The only reason you'd have a visitor is on official business. So to see these groups around the Capitol complex was really striking," she said.
“Those members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol that I saw on January 5th, a reconnaissance for the next day, those members of Congress that incited this violent crowd,” she added.
"Visitors aren't allowed in the Capitol complex," Rep. Mikie Sherrill says about the "suspicious" Capitol tours the day before the riot. "The only reason you'd have a visitor is on official business. So to see these groups around the Capitol complex was really striking." pic.twitter.com/4YMbJCve70
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 14, 2021
Newly sworn in Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) also noted that his panic buttons had not even been installed yet, and were only put in place after the attack.
Remember I’m new to congress. I was sworn in on Jan 3rd. There were no panic buttons in my office on the 3rd. They were just installed today.
— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) January 13, 2021
The New York Times reported that far-right activist Ali Alexander has in recent days said that Reps Mo Brooks, Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs were involved in the attack on the Capitol Building.
"I do believe that something was going on. They knew where to go. I've been told…by some other Congresspeople that their staff are saying that they saw people being allowed into the building through side doors," Clyburn told CBSN anchor Lana Zak.
"Who opened those side doors for these protesters, or I call them these mobsters, to come into the building, not through the main entrance where magnetometers are but through side doors. Yes, somebody on the inside of those buildings were complicit in this," he added.