Kuster: We were under attack. We were being hunted. I thought we could die

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Screen shot of photo by Andrew Harnik / AP

Congresswoman Annie Kuster, a Democrat, is pictured during the siege at the Capitol Jan. 6, 2021.

Above, Video Shows How Close NH Congresswoman Annie Kuster Came Jan. 6, 2021 To Being Taken By the Mob at the Capitol


CONCORD – Democracy could easily have died on Jan. 6 three years ago along with members of Congress, said U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, who described her harrowing experience escaping the House gallery less than a minute before a mob breached the doors separating them.

A newly released video of her escape is above, and an Op-Ed piece she wrote for Newsweek here: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/other/on-january-6-all-that-separated-me-from-the-rioters-was-30-seconds-opinion/ar-AA1mwIJ0.

Kuster said Friday in a telephone interview with InDepthNH.org she is struck by how close the nation came to chaos and that she was in a small group of Congressmen who were likely among the last to leave the gallery.

“Democracy prevailed, thank God,” but it was a harrowing experience and a narrow escape she said she is now prepared to fully discuss.

And she thanked those in law enforcement for saving the day.

Saturday is the third anniversary of the attempted insurrection Jan. 6, 2021. This is the first year she finally feels safe, Kuster said.

She can talk about it as a release of sorts, Kuster said, without worry that anything could impact the investigation.

“It’s easier for me to talk about it now,” both from a legal and emotional standpoint, Kuster said.

She is eternally thankful for officers who stood in harm’s way to protect not just her, or her colleagues, but Democracy itself.

The video release follows many court cases and the Jan. 6 Commission inquiry. Kuster said she is happy that the story and videos have finally come out for the world to see how close it came to anarchy and how much service and sacrifice of law enforcement that day made the difference.

“I am an unusual survivor and witness to history,” Kuster said. 

“It was just 30 seconds,” Kuster noted in the video between scurrying from the gallery to a waiting elevator before the doors closed behind three men seen in the video who were looking for them.

Kuster said she had several of what she thought were panic attacks during the siege and the last one occurred when she was safely in the elevator headed for the basement.

“I said, ‘what happens if the door opens on the main floor?’ and the police officer in the elevator put his arm out and said, ‘I am here to protect you, ‘Maam.’”

The doors finally opened to the basement where they were running to a specially equipped Ways and Means hearing room where they were holed up for five hours.

But before getting there, her cell phone rang from a worried son, Zach, who could see what she could not, video of the siege from outside.

Kuster said: “I told him, ‘I’m running for my life. I’ll call you back.’” 

Fortunately, she said, she was able to call him quickly after making her way to a hiding place with other members of Congress.

For those who do not recall, it was on Jan. 6, 2021, that the United States Capitol was attacked by a mob making attempts to overturn the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

The cause was determined to be false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from then President Donald Trump who was seeking a second term.

The report shows that Trump allies of far-right extremists came with zip ties and tear gas to the Capitol, bound to disrupt and delay the Electoral College vote count, breach the building, grab legislators to prevent them from voting, and overturn the election of Joe Biden, who was duly sworn in as the winner of the election.

Still, Kuster notes, one fourth of the country believes Trump won.

“It’s pretty stunning,” Kuster said, and the anniversary comes at a time when New Hampshire voters are considering who to support in the next presidential primary, with Trump again on the ballot seeking a second term.

The lesson from that day for her is that Democracy is fragile.

“Nobody knows how close we came that day,” Kuster said.

What happened eroded trust and undermined the nation in a way that lingers and lives on to this day, she said.

“They were trying to hunt us and they wanted to disrupt the election,” she said, “And they almost did,” noting that with a narrow, five-vote margin of Democrats in the House, if the mob grabbed enough Democrats who would not be able to vote, either by holding them hostage, killing them or even sending them to the hospital, they could have handed the gavel to Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and “he would have controlled the floor. America would have woken up the next morning to total chaos…and the insurrection would have been successful.”

But it did not happen.

Kuster said for the longest time, the video was not released and it was not until now that she was able to see and confirm “how close we were. Just 30 seconds.” 

There were nine deaths associated with the attack and at least 174 police officers assaulted.

More than $30 million in damage was assessed to the Capitol including gallows built on the lawn to hang Vice President Mike Pence if he did not comply with Trump’s urging.

There was a delay in the counting of electoral votes by several hours before Kuster and others left the chamber at 3:30 a.m. Jan. 7 deeply shaken and exhausted, but triumphant.

She recalls feeling physically drained for a week due to the adrenaline coursing through her body and was told this is part of what happens to people who suffer from war, from being hunted.

Members of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, factions of the Three Percenters, the QAnon movement, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and neo-Confederates and other far-right movements have been prosecuted and convicted of crimes that day.

The U.S. Capitol Police, Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police, Virginia State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Washington D.C., National Guard and the Virginia National Guard played roles in trying to save legislators and see to it that the traditional – and in the past – civil transfer of power took place.

In all with video evidence to back it up in many cases, more than 1,200 including Trump have faced or are facing criminal charges relating to the attack and more than 2,000 believed to have entered the building for what defenders say was like a “tourist visit.”

