US Senator Richard Shelby says the mob attack on the US Capitol nearly two years ago was something he and others on Capitol Hill continue to think about a lot and he was “concerned” when it took place.
Shelby, who is leaving Congress after 44 years in the House and Senate, said he hoped Americans had “learned a lot” from the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots and warned against violence by the US Mob is what often tears down democracies.
“Were we worried?” Yes, we were worried about the nation first,” Shelby said, recalling the events that happened after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol while Congress was counting the votes. “We were basically safe.”
Members of Congress were forced to flee for their safety, and Shelby was escorted out of the Capitol through an underground tunnel to the Senate Hart Office building.
“I never thought I’d see that in America,” Shelby said. “I never thought that this would happen, that a mob would storm the US Capitol while the House and Senate were counting votes for the election… electoral votes. It’s never crossed my mind. But it was real.”
Shelby opened up about his movements during the harrowing moments as the mob moved toward the Senate chambers and the moments when he was escorted out of the building during an interview from his Senate office in Washington, DC.
Shelby said he was in the Senate chambers while then-Vice President Mike Pence was conducting election counting.
“We voted to get the presidential race out of the way, which I voted for and, you know, get on with it,” Shelby said, acknowledging that he disagreed with objections from his fellow Republicans to the electoral votes in the swinging states Arizona and Pennsylvania. He was the only member of the Alabama Republican congressional delegation to vote against the objections when former President Donald Trump promoted false theories that he lost the 2020 presidential election to fraud.
Shelby said, “All of a sudden, I see the vice president take off his clothes, and I thought, ‘I wonder if the president is calling anyone.’ Nobody told us (what was going on). This takes 20 to 30 seconds. Twenty to 30 seconds later, Chuck Grassley, who is President Pro Tem of the Senate and presides over the Senate under the Constitution. (More) 20 to 30 seconds later, all of a sudden, I think it was the FBI, the SWAT team suddenly came in. doors open. It was quiet where we were. We continued in the Senate.
“[One member of the SWAT team]is standing directly across from (me) assembling his machine gun,” Shelby said. “He says, ‘Get down! Come down, everyone, down!’”
“I didn’t fall, I got stuck. I am big. I thought, ‘Wow.’ That’s when you knew it was real. You could hear the excitement.
“I was sitting right next to the majority leader because of my seniority and all that,” he said. “We marched under heavy guard under the tunnel to the Hart building, which is two buildings down. We were there for nine hours.”
Shelby’s office, located in the Russell Senate Office Building, was also placed on hold while the Capitol was overrun by rioters.
“My staff and everyone else’s staff were here,” Shelby said, turning to his communications director, Blair Taylor. “You couldn’t go. The police, they had mobs out there. They tried to protect us.”
“Wasn’t funny, was it Blair?” Shelby said.
Taylor replied, “No, it wasn’t funny.”
Shelby said, “I will never forget that day. It will be something that will be indelibly imprinted that there is no place for violence here. We all think about it a lot and you should too.”
The mob charged through the building and into the Senate Chamber, which had been evacuated upon their arrival.
Some of the Senate members wore tactical gear, including 55-year-old Larry Brock of Grapevine, Texas. Brock, a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel, was found guilty Wednesday of six federal charges, including a felony of obstructing an official process.
Brock posted on social media in the weeks leading up to January 6 that he preferred “one riot at this time” and another the day before the riot, and declared that “our second American revolution begins in less than two days.” .
In all, in the 22 months since Jan. 6, 2021, nearly 900 people have been arrested for crimes related to the US Capitol break-in. Over 275 people were charged with assaulting or obstructing law enforcement. At least 15 people have been arrested in Alabama, according to the US Department of Justice website.
“It topples democracies. Mobs do,” Shelby said. “I hope we learned a lot from it.”
Shelby said he believes the FBI, US Capitol Police and National Guard had enough resources to “protect the Capitol.”
“When I got into the US House of Representatives, you could walk anywhere,” Shelby said, referring to the early 1980s when he was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1979 in Alabama’s 7th congressional district. “I don’t know if they had 10 cops here. You could drive your car and park in front of (the Capitol), and they didn’t care who you were.”
Shelby, 88, was elected to the US Senate in 1987 and has served six terms. He is the state’s longest-serving senator and will retire on January 3 after serving the last 36 years in the upper house.
“We live in a different game,” he said. “We also live in a different game at home. People at home lock their doors. You have an intruder alarm system. Many of them have guns. Fifteen million guns have been sold during COVID. That is a lot. Its scary.”
He added: “Am I scared (around January 6th)? Yes.”
Senator Richard Shelby will retire on January 3, 2023 after a 36-year career in the United States Senate and over 51 years in elected official service. AL.com recently sat down with the senator to reflect on his career and look ahead as Shelby retires.