'Nobody Was Taking Control': NBC's Kasie Hunt Details What She Saw During the Capitol Attack

As Told To Justin Kirkland
·9-min read
Photo credit: NBC
Photo credit: NBC

From Esquire

On the morning of Wednesday, January 6, NBC News' Kasie Hunt reported to the U.S. Capitol to cover the certification of the 2020 Electoral College votes. Hunt went live on the air at 1 p.m., in preparation for a drawn out process due to the anticipated Republican objections to certifying President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' victory. Twenty minutes into the proceedings, the day went awry.

A mob of people, incited by President Donald Trump, broke into the Capitol in an act of insurrection. The building was vandalized, desecrated, and five people have been reported dead. All the while, Hunt reported the events from an adjoining building, staying connected with colleagues still inside the Capitol. Hunt spoke to Esquire's Justin Kirkland on the phone late Thursday to detail her account of the day's events, as well as her outlook on the road ahead.

I got a car to drive me to the Capitol in the morning because we were worried about protests downtown. I asked [the driver] to take a route around downtown, mostly because I was worried about street closures. There have been plenty of days in my career where there have been protesters or barricades up. It’s not usually something that makes me think twice, but for whatever reason, I was nervous coming in yesterday morning. I texted my husband about it as I was on my way in, just to say that, which is something that I don’t normally do. But something felt off to me.

Once I was inside the building, it didn’t really occur to me to feel unsafe. Usually, you walk inside the complex and you think, “Ok, this is the safest place to be.” I walked inside the Russell Senate Office building. It’s across the street from the main Capitol building. The Capitol itself is connected by all these tunnels that go into office buildings. The general public is generally allowed in the office buildings, where you can go in and knock on your Congress member's door. It’s fundamentally how this place is supposed to be.

Photo credit: NBC
Photo credit: NBC

We started the day covering a political spectacle that was historic. We went on the air at one o’clock, when they started the proceedings. What [Senator Mitch] McConnell said to the President, especially as the day unfolded, turned out to be pretty remarkable that he got it out. He said, “We need to move on” before we knew that the walls had been breached. From where I was sitting, you could look out the window and see where the mob was gathering on the steps. I was hooked up to the camera, and I had to duck away to figure out what was going on. It was extraordinarily chaotic. You’re trying to piece together what’s happening as you’re broadcasting on the air, but you don’t want to alert viewers unnecessarily with something seemingly dramatic. You always