That sort of rhetoric, Kuster said, is what is most maddening and she is happy to see the public now has access to video evidence of the “tour.”

According to the House select committee that investigated the incident, the attack was the culmination of a seven-part plan by Trump to overturn the election.

Kuster gave credit that night to former Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, who led the investigation and was key that fateful night as Republican caucus leader for agreeing with her Democratic counterpart, Hakeem Jeffries, to stay on and complete the certification of the vote.

Kuster said she told Cheney that night that her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, a Republican, would be extremely proud of her for ensuring the people’s work was done, and not thwarted by thugs, by holding the vote. 

Kuster was headed out Friday afternoon from Concord to hear Cheney speak at Dartmouth College on “Defending Democracy.”


When she recalls the day, Kuster said Congressmen knew there were MAGA protesters around but had a false sense of security that they would be safe, having never had such a thing happen at the Capitol.

“It had been building for days,” Kuster said of the protests and there had been some security information indicating a higher level of concern than usual, including the National Guard’s involvement, but in the past, they would just stand in front of the building with their weapons and that was enough protection, she thought.

While walking to the Capitol that day, Kuster said she saw a federal bomb squad and heard two bomb threats had come in.

But she was not that concerned yet and was among a group of about 30 Congressmen invited to watch the proceedings now known as the “Gallery Group.”

Historically, she said the quadrennial transfer of power was a pretty perfunctory, ho-hum event.

“In the past it was a ‘no-nevermind'” thing but because it was an honor to attend, she went on the invitation and was in the third-floor balcony overlooking the proceedings when she began to hear banging noises outside the chamber.

At first, she was not concerned because she could not see what was going on outside.

Called to action by Trump following a rally, more than 2,000 of his supporters walked from the Ellipse to demand Pence and Congress reject Biden’s victory.

It began at noon with a “Save America” rally when Trump repeated false claims of election irregularities and said, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

At that time, Kuster was already in Congress and was watching the beginning of the electoral vote count. 

She said she became concerned when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was removed from the chambers below and the banging noises sounded closer.

“She was whisked out,” followed by Steny Hoyer, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalese, Kuster recalled.

Suddenly, the doors to the gallery where she was watching from were locked by the five or so police officers inside with them and efforts to evacuate the several hundred House members on the floor below them hastily began.

There were sergeants-at-arms with bull horns on the floor delivering instructions including one to put on gas masks located under their seats.

She said she did not know if the gas was being released by the mob or the police.

“We heard that the Capitol was breached. We all said ‘what’s that mean?'” and that they were in the rotunda coming toward them.

She recalls someone shouting from the balcony “What about us?” to those evacuating the floor of Congress.

The police had ordered them all to get down on the ground below the divider that could be seen from the floor.

The pounding on the doors to the Congress continued and Kuster said she recalled telling U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, in one of her first days on the job and wearing a white suit with spike heels “we’ve got to crawl out.”

But the police, she said, did not have a route to get them out yet.

Kuster said she began feeling like she was having a panic attack with the gas mask hood over her head which was making a whirring sound that resonated through the building and felt surreal.

Someone told her that her COVID-19 mask was on her face and may have been denying her oxygen, which was correct. She took it off and said she began to breathe better.

“I recall lying on the floor, hiding and that’s when I thought ‘we could die,'” Kuster said.

“There was a policeman who grabbed four of us and said, ‘I’m going to get you out,'” she recalled, noting the four included U.S. Reps Vincente Gonzalez, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Sara Jacobs.

Kuster said she remembers thinking, “I’ll follow you anywhere,” of the police. “We were under attack. We were being hunted.”

Soon, police in the gallery shouted “Run! Run! Run!” and a door on the opposite side of the gallery opened, forcing her and the others to get up and run a gauntlet of sorts across the gallery to that door, thwarted by dividers in the gallery seating.

When she got out, the doors to the gallery were soon locked behind her, leaving about 24 others locked inside the gallery as time to escape had run out.

She said a group of four who were in front of them recalled hearing the mob making their way up to the third floor where they were. 

The video shows the four running with Kuster wearing a royal blue blazer and a photographer in the hallway taking pictures.

Within seconds, the security camera captures three men, one appearing to wear a gas mask and another, carrying a bottle of Gatorade looking around and trying to open doors.

Kuster said her group was led to safety and with about 60 other members of Congress waited it out until it was safe. They returned to the ransacked chambers with glass on the floor and the signs of chaos everywhere, to complete the process of certifying Joe Biden as the winner.

But it could have been a different story if something went wrong in those split seconds, Kuster remembered.

“This story was never told,” she said following the attack. The focus was on Trump and whether or not he was responsible and then shrouded in court and discovery materials.

“It had to process,” Kuster said, and now on the third anniversary, she said the release of the video “makes me feel better.”

Kuster and many other Congressmen were unaware of what was going on outside and the extent to which the center of the nation’s Democracy and decorum was breached.

As a member of Congress since 2010, she had never before had to worry for her life and for the strength of Democracy, Kuster said.

“These were not tourists.”

Kuster concluded that she hopes Granite Staters remember the importance of democracy, no matter who they vote for and encouraged them to get out on Jan. 23 and vote in the first-in-the-nation primary.

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