OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Historians describe Jan. 6, 2021, as a dark day for American democracy.
Americans recall the day’s images: a defeated President defiant about his loss, misled protesters pushing and shoving police, a Vice President, Congress and the nation's Capitol under siege.
More than 120 police officers were injured. In all, five people died. More than 700 people face criminal charges, from entering a restricted federal building to assaulting police with a deadly weapon.
3 News Now Investigators reached out to local politicians who were there that day, including every member of Nebraska’s congressional delegation and the representative from southwest Iowa.
We spoke with Nebraska U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican from Omaha, and Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat from West Des Moines. Both serve competitive congressional districts.
A year ago, Bacon says he was watching the debate on the coronavirus-limited House floor from his office, as several GOP colleagues questioned the vote tallies from swing states like Arizona and Michigan.
Many of them shared allegations that the courts and independent election reviews rejected.
“I was getting texts from the security folks saying, don't go outside, it's dangerous outside,” Bacon said. “But what I remember most was in the middle of the debate, people started running out of the chamber, and that sort of told me I did not realize the protesters had made it that far.”
Axne was on her way to the Capitol to cast a vote. She remembers an overcast day in Washington, D.C., with temperatures in the 40s. It was “really nice,” she said. Then she got a warning on her phone.
It told her to seek shelter and “do not come to the Capitol.”
“We had to shut the shades of the office windows,” she said. “We had to turn off all the lights, turn off all the electronics, make no noise, do not let anybody know where you're at.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln spoke with 3 News Now’s Jon Kipper during last year’s Capitol siege. He called the people storming the Capitol “reckless and wrong.”
"Those who are turning this into violent protest and are taking over public buildings and creating dangerous situations are undermining our democracy, undermining their very right,” he said.
Bacon agreed, both then and now.
“It was wrong,” he said. “And I think Republicans should make very clear it was wrong. Those who beat up the police and hit them with their flagpoles, throwing rocks at them, you know … no way you could condone that kind of behavior.”
But Bacon said Democrats nationally have overplayed their hand on the Capitol riot. Rioters were “not close to toppling the government,” he said. Anxe said they were closer to doing so than people think.
She says she was told exactly where the state-certified Electoral College votes were moving throughout the Capitol building during the formal certification of Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump.
"So this was literally an attempt to stop that certification … to stop the peaceful transfer of power to the next President,” she said.
A congressional select committee is investigating what role Trump and his team may have played in protesters’ efforts to disrupt the final Electoral College count.
Trump held a rally on Jan. 6 near the White House, at the Ellipse. There, he repeated the lie that he hadn’t lost. He had, as Republican-led reviews in contested states confirmed.
Trump said he and the crowd had come “to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated.”
He said he knew that everyone there would soon be marching over the Capitol building “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster attended that rally as a VIP. He declined to speak to us in recent weeks about Jan. 6. That week he did condemn the violence.
But in a sit-down interview with KMTV after announcing his run for governor, Herbster would not say that Biden won the election. Asked why, he said, “There’s no way we can really know.”
Herbster could face questions from the Jan. 6 committee about his participation in a gathering the night before with Trump lieutenants. He said in January that organizers were planning to pressure Congress.
Bacon, Axne and Fortenberry voted to certify the presidential election results. Bacon said he didn't want to set a precedent that would allow House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to reject Nebraska’s results.
“Our culture has been successful because we've had peaceful transition of power, even if we don't like the outcome,” Bacon said. “That's what democracies of representative governments do.”
Nebraska Democrats have criticized Bacon for appearing at a local political event with Brandon Straka, an internet provocateur who has pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct during the Capitol riot.
Rep. Adrian Smith, who represents much of western, central and rural eastern Nebraska, was the state’s lone House member who voted not to certify swing-state results.
He sent 3 News Now a statement calling the riot tragic. And he suggested that the Jan. 6 committee should shift its focus from “political opportunism” to why Capitol security failed.
“It is important that we work together to prevent a similar event from happening again,” he said.
Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the anniversary. She condemned the violence last year.
Fortenberry's office eventually responded to our request, but did not provide a statement in time for publication.
Trump, meanwhile, continues to argue without credible evidence that the election was stolen.
Axne says it’s wrong to think of Jan. 6 as a political issue.
“It's not,” she said. “This is a democracy issue. This is an issue about the country that we love and that we live in. It has absolutely zero to do with the letters behind someone's name.”
Sen. Ben Sasse sent us a statement condemning the riots and applauding Congress’ decision to certify the 2020 election. Both Fischer and Sasse voted to certify the results.
“Americans,” Sasse said, “solve their disagreements at the ballot box, not with violence.”