4 facts we can VERIFY about Jan. 6 ahead of hearings

Congress is holding hearings about the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Here’s what we know ahead of the hearings.

Starting this week, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol will go public with its findings. The series of six hearings, which will take place over the next several weeks, will begin with a prime-time session on June 9 at 8 p.m. EDT. 

More than 1,000 people have been interviewed by the nine-member panel, but only snippets of that testimony have been revealed to the public, mostly through court filings. That will change on Thursday night when the panel plans to give an overview of its 11-month investigation. The lawmakers also plan to have witnesses testify and display a series of never-before-seen images and other evidence relating to the lead-up to the insurrection and the attack itself.

Ahead of the hearings, here are four facts we can VERIFY related to the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

THE SOURCES

QUESTION #1

Was the U.S. Capitol ever attacked prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection?

ANSWER #1

   

This is true.

Yes, the U.S. Capitol was attacked prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

WHAT WE FOUND

The Jan. 6 insurrection was the first large-scale occupation of the U.S. Capitol since 1814, but there have been other instances of violence at the Capitol building, particularly throughout the 20th century.

During the War of 1812, the British Army invaded Washington, D.C., and its troops were able to breach and burn down the Capitol building on Aug. 24, 1814, according to a Senate history online archive. The British troops also set fire to the president’s mansion and other local landmarks during the invasion. The Senate history archive says a torrential rainstorm is the only thing that saved the Capitol building from complete destruction during the attack. 

More than 100 years after the 1814 attack on the Capitol, Erich Muenter, a former professor of German at Harvard University, came to Washington to “deliver an explosive message,” according to the Senate history archive. On July 2, 1915, Muenter slipped quietly into the Capitol building while cradling a small package containing three sticks of dynamite. 

The Senate history archive says Muenter placed the package under the Senate's telephone switchboard and set the bomb’s timing mechanism to go off a few minutes before midnight to “minimize casualties.” Twenty minutes before midnight, the bomb exploded, however, no one was injured or killed. Muenter was eventually arrested several days after the bombing and died by suicide in jail. 

The Capitol building was bombed in a few other instances in the 20th century, including in 1971 and in 1983, but no one was harmed in those attacks. However, there were two shootings that happened at the Capitol in 1954 and in 1998 that left several Congress members injured and led to the death of two Capitol police officers. 

In 1954, the Capitol building was attacked by four people in the Puerto Rican Nationalist party, according to the U.S. House of Representative's online archive. The four individuals were able to walk into the visitor’s gallery overlooking the chamber with handguns. They opened fire and wounded five members of Congress. No one was killed in this attack. 

In the 1998 attack, an armed assailant stormed past a Capitol security checkpoint and killed one Capitol police officer. He then exchanged gunfire with a Capitol police detective who was protecting a Congress member, and the detective was fatally wounded. 

QUESTION #2

Did Nancy Pelosi have a role in deploying the National Guard to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6?

ANSWER #2

   

This is false.

No, Nancy Pelosi didn't have a role in deploying the National Guard on Jan. 6. 

WHAT WE FOUND

In July 2021, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) implied on Fox News that the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had a role in keeping the National Guard from protecting the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

In a clip posted on Twitter, McCarthy asked, "Was there a decision by the Speaker not to have the National Guard at the Capitol that day?"  

The Speaker of the House does not have the authority to request the National Guard to the U.S. Capitol. That power is designated to the Capitol Police Board, which is made up of the House sergeant at arms, the Senate sergeant at arms, and the architect of the Capitol. They did not request assistance from the National Guard until after the insurrection had already begun.

After that request, the National Guard was activated by Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, according to a press release from Jan. 8, 2021. It took more than two and a half hours for the troops to reach the Capitol and assist law enforcement. 

QUESTION #3

Was the Jan. 6 insurrection a completely unarmed protest?

ANSWER #3

   

This is false.

No, the insurrection was not a completely unarmed protest.

WHAT WE FOUND

One of the most popular claims in the days and months following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was whether the rioters were armed. In February 2021, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) suggested Jan. 6 wasn't an armed insurrection, according to news reports. Then, in May 2021, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) claimed there was no evidence the riot was an "armed insurrection.” 

The U.S. Department of Justice has been tracking individuals charged with federal crimes stemming from events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 on its website. This list does not include anyone charged with crimes by a local jurisdiction.

VERIFY searched through court records and found several individuals who were sentenced or charged with assault for using some type of weapon during the insurrection. We found that stun guns and stolen police batons were used in the melee, along with makeshift weapons including crutches and flagpoles. 

For example, on Dec. 17, 2021, Robert Scott Palmer was served the harshest sentence of the protesters charged so far. According to DOJ records, he was witnessed throwing a fire extinguisher at police officers and was sentenced to five years in prison for charges that included assault on a police officer.

As of June 8, 2022, the FBI still has a flier on its website calling for the public’s assistance in finding an individual accused of planting pipe bombs around Washington the night before the insurrection. 

QUESTION #4

Does the public have the right to enter the U.S. Capitol whenever they want? 

ANSWER #4

This is false.

No, the Capitol is not public property, and visitors are not guaranteed unrestricted access. 

WHAT WE FOUND

More than 860 people have been arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, according to DOJ records, and many of them share one criminal charge in common: entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds. The charge itself led several people on social media to claim: “The Capitol Building is public property…therefore, people have the right to be inside.”

Jane Campbell, president and CEO of the United States Historical Society, told VERIFY, “there was a time where anybody could come walk into the building.” But Campbell said that time was more than 70 years ago, and laws have been on the books since 1946 controlling public access to the Capitol building. 

In the 1970s, Congress tightened restrictions after a domestic terrorist group called the Weather Underground set off a bomb in the Capitol, according to the FBI, and again in the late 1990s when an armed assailant stormed past a U.S. Capitol security checkpoint and killed two Capitol police officers. Now, the only public access to the Capitol is through the visitor’s center

In a statement to VERIFY sister station WUSA, the U.S. Capitol Police said when it comes to the Jan. 6 insurrection, none of that matters. 

“When it comes to the violations on Jan. 6, it is not relevant whether or not the U.S. Capitol is a public building. It was not open to the general public that day,” USCP said. “First, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, because of the Joint Session of Congress. The rioters violated the law the moment they crossed the police line."

According to the General Services Administration (GSA), federal buildings are open to visitors from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a valid ID and a security screening. But, that’s not a blanket rule.

“Just as our freedom of speech doesn't allow us in a crowded theater to scream ‘fire,’ we also can't come into the Capitol, disrupt the work of Congress, and vandalize our most sacred space," Campbell said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

  

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