Meghan Finnerty | March 03, 2021
Brockport Alum Recounts January 6 Storming of the Capitol
Riley Foti ’19 watched the United States Capitol come under attack from her office window. Read her firsthand account of January 6, 2021.
In Washington D.C., officials and lawmakers are still trying to make sense of the events of January 6, when the United States Capitol was besieged by rioters angered by the election loss of President Donald Trump.
So is SUNY Brockport alum Riley Foti ’19, who says it’s been “unnerving” to learn of details continuing to emerge about the insurrection — which she witnessed firsthand.
Read Foti’s Firsthand Account of January 6, 2021
Foti works in Washington, D.C. as U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) deputy scheduler. Her job involves scheduling Durbin’s day to day, along with an array of other tasks. She was in office when the U.S. Capitol came under attack.
“It’s definitely been different going into work than it was beforehand,” she said. She experiences a constant rehashing of the day’s events. “There is so much information now that we didn’t know then.”
“Ahead of time, the days leading up to the 6th we had been hearing that there were going to be protests. So, I guess we kind of anticipated Wednesday to be a bit different of a day than normal. We knew they were going to be counting electoral votes,” Foti said. “But working in the Capitol, people protest things all the time, so it’s kind of part of everyday life walking into work. But there wasn’t any extra preparation on the security front.”
Foti remembers that things were going as planned for the day, with Sen. Durbin on the chamber floor as lawmakers voted to confirm Joe Biden’s presidential win.
She took glances out the window to see the crowd of people at President Trump’s speech down the road. Foti said she remembers a normal amount of Capitol Police and some metal barricades. But eventually, Durbin’s office staff started to see the crowd move down the street.
“We’re watching all of this out the window, and then all of a sudden the crowd gets to the first soft barrier. You can see they have all their flag poles, they’re in MAGA gear, and I think some of them are just in helmets and bullet proof vests, tactical combat gear, and [I thought] so maybe it’s not the everyday protester we’re used to.”
“You could see Capitol Police trying to assess the threat. Maybe the crowd was a little bigger than they thought it would be, maybe less peaceful.”
From Durbin’s second floor office, Foti watched every layer of security breached. She saw the scaffolding and ladders, that were left out to prepare for the inauguration, become tools of the rioters. That is when she realized the situation was worsening. She said she and other staffers barricaded the office doors, grabbed the emergency bag, turned off the lights, and kept the news on — but with no sound.
“It was crazy, and I will admit in our office specifically, we didn’t know the extent of what was happening, because we only face down one way. We can’t see the other side, the front of the building, where there was a whole separate crowd.”
“The first window that they breached and broke was kind of right under our office, diagonally. So, you saw them start to bust into the Capitol.”
“We started seeing pictures on CNN of the standoff on the House side and where the police barricaded the doors, guns drawn,” she said. That’s when it hit her: “Actually, this is a lot worse than what we were experiencing or thinking right now.”
“It certainly wasn’t peaceful. It was pretty violent.”
Durbin’s office is located on the second floor, but Foti heard people screaming and yelling right beneath them. At one point, she remembers someone tried to jiggle their doorhandle.
“But we were super lucky that no one actually attempted to break into our office, and we were untouched,” she said.
Eventually, the office was evacuated. Foti and the other staffers were taken to another location to wait while the building was secured. The lockdown took about four hours in total.
Eventually, the joint session of House of Representatives and Senate reconvened in the chambers, certifying the election in the early hours of Thursday.
Foti headed home at about 3 am on Thursday. She had been running on pure adrenaline.
“Not much time to feel things or think about what was happening.”
“At the time, I didn’t have much information on what was happening, so there wasn’t much to debrief or go over.”
Then that Thursday, Senate went out of session.
“We didn’t have to be at the office; my boss got to go home. The Senate hit pause, rightfully so. The next few days was unwinding, unpacking. Like what the heck just happened? And honestly, ever since then it’s kind of been like that, uncovering new information.”
“It’s definitely been different going into work than it was beforehand. Now when I drive into work, there is fencing up around the Capitol, there is National Guard everywhere.”
“I have to leave 10 minutes earlier because I have to go through more security.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray, the Justice Department investigation has already produced hundreds of charges against rioters. Wray testified, “Some of those people clearly came to Washington, we now know, with the plans and intentions to engage in the worst kind of violence we would consider domestic terrorism.”