'I Was Sure I Was Going to Die': Hispanic Caucus Members Remember January 6

After Donald Trump spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 6, 2021, his supporters marched on the U.S. Capitol, overwhelmed police, and stormed the building.

Every member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) inside the building during the attack who spoke with Newsweek thought it would be the last day of their life.

"It was the only time in my life I was sure I was going to die," Representative Luis Correa said.

Elected officials know some risk comes with being in the public eye, Representative Darren Soto said, but January 6 was wildly different.

"When I started hearing bullets and gas being fired," he said, "that was the first time I thought I could die in this moment."

Representative Raul Ruiz, the CHC chairman, said he was focused on his own survival and the safety of his colleagues. He said he felt a strong sense of responsibility as an emergency physician to think through potential escape routes and scenarios in order to save lives.

But when he finally took a moment to contemplate what he was feeling, he realized there was a strong possibility he could die if a mass shooter broke onto the House floor and gallery.

"I've always had thoughts in my life on what I would do during my last minutes, and so I started to pray," he told Newsweek. "I gave God thanks for my family, for being with me, for leading me. But asking him to care for my wife and my children, that's when I began to get teary-eyed."

All members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, were in grave danger that day. But the CHC members felt their ethnicities and skin color added to the threat.

Recalling his experience, Representative Jimmy Gomez said you know your life is in danger when you start doing things you've never done before to protect yourself. He thought it was important not to look like a lawmaker in those moments.

"I thought it was better if I'm not wearing a suit — my jacket, lapel and tie," he said. "Most of these folks don't think brown people are members of Congress. So it became, 'how do I survive? How do I blend in? How do I not standout?'"

Gomez said he began to run, but then asked himself if he wanted to be remembered as someone who ran or who helped people. So he began helping lawmakers who were older and couldn't move as quickly as he could.

Representative Nanette Baragán recalled being at baseball practice for the Congressional baseball game in the fall of 2017 when she learned Representative Steve Scalise had been shot.

January 6 was another terrifying day with members of Congress in danger and the added fear of being a woman of color, she said.

"The part that is not often spoken of is the fear members of Congress of color had," she told Newsweek. "When you're a person of color and a member of Congress, the thought on that day was hide your pin, I'm not white, I'm going to be a target. That was something that was really real."

CHC members said that in the wake of the January 6 insurrection they have had increased fears over further politically fueled violence in Washington and in state capitals across the country.

They put much of the blame on Republicans who dutifully followed Trump's descent into conspiracy theories, and whom they say continue to ignore the lessons of 1/6.

"If Democrats were in the minority that election would not have been certified, and we would have been no different than any banana republic we like to criticize," Representative Vicente Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, like his colleagues, said many Republicans condemned the attack in private conversations, and some were heroes like Representative Liz Cheney who subsequently lost her leadership posts, and Anthony Gonzalez, who is not seeking reelection after voting to impeach Trump.

But many of those private sentiments disappeared publicly "when political winds started to blow," and many of them "were afraid to stand up to Donald Trump and the Big Lie" that the election was stolen, Gonzalez said.

Democrats say the chambers of Congress are nothing like they used to be, with some Republicans acting as if political disagreements are now personal affronts, going as far as to get nasty, even in private.

Gomez recalled a November incident when the House was going to vote on President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill, and Republican lawmaker Roger Williams told him in the elevator, "You people are ruining the fucking country."

Gomez, who is Mexican-American, was taken aback.

"All I could think was, 'I don't even know who the fuck you are,'" Gomez told Newsweek. He said he knew Williams was a Republican because he wasn't wearing a mask in the elevator, but only learned his identity after pointing him out on the House floor to a colleague afterwards.

Many of the members feel January 6 should be remembered as sadly and importantly as September 11 because it was an attack on the country.

"Every day that I live I remember January 6," Correa said, noting that while it was not as dramatic as what soldiers go through on the battlefield, he is beginning to understand what people talk about with PTSD.

What bothers him the most, however, is that on 9/11 the U.S. was attacked by people from other countries, but January 6 was American vs. American.

"More importantly, and sadly, I did everything in my mind and my soul to prepare myself to take out another American. I was ready to take someone's head off, thinking before I go down I'm going to take down one or two or three people with me," Correa said.

"As a human being I've never had to think about killing another human being," he said, 'let alone taking down two or three Americans waving the same flag I pledge allegiance to."

january 6 trump blm
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump stand on the U.S. Capitol plaza on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C., where Trump's supporters stormed a session of Congress held January 6 to certify Joe Biden's election win, triggering unprecedented chaos and violence at the heart of American democracy and accusations the president was attempting a coup. ALEX EDELMAN / AFP/Getty Images