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A deep understanding of trauma: How two members of Congress are experiencing the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection


Photo credit:  Andrew Harnik/AP

Two of the most compelling reports of how members of Congress experienced the trauma of the January 6 insurrection and its aftermath are found in the reports in the Washington Post “Ocasio-Cortez recounts ‘trauma’ of Capitol riot” by Jaclyn Peiser and in Slate “After the Attack: Jan. 6 was a terrifying day for members of Congress. Weeks later, they are dealing with the trauma” by Christina Cauterucci.

The Post story includes a clip from a live Instagram stream where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talks about the parallel between the tactics of abusers who tell the abused to “move on” and those who are urging a quick resolution to what happened on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. You can read her words below but for the full force of her account of the trauma of Jan. 6 with the compounding impact of an earlier sexual assault experience, one must listen to the emotion and honesty she conveys in the 2:18 minute clip (see the second clip in the Post article):

Image 2-2-21 at 5.52 PMThe Honorable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Instagram on Feb. 1:

“So many of the people who helped perpetrate and who take responsibility for what happened in the Capitol are trying to tell us all to move on. And they're trying to tell us to forget about what happened. They're trying to tell us that it wasn't a big deal. They're trying to tell us to move on, without any accountability, without any truth telling, or without actually confronting, an extreme damage, physical harm, loss of life, and trauma that was inflicted on not just me as a person, not just other people, as individuals, but as all of us as a collective, and on many other people.

The reason I say this, and the reason I'm getting emotional in this moment, is because these folks who tell us to move on, that it's not a big deal, that we should forget what's happened, or even telling us to apologize. These are the same tactics of abusers. And I'm a survivor of sexual assault. And I haven't told many people that in my life, but when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other. And so whether you had a negligent or neglectful parents, and or whether you had someone who was verbally abusive to you, whether you are a survivor of abuse, whether you experience any sort of trauma in your life, small to large, these episodes can compound on one another. There's no, you know, something really big happening to you. And then you deal with it, and then you move on and then when something else happens to you, you deal with that and then when and then you move on,. All of our experiences make us who we are. And and that's also to say that most people live with trauma. And it's not to and that doesn't even diminish, you know, any of the trauma that any one of us may have been through. But it is to say that there is a community of so many people can understand."

The Slate article includes the recollections of Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), who served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq 15 years ago, of the hypervigilance he experienced during the insurrection, similar to combat. Crow along with others were in the House gallery where they were particularly vulnerable. The story includes Rep. Ann McLane Kuster’s (D-NH) report of a video chat comment that Crow “shared with all of us is that the surge of adrenaline that he had, and the fear that he faced — that we all experienced — was the same as combat.”

Rep. Jason Crow comforts Rep. Susan Wild while taking cover. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc via Getty Images

The article describes Crow’s intense experience:

“Since the siege, Crow has been vocal about this comparison. After a photo of him clutching the hand of Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pennsylvania, on the balcony floor made the rounds, Crow gave several interviews about going “into Ranger mode” in that moment of crisis. For Crow, that meant preparing for the possibility of having to fight off the rioters. He told me he double-checked the locks on the doors in the gallery and readied a pen as a makeshift weapon. He also considered asking one of the Capitol Police officers in the gallery to lend him a firearm — “You never know who’s capable of pulling the trigger until you’re put in that position … and I know that I am capable of doing that if necessary,” he said — but decided against it.

When he’s in Ranger mode, Crow said, “I just kind of box up my emotions and my feelings and put them aside.” But, eventually, those feelings come out. Crow says he’s been trying to harness the anger, anxiety, and fear prompted by the attack into action as Congress works to hold Donald Trump and his allies accountable for the attack. But the “hypervigilance” Crow remembers from his military service is back — even though it’s been 15 years since he felt it last. “I never thought the person I was then, and who I had to be as a combat leader, would ever come back and converge on my current life,” he said, noting that he’s had two children since leaving the Army. “But that is what happened. I had to tap back into that, and those two lives converged again.”

As some of his colleagues have dealt with symptoms of traumatic stress, Crow has reminded them that what they’re enduring is a normal human response to surviving a life-threatening assault. “I feel a responsibility to destigmatize the experience,” he said.”

The impact of members of Congress sharing these experiences of trauma among themselves and the people they represent could add to the public’s understanding of trauma and the importance of taking a clear-eyed view of its impact.

Lucy Chaidez, an ACEs Connection member and Child Care Training Coordinator for the State of California Emergency Medical Services Authority, expressed this hope after hearing Rep. Ocasio-Cortez's impassioned plea to deal with the trauma of Jan. 6: “And yesterday and today, the whole country is hearing about trauma, its ill effects, post-traumatic syndrome, sexual assault, and abuser manipulation. This is the kind of national conversation we’ve needed to have forever, and maybe this horrible happening could provide this forum for discussing these important issues.”


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