One year ago, on January 6, 2021, as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president, U.S. Representative Colin Allred of Dallas was among those working in the building that day. He shared his memories of that day along with his thoughts about what the attack on the Capitol means for the country. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Where were you on January 6? How much, and what do you remember of that day?
Congressman Colin Allred: I remember every part of that day. I was on the House floor. We still had COVID protocols at that time, and so we had a limited number of members who were allowed on the floor. But as a member of the leadership team on the Democratic side, I was on the House floor. I was prepared for a long day of challenges [from electors in] up to six states, we thought. But certainly not prepared for what the day became.
How have events of that day affected your opinion on the trajectory of our democracy?
I’m extremely concerned. And I want to say first, though, that I think the most important thing that happened that day wasn’t the attack on the Capitol, as terrible as that was. It was that we came back at 3:30 in the morning, while there was still blood and broken glass on the floors, and we voted to certify the results of American presidential election. That was critically important. But since then, we have seen an ongoing, slower and more official effort to try and do through changes in voting laws and procedures of how votes are counted, what they were unable to do on January 6, which makes me very concerned about the next presidential election. And I’m also concerned about the reaction that I’ve seen from some of my colleagues who I know, that day, were extremely concerned and frightened and shocked by what happened, but who are now downplaying the events of the 6th.
Could you say more about why you are extremely concerned?
Democracy is tenuous always, and it’s an act of faith. We have the oldest and most important democracy in the world. But we crossed a Rubicon on the 6th. We had political violence not only enter our system, so to speak, but enter the most hallowed ground in our democracy.
If you’ve ever seen any reels of past presidents, whether it’s FDR talking about December 7th, the attack on Pearl Harbor and how it’s going to be a date that will live in infamy. Or the state of the Union. It all occurs on the House floor. That’s the beating heart of American democracy, and we had to abandon the House floor because a mob was trying to break in to try and attack and kill members of Congress, try and hang [former Vice President] Mike Pence, according to what they were saying. This is a level of political violence we’ve never seen in modern times in America. And we haven’t seen the course correction since then that I thought we might have expected.
A recent poll by The Washington Post found a third of people surveyed said violence against the government is at times justified. Do you think that says something has changed within the body politic itself?
I do. I think that we’ve all seen an explosion of threats against members of Congress. I certainly have received my fair share of threats. And we know that it’s not just January 6, it’s also at state capitols around the country where we’re seeing armed groups showing up to try and threaten lawmakers.
There was a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan that was thankfully not allowed to go on. So yes, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of political violence for the ends that the folks involved seem to think will justify the means. And that is something that’s very new for us.
I’m on the Foreign Affairs Committee and I can tell you we see this around the world, but we don’t see this in the United States. And we have not seen it in some time. And this is something that we have to stamp down, we have to get rid of. We have to make it something that is not part of the conversation in the United States. It cannot be that we don’t just have elections, but we have fights after elections.
And the use of violence for political reasons is terrorism. And I think that we have a domestic terrorist problem right now. I think it’s larger than partisanship. I think it’s not about Republicans per se. It’s just that we are seeing that mostly in support of former President Trump and of candidates and people who support him. That’s what we’re seeing. And that’s the reality of it. It’s not fair to say that it’s on both sides.
In your view, what concrete steps do policymakers need to take to make sure that we can ensure a peaceful transition of power going forward?
I think that we have to all get on board with, first of all, the idea that we are going to accept and support the results of elections. I know that might sound simple. But if you go back to in 2000, the presidential election it was a hotly-contested election, came down to basically a handful of votes in the state of Florida, and the Supreme Court stepped in and decided to halt the counting. A lot of Democrats felt that was done inappropriately, but there was no insurrection following that. In fact, Vice President Gore, who was the Democratic candidate for president, was the one who presided over the certifying of the results later that year and then attended the inauguration of President Bush.
President Trump did not attend the last inauguration. This is the first time in American history we’ve not had a peaceful transfer of power, as I would describe it. And so we have to begin by saying that we’re going to respect election results. We’re not going to question them, we’re not going to drive questions in others’ minds about whether or not our elections are free and fair. But I really believe this strongly, that what we’re seeing is not reflective of the majority will of Americans, that it’s not reflective of the majority of Texans, certainly. Most people will still believe in our democracy, and they think that we need to take steps to protect it. They’re worried about it. But we do have a vocal and violent minority that we have to be concerned with. We need leaders to play a role in not allowing that to grow.
Do you think the efforts to restrict voting rights are in any way tied to the events of last January 6th?
I think that what we’ve seen since the last election is states and state legislatures using the excuse that the last election was fraudulent – which is not true – to try and take steps to make it harder for certain Americans to vote. Certainly here in the state of Texas, I think the Legislature took steps to make vote-by-mail more difficult, to tie the hands of our counties and make it harder for them to help Texans vote to even empower partisan poll watchers to maybe even intimidate voters in the polling place.
That, to me, was all done in service of this lie that the last election was fraudulent and that we needed to have some form of electoral integrity restored as if we did not have it previously. In my opinion, as a voting rights lawyer, though, we should be making it as easy as possible for all eligible Texans and all eligible Americans to vote, and let the chips fall where they may.
When I registered voters, I never asked them who they were going to vote for. And really, that’s the heart of our democracy is the idea that if you don’t win an election, you have to change your ideas, maybe change candidates, and come back and try again. You don’t just change the rules.