Editor’s note: On July 27, Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson convened the House select committee that was formed to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol. Below is his full opening statement.
Let me say a few words at the outset about this Committee’s work and how, as Chairman, I plan to run things. We are going to be guided solely by the facts. The facts of what happened on January 6th, in the run-up to that tragic day, and what has taken place since. That’s what we’re charged to do by House Resolution 503. There’s no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation. Our only charge is to follow the facts where they lead us.
And while we have a lot to uncover, there are a few things we already know.
We know that the insurrection on January 6th was a violent attack that involved vicious assaults on law enforcement. We know there is evidence it was a coordinated, planned attack. We know that men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country. We know that seven people lost their lives, that more than 140 police officers suffered injuries. We know that efforts to subvert our democracy are ongoing, and a major part of the Select Committee’s work will be to find ways to eliminate that threat.
We also know that the rioters came dangerously close to succeeding. If not for the heroism of the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department, many more lives might have been lost. And the rioters could have accomplished what they set out to do: upend American democracy.
It’s an honor to have four of those heroes sitting before us today. Welcome. For appearing here, and more importantly, for your heroism on January 6th, you have the gratitude of this committee and this country. You held the line that day, and I can’t overstate what was on the line: our democracy. You held the line.
We’re going to revisit some of those moments today, and it won’t be easy. But history will remember your names and your actions.
And it’s important to think about history as this committee starts its work… as we hear from these courageous men and to get answers for the American people. Because we need to understand our history if we want to understand the significance of what happened on January 6th and of our role as members of the people’s House.
I’m talking about the peaceful transfer of power.
Two hundred twenty years ago, in 1801, the House of Representatives did one of its jobs laid out in the Constitution. After a deadlock in the Electoral College, this body cast 36 ballots and ultimately settled the contest for President of the United States. What followed was the first peaceful transfer of power in our country’s history.
We know that since then, our history has been far from perfect. We’ve been torn apart and brought back together. We’ve struggled across generations to make our country’s great vision a reality for all Americans. We’ve won victories and suffered failures.
But the peaceful transfer of power has stood as a pillar of our democracy. It’s one of the things we rely on. A safeguard that we hold close. Because as heated and angry and divided as we may be—whatever victories we celebrate or upheavals we endure—we can rest easy knowing that when the moment comes, our system guarantees that one party will hand the reins to another if that’s the will of the people.
And while our institutions endured, and while Joe Biden is the legitimately elected President of the United States, a peaceful transfer of power didn’t happen this year.
A violent mob was pointed toward the Capitol and told to win a “trial by combat.” Some descended on this city with clear plans to disrupt our democracy. One rioter said that they weren’t there to commit violence, but that, and I’m quoting, “We were just there to overthrow the government.”
They marched on the Capitol with the clear intention of stopping the certification of the election. And when they encountered the police sworn to keep us safe, they went on the attack. With bear repellent spray, knives, tasers, hockey sticks, even flag poles fashioned into clubs with the American flag still attached.
And those rioters breached the Capitol. They smashed windows, scaled walls, broke down doors, and invaded the halls of Congress. It was a scene of violence in the citadel of our democracy not seen since 1814, when British soldiers sacked the building.
They raced through the hallways chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” “Where’s Nancy?” They stormed onto the Senate floor because they wanted to stop the Senate from certifying the election. The rioters tried to take over the House floor for the same reason. Thankfully some astute young staff members had the presence of mind to grab the physical electoral ballots for safekeeping.
These rioters were organized. They were ready for a fight. And they came close to succeeding. It’s frightening to think about how close we were. A few inches of wood and glass. An officer turning left instead of turning right.
But just describing that attack doesn’t come close to capturing what actually took place that day. So we’re going to see some of what our witnesses saw on January 6th. Let’s see the video please, but please be advised that it contains graphic images and strong language, which many may find disturbing.
He’ll be back, he warns us. It’s just chilling.
I thank God that our democracy—and our Republic—withstood the assault. But that man’s warning reminds us that this threat hasn’t gone away. It looms over our democracy like a dark cloud.
Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th. The hangman’s gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence.
And all of it: for a vile, vile lie. Let’s be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As Chairman of this Committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground.
We need to understand how and why the Big Lie festered. We need to know minute by minute how January 6th unfolded. We need to understand how the rotten lie behind January 6th has continued to spread and feed the forces that would undermine American democracy.
And we need to figure out how to fix the damage.
It won’t be easy work, but I have tremendous confidence in the colleagues sitting to my left and right. These are women and men of courage and character.
We did not ask for this. But the House of Representatives did its job to give this country its first peaceful transfer of power. And we’ll do our job now to make sure the peaceful transfer of power remains a pillar of our democracy. We cannot allow ourselves to be undone by liars and cheaters. This is the United States of America.
My distinguished colleague from Wyoming, Ms. Cheney, is not the ranking member of this Select Committee. But because this investigation is bipartisan, it’s important that we hear Republican voices as well.
I now recognize Representative Cheney for an opening statement.