DENVER — A congressman from Colorado saw his training as an Army ranger kick into high gear in the middle of the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
U.S. Rep. Jason Crow (D) was trapped in the House Gallery as supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to break into that part of the building. His calm under fire protecting fellow members of the House is one of the many lasting images from that day.
9NEWS political reporter Marshall Zelinger spoke with Crow about his experience one year later.
We talked the day after [the insurrection], and I think the day after that, and you were concerned for your safety, and at times, your family was concerned. I'm just wondering, are there residual effects that you are experiencing at all? And how are you handling it?
I'm fine now, Marshall. I appreciate that. It certainly was a traumatic experience in the days and weeks after January 6th of 2021. [I] experienced a hyper-vigilance; a lot of veterans experience that coming home from war – that unease, a little bit of jumpiness I would say. And certainly, now I kind of grapple with this notion that my prior life as an Army ranger kind of intruded or came back in some ways in my current life. It's been a long time since I served in the military. I took my uniform off over a decade ago and I thought that I left that life behind me. So to have to tap back into that mentality and get back into that mindset, now as a member of Congress, as a veterans advocate, as a father, was a challenging situation for me.
But I'm doing well, and I continue to advocate for folks that have experienced any type of trauma, whatever type of trauma that is, that it's OK to reach out and to say that you need some help and to get that help. It’s an opportunity for us to stand up and really draw attention to the issues of mental health in our society.
Do you still feel that way when you go to work – like your Army life has intruded on your Congressional life?
It's not something that I think about daily or even maybe weekly, but certainly, it’s something I thought about more recently as we come up on the one-year anniversary of January 6th. I’ve reflected a lot more on what happened a year ago, the meaning of that day and how it's kind of carried forward over the last year.
Have you seen noticeable or actionable movement on election security?
Well on election security – I sit on the Armed Services Committee and House Intelligence Committee, and there has been a lot of movement from the national security perspective to secure our elections against foreign adversaries, foreign threats. What we haven’t been able to accomplish is making sure there we’re making the franchise available and protecting it against voter suppression and discrimination in the United States. We have over 15 states now that have passed hundreds of different laws and regulations that are aimed at making it harder for citizens are eligible to vote, to vote. And increasing the barriers to the vote, instead of making it easier for people that are eligible to vote to exercise that right. So, that is a disturbing trend and it’s one that we have to make sure we’re pushing back on. That’s why federal voting rights protections are so important. We have to establish a federal floor that the states have to abide by to make sure that – ultimately, [it’s] the most fundamental right, fundamental aspect of a democracy, and that is the right to cast a ballot.
The threat appears to be the belief of something, not the proof of something. That if you can convince enough people that my glasses are red, that that, perhaps, is the danger. I can show you all I want, these are blue glasses, but I'm going to convince you and your friends that they’re red. I don't know what you can do in Congress to fight that, but are we dealing with that at all?
You hit the nail right on the head, Marshall. One of the biggest dangers we have is the spread of misinformation, which is stuff that’s not true, and also disinformation, which are active lies. People trying to mislead people, and really undermine truth itself – this nothing that there is no objective truth. The truth is what I say it is, is really a dangerous thing for democracy right now because there is a truth. There is reality, and the reality is that the 2020 election was one of the most safe and secure elections in our nation's history. There's no proof at all of widespread fraud. It's been debunked over and over again by the courts, but election officials. It just didn't happen, and yet, you have folks that continue to believe this big lie. They continue to believe this disinformation and it's really a toxic dynamic for our politics. And that we face.
What happens in 2022, in the election, could determine who's in the power next year. And we may be talking with you as a minority member instead of a majority member. I'm just wondering when it comes to this topic, is there anything you can do over the next year that will be foolproof, perhaps, if you are not in power next year?
Well, we're going to continue to do what we always do, and that is pass good legislation. There's the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or any of the legislation we already passed out of the House last year. That actually would protect folks and make sure that they have the right to vote and to prevent voter suppression laws. So, we're going to continue that work and I’ll continue to advocate that the people at the state and local level do the same – secure elections at the community level, the county level, the state level, as well as the federal level. There [are] really a lot people that can be involved here.
The last thing I'll say is, I've been calling for a year of action, a year of democracy in action for 2022. We’re actually releasing a tool kit that will give very specific actions that people can take in their communities. Coloradans throughout the state can take over this next year, and one of those is to volunteer to be a poll watcher. We need people who are dedicated to a free and fair election make sure they're showing up and protecting the right to vote for their fellow Coloradans.
No matter your political party, you're making that recommendation?
Absolutely. It has nothing to do with politics, it has nothing to do with political party. People should vote and people should inform themselves, educate themselves about the issues, register to vote and get involved in our election system. That's what our democracy's about.