Was US Capitol Unlocked With Code on Jan. 6? What We Do Know, What We Don't

As the House Select committee continues to present evidence in its investigation of the January 6 U.S. Capitol attack, unevidenced and misleading claims about the riot continue to proliferate online.

One prominent recurring claim is that a 20,000lb. door on the east side of the building was opened from the inside using a security code, which some commentators frame within the "inside job" narrative.

Newsweek looked at the evidence behind the claims.

trump january 6 hearings
Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Pro-Trump protesters entered the U.S. Capitol building after mass demonstrations in the nation's capital during a joint session Congress to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over Donald Trump. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

A tweet, first posted on January 31, 2022, and reshared on Reddit on June 13, 2022, claims that two 20,000lb. doors on the east entrance of the Capitol building were opened from the inside using a security code during the January 6 riots.

The same claims were repeated on Twitter by pro-Trump social media influencer Brandon Straka the same day as the Reddit post.

Straka posted a similar claim on Twitter in February 2022 as well.

The posts, which have gathered more than 20,000 engagements cumulatively, claim the doors were magnetically locked, openable only by a security lock inside the Capitol.

Though it is not explicitly mentioned in the posts, this narrative appears to stem from claims made by a "retired Marine" January 6 protester in a Gateway Pundit interview in May 2021.

"The [doors] were opened from the inside. [...] here's what I can tell you about magnetic locks," the unnamed Oath Keepers member said.

"If a door is locked by a mag lock it cannot be opened from the outside or the inside unless the person controlling that door opens that door by turning off the magnetic lock which those doors according to the photos I took are equipped with.

"NOTHING, nothing, no person, no group of people, no hundreds of people who could have opened those doors. No one. Unless the Capitol Police wanted those doors open."

Two Sets of Doors

Having looked at the evidence available, Newsweek found that these posts confuse or misinterpret a number of crucial details about the entrances to the Capitol building, the timeline of events, and how rioters made it inside.

To set the scene, on January 6 a group of protestors made their way into the Capitol via the upper floor of the building's east side, through an entrance that has two doorways.

The first of these are the 17ft high, 20,000lb. bronze Columbus doors, installed in 1863, later moved to their current location in 1961.

The doors feature intricate sculptures depicting the life of Christopher Columbus, including a bust of the explorer at its head and scenes of his journey across the right and left valve.

They open inwards, leading to the second, much smaller, wooden and glass-paneled doorway.

By referring to their weight, the social media posts suggest the outer Columbus doors were the ones closed and sealed by a magnetic lock.

However, as footage from the January 6 riots shows, the main Columbus doors were already open for some minutes before the crowd made it inside the Capitol. Footage from the scene appears to show that the outer doors were opened sometime between 02:06pm and 02:08pm.

Though it is not clear who opened them, the remaining footage suggests the question is moot, as the inner doors were sturdy enough to keep the protestors out (until opened from the inside at 02.24pm).

Newsweek was unable to confirm definitively that there was no magnetic lock on the outer doors, but none can be seen at least on the various videos of the scene.

On the other hand, photos of the entrance show that the smaller doorway was secured this way (the locks are clearly visible at the top of the entrance). To emphasize, that doesn't mean it was locked with a security code either. In fact, Newsweek could not find any evidence to support this claim made by the Gateway Pundit interviewee and others.

At least part of his claim appears to be true, in that the doors were opened from the inside. But the "security code" claim is on much shakier ground.

A CCTV recording of a protester who made their way to the inside of the east entrance, shows them approaching the doors, pushing against them repeatedly in what appears to be an attempt to let the crowd in.

They then can be seen communicating with someone outside of shot, before returning to the door, pushing it again with more persistence, and opening it.

Notably, photos taken at the scene show a sign outside the doors stating they could be opened by pushing against them for three seconds. What appears to be the same sign can be seen in the CCTV footage.

If the entrance was secured with a passcode, it's very unlikely there would have been a simple emergency failsafe, which would defeat the purpose.

This point was also confirmed by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, in a tweet from earlier this year.

"To open this door you have to hold it for a few seconds. Because of fire escape reasons it's not 'magnetically locked'," Kinzinger tweeted. "No 'command center' opened it. Other rioters who opened another door were instructing (from second level) how to open it."

Newsweek has reached out to Kinzinger for additional comment.

Newsweek contacted the Capitol Police for comment, but was told: "The Department cannot comment on security measures related to the U.S. Capitol."

Newsweek has also contacted the U.S. Capitol Visitor Centre and a House Select Committee spokesman for comment.

As the House Select Committee hearings continue, new evidence may come to light, including further details of how the outer doors were opened, or how the magnetic locks on the inside doors operate.

But the evidence currently available does not support claims that either of the doorways was protected by a security code panel inside the building.

Shortly after the historic Columbus doors were opened, at around 02:07pm, the rioters began attempting to storm the entrance, unsuccessfully.

The glass-paneled doors behind them—acting as a fire exit—held for nearly 20 minutes, until they were opened from the inside by a protestor.

These are not the only misleading claims being repeated as the House Select Committee has presented its evidence this month.

Newsweek recently debunked a claim, made by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and others, that none of the protestors at the Capitol on January 6 brought guns, despite several members of the crowd having already been charged for carrying firearms.