CULTURE

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol Riot: “I Thought I Was Going to Die”

The congresswoman recalled her harrowing experience, which began with insurrectionists yelling “Where is she?” and banging on her office doors.


Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been less than a month since the surreal Wednesday when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol. The attempted coup, which ultimately claimed five lives, may feel like a lifetime ago now that a very different president has taken office. But for some of those on the ground, the events of that day are still fresh on the mind. That’s especially true for one of the insurrectionists’ chief targets: New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who made clear that her experience was nothing short of traumatic while live on Instagram on Monday night.

The 31-year-old was trying to decide what to eat for lunch when she heard insurrectionists loudly banging on the doors leading to her office. They broke in just after she took refuge in a nearby bathroom, heeding her aide’s call to go “run and hide.” “I just hear these yells of ‘WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE?,” Ocasio-Cortez recalled. “This was the moment where I thought everything was over. I thought I was going to die.”

Even if they weren’t explicitly seeking her out, Ocasio-Cortez had reason to worry; she effectively became the right’s Public Enemy No. 1 the moment she took office in 2019. That summer, a police officer was arrested for apparently threatening to shoot her, and dozens of Border Patrol agents were discovered to be part of a secret Facebook group where she was a disturbingly frequent subject of violent scorn. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan launched an investigation after reading a ProPublica report about the posts, which included plans to physically harm Ocasio-Cortez and “Photoshopped images of [her] violent rape.”

“I’m a survivor of sexual assault,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Monday. “And I haven’t told many people that in my life. But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.” Those saying it’s time to put the events of that Wednesday in the past, she continued, are “using the same tactics of every other abuser who just tells you to move on…of that man who touched you inappropriately at work, telling you to move on.”

Ocasio-Cortez had previously alluded to fearing her life that day, though much more briefly, after senator Ted Cruz tweeted that he agreed with her call for a probe into the online brokerage app Robinhood. “I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out,” she replied. “Happy to work w/ almost any other G.O.P. that aren’t trying to get me killed.” She again addressed Cruz, along with senator Josh Hawley, while live on Monday: “We knew that violence was expected. We knew that that violence was predicated on someone telling the lie, the big lie, about our elections.”

Ocasio-Cortez got through the day thanks in part to fellow U.S. representative Katie Porter, who also recounted her experience at the Capitol on Monday. She recalled Ocasio-Cortez asking to take shelter in her office, and immediately opening doors in search of somewhere to hide once inside.

“I remember her saying to me, ‘I knew I shouldn’t have worn heels. How am I going to run?,’” Porter told MSNBC. ”And we went and we found her a pair of sneakers to wear from one of my staffers. So that she could run if she needed to literally run for her life.” By the time she encountered Porter, Ocasio-Cortez recalled, she had already twice had the thought that she was going to die. She came to accept the possibility: “I felt that if this was the journey that my life was taking, that, I felt that things were going to be okay, and that, you know, I had fulfilled my purpose.”

“The thing that will always stay with me,” Porter continued, “was when I was saying ’Well, don’t worry, I’m a mom, I’m calm, I’ve got everything here we need, we could live for like a month in this office.’ And [Ocasio-Cortez] said, ‘I just hope I get to be a mom. I hope I don’t die today.’”

Later on Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez carried the conversation over to Twitter. “My story isn’t the only story, nor is it the central story of what happened on Jan 6th,” she posted. “It is just one story of many of those whose lives were endangered at the Capitol by the lies, threats, and violence fanned by the cowardice of people who chose personal gain above democracy.”

Related: The Most Surreal Images of Trump Supporters’ Capitol Coup Attempt