HomeU.S.On the official tour of the US Capitol, there is no mention...

On the official tour of the US Capitol, there is no mention of January 6

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Official guided tours of the US Capitol immerse visitors in information about its rich history. They learn about the architect of the building and the materials used in its construction. They are told how the British Army set fire to the Capitol in 1814. And they are reminded that Abraham Lincoln promised to finish its construction during the Civil War to show that the Union would last.

But if viewers don’t ask, they likely won’t hear a word from the red-coat-wearing guides of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump who sought to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win.

The attack is not mentioned in the newly renovated exhibit hall at the Capitol Visitor Center, which provides a strong history of the building. The seven-minute introductory film that visitors watch before the tour begins is also not discussed. And as the second anniversary of the attack approaches, the visitor center has announced no plans to address it.

It is not by accident that the guides are silent about one of the building’s darkest and most consequential days, even the highly publicized hearings about what happened under the same roof. According to former tour guides and people familiar with the center’s operations, they have been asked to mention January 6 only when questioned on the tour. It is a policy that in many ways reflects a country at odds with itself, unable to agree on truth and truth, and unwilling to engage in a day’s history that threatens democracy.

Officials at the Capitol Visitor Center, which conducts the tours, declined to comment on what the guides are told they might say on the tours. The no-comment policy, they said, is “in keeping with our history of deferring to congressional authority on most issues.” The Center is overseen by the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

The center also said it could not share how many visitors go on official tours each year or how many tour guides work at the Capitol, which reopened to tourists last spring after a long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But an official at the visitor center, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that tour guides have been told on January 6 to avoid highlighting current events and any legislation under consideration by Congress.

For some, silence is unacceptable.

“A reminder is critical,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), who was at the Capitol when it was passed and later served as impeachment manager for Trump’s second impeachment.

“I hope that the Capitol administration will recognize that this is an important moment in our nation’s history, and that it should not be remembered politically, but remembered historically,” Dean said in an interview. “This was an attempt by the Americans to overthrow our government at the instigation of a president. And at some point, we’ll feel comfortable saying that.”

Dean also said he believes some damage to the Capitol should have been left intact as a reminder of the violence of that day and the efforts of those who forced their way into the building to stop the democratic process. Windows and doors were smashed, paint tracked onto stairwells and onto statues, and fire extinguishers and chemical sprays left a residue that took weeks to clean up.

Others say it’s understandable that guides have been instructed not to bring Jan. 6.

Greg Harper, a former Republican congressman from Mississippi who chaired the House Administration Committee from 2017 to 2019, said it was necessary for the guides to avoid controversial issues and that it would be difficult to produce or display the language on Jan. 6. Don’t be divided.

“Who is going to write [Jan. 6] narrative, and how are you going to do that in a way that’s not politicized?” Harper said in an interview last month. “I think it’s fair to say, ‘Hey, don’t discuss current events,’ but if a guide asks a specific question. or asked a question about something, but most guides, I’ve found, will do their best to answer. questions.”

Harper was in the Capitol on Jan. 6 as a spectator watching the election count, and the attack still makes his “blood boil.” Still, he’s optimistic that “we won’t have anything like this again.”

But skipping the Jan. 6 tour didn’t sit well with Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks, which recently released a detailed report on the events surrounding the day.

“The idea of ​​censoring or hiding it doesn’t make sense to me,” Raskin said in an interview last week. “I would quickly connect this sentiment to blanket everything with these memory laws that are sweeping across the country, stifling education about the Civil War or Jim Crow or discrimination against homosexuals. It’s more like, ‘Don’t say January 6,’ and memory suppression is neutral and counterproductive.”

Former Capitol tour guides interviewed for this article say they understand why it would make sense not to discuss Jan. 6.

“A lot of visitors are going to be on both sides, for lack of a better term,” said Peter Bird, a retired former guide who has led more than 13,000 tours.

In fact, some prominent Republicans, including Trump and current members of Congress, have refused to classify the attack as an insurgency. Instead, they downplayed the actions of those who stormed the Capitol, assaulted police officers, fired rifles through desks on the Senate floor, occupied the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and called on Vice President Mike Pence. He was hanged rather than allowed to prove Biden’s victory.

Baird, who was appalled by the events as they unfolded on television, said he would be extremely careful to talk about it during the tour and avoid any inflammatory language.

“Anyone who’s been around the Capitol for any length of time knows that if you’re not really careful with your choice of words, sometimes you can end up in a hornet’s nest,” he said. “For that reason, I won’t use the word ‘rebellion,’ although that’s the word I use when I talk about it with friends.”

Perhaps the only way to deal with it now, he said, is to say: “Yes, it happened, and yes, it was a mess.”

Eric Jensen visited the Capitol with his wife Mary a few days before Christmas. The Pleasant Grove, Utah, couple, who were on their first trip to Washington, said a visitor from their tour group brought up the Jan. 6 attack with a guide. “It was a little awkward,” Erik Jensen said, standing outside the Capitol. “They tried to skirt around it. I guess that all changes over time, but it’s a little bit fresher now.”

Presenting information about Jan. 6 to guides is “a real dilemma for civil servants trying to do their job,” said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, the nation’s oldest professional association of historians. “Whatever they say about January 6, they will be in trouble because people will not agree with them. One of the pitfalls of this polarization we face is our inability as communities and individuals to accept straight facts based on clear evidence.”

“If we can’t agree on basic facts,” Grossman added, “we can’t constructively discuss any aspect of our history or what we learn from it.”

Liam Gideon owns Guided Tours DC and takes his group on official tours of the Capitol eight to 10 times a week. Invariably, he says, someone in almost every group will ask about January 6, and the answer from the guides is almost always the same.

“The response is, ‘We’re not allowed to answer any questions about that,'” he said.

Gideon understands that questions can put guides in a tough spot, but he says many visitors only know the Capitol from videos of the day and have questions that can be answered candidly. He would often answer questions from tourists in his party after leaving the Capitol.

“Most people are curious,” he said. “Some of them will not be happy with what you are saying. But what we say about January 6 is based on historical facts. It makes it harder for people to get bored or backtrack when you’re sticking to real facts.”

Ruskin worries that avoiding the issue now will lead to more problems later.

“I think what might seem like a necessary form of etiquette among tourists today to not stir things up, you know, very quickly turns into a kind of Orwellian memory hole,” says Ruskin, who offers a Capitol tour specifically related to Jan. 6. “I just think it’s much safer to tell as factually and clearly as possible where various things happened and how they happened.”

According to the Department of Justice, since January 6, approximately 930 people have been arrested and about 508 have been convicted for their role in the attack. U.S. prosecutors estimated the blockade caused about $2.9 million in losses, including damage to buildings and costs to the Capitol Police. The FBI continues to search for about 350 people believed to have committed acts of violence, including assaults on police officers on Capitol grounds.

Aquilino Gonell, one of the roughly 140 Capitol and D.C. officers injured Jan. 6, wants visitors on the tour to see the Lower West Terrace door, where he and his Capitol police colleagues lined up against the crowd that day. Gonell served as an officer on the force for 17 years before announcing his departure last month, citing physical and emotional injuries on Jan. 6.

Police were hit with poles and bats, pushed and trampled, and sprayed with chemical fuel. A Capitol officer, Brian D. Siknik, after confronting the rioters, collapsed and died of a stroke a day later. Two other officers, one Capitol, one DC, later committed suicide in the riot.

“What we endured was medieval, brutal, for about four hours,” Gonell said in an interview last week. “Our efforts were valiant despite injuries and adversity.”

In a letter he posted on Twitter announcing he was leaving the force, Gonell, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said a high school trip to Washington in 1996 “sparked his interest in serving the nation as a public servant after a visit.” The majesty of the United States Capitol.”

Now when he visits the Capitol, he can’t shake the darkness of the day it was attacked. He said, tourists also need to tell that story.

Paul Kane, Spencer S. Hu and Peter Herman contributed to this report.

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