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During the Jan. 6 riot chaos, lawmakers called on military and intelligence training

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Nearly a year ago, on January 6, we saw harrowing images of protesters storming the U.S. Capitol. But we also heard stories of heroism from inside the building.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: Both Democrats and Republicans showed courage, calm and resolve.

CORNISH: That's House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaking on the House floor later that same day. And he singled out lawmakers who had helped stop the chamber from being overrun.

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MCCARTHY: Markwayne Mullin, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Crow, Pat Fallon.

CORNISH: For Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, helping law enforcement seal the room was an instinct he came by honestly. He had spent years as an army ranger, leading combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

JASON CROW: I never thought that it would come back and it would merge with my current life, that - sitting as a member of Congress in 2021 in the U.S. Capitol, that I would experience the same type of mindset, the same mentality that I did when I was at war thousands of miles away.

CORNISH: Now, that's Crow earlier today, reflecting on January 6. But he wasn't the only lawmaker in the chamber that day with national security experience.

ABIGAIL SPANBERGER: As a CIA officer, you do all of these scenarios in some far-off place when it's under siege. And how do you react, and how do you respond?

CORNISH: That's the voice of Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia. Before coming to Congress, she was a CIA intelligence officer.

SPANBERGER: When things started to escalate, when there was noise, when there was banging, when the Capitol Police officers were furiously trying to barricade up the doors, every sort of scenario that we had ever trained for started going through my mind.

CORNISH: The training paid off. Spanberger was later praised for helping colleagues and ensuring journalists could shelter in place with lawmakers. Meanwhile, Congressman Crow had switched into what he calls ranger mode.

CROW: What I did was I take my emotions, and I put them in a box. I set that box aside, and then I just start creating mental checklists in my mind. What are the things that need to happen? I took my pin off so I wasn't identified as a member of Congress and then switched into the mode and started to assess courses of action and what I needed to do to get out.

CORNISH: So with the anniversary of January 6 approaching, we wanted to speak with representatives Crow and Spanberger together about that day and about the risks going forward.

CROW: I mean, it's shocking, but it's not. I mean, we've always had conspiracy theories. We've always had extremism in America. That's as old as the country ourselves. But the difference now is this. We have legitimizing and normalizing it from the highest offices in the land, from the former president of the United States to his enablers and members of Congress who hold positions of authority. And then it's spread using social media, some cable news networks and others in a way that it never has been. So it's really a perfect storm of events that's spreading and deepening that extremism in ways that it hasn't in decades past in this country. And it's very dangerous.

SPANBERGER: And we have members of Congress, sitting members of Congress who continue to deny what happened on January 6, who are not demonstrating the leadership to denounce the violence, to ensure that people, you know, recognize that what we saw that day was the horrific attack on the Capitol and on our very democracy. And as long as there continues to be that divide, I mean, democracy continues to be in danger.

CORNISH: I have a clip here that - speaking to your point, there was a quote from one of your colleagues. Andrew Clyde is a Republican congressman from Georgia. He was speaking in a hearing, and he said...

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ANDREW CLYDE: To call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a boldface lie. You know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.

CORNISH: I don't know if you heard that quote at the time. But given your experiences, what is it like to hear people speak like this?

SPANBERGER: You know, they're pandering, I think, to potentially their base voters. They're not demonstrating the leadership necessary to speak clearly about the horrors of that day. But it's really an affront to the Capitol Police officers that bravely work to protect, you know, that representative as well as every single person in the building from the cafeteria workers to...

CORNISH: But is it also an affront to your, like, reality, like, your lived experience? I mean, is there something - and I don't mean that to sound facetious.

SPANBERGER: Yeah.

CORNISH: But maybe, Congressman Crow, do you want to jump in here when you hear it being called a lie or that it was somehow just kind of a riot that went out of hand?

CROW: Sure. I mean, it's a horrific thing to say. It's horrific to those who survived. It's horrific to the families who lost loved ones, the 140 police officers who were brutally beaten, many of whom still have injuries that they carry, both internal and external, to this day. But here's what they're trying to do. Mr. Clyde and others like him want to undermine reality itself. They want us to question truth. They want us to question what we see with our own eyes, what we hear with our own ears, so that they can make their own reality.

And if we can't agree on what the truth is and what the facts are, then we can't be a deliberative democracy. And that's the very point for them because they don't want us to be a deliberative democracy because I don't think that they believe in democracy. So that, I think, is their overall strategy, and it's extremely dangerous. And the American people need to understand what they're trying to do to them and to us and to this country.

CORNISH: We're heading into the 2022 election cycle midterm elections. There's going to be a lot of talk about the politics. But what are the implications for what happened at the U.S. Capitol for other, for instance, state capitols? I mean, what would be your message to some of the state lawmakers that are out there?

SPANBERGER: I speak as a Virginian, where we just had elections. And notably in this sphere, where, to Jason's point, many people seeking to undermine democracy are trying to sow doubt in our electoral process, are trying to eliminate people from the voting rolls...

CORNISH: But let me raise the question.

SPANBERGER: Yeah.

CORNISH: Do you believe that something like this would happen at the state - at the U.S. Capitol could happen elsewhere? Or do you think that a lesson has been learned from what happened?

SPANBERGER: I mean, we've already seen it to some degree. We saw it in Michigan, where there were armed members of the Proud Boys, and protesters enter the Capitol. It's a reality that we're now facing where people are turning towards violence or threats of violence against school board members, election officials, county registrars. The list goes on and on. So we are on and continue to be on the precipice, which is why this is so deeply worrisome and why this threat is so real and one that we have to look at straight on and aggressively work to pull back from that brink.

CORNISH: Congressman Crow, same question to you. And I don't say this to overstate a threat, so to speak. So to your mind, what are you thinking about going forward to the next election cycle?

CROW: Audie, I think it's very hard to overstate the threat. I think this is going to happen again in different places around the country because the threat is growing. It's not reducing. And the bottom line is this. It is now the time for all good women - men and women in America to come to the aid of their country. Your country needs you. It's a dangerous time to be in public office, to be in public service. But you don't get to choose, in leadership, the time when you're called to serve. That time chooses you. Your choice is whether - just whether or not you're going to accept that invitation and come to the service of your nation. And that was that time.

CORNISH: Well, Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, thank you for speaking with us.

CROW: Thank you, Audie. It's good to be with you.

CORNISH: And Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, thank you so much for your time.

SPANBERGER: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF RL GRIME SONG, "LIGHT ME UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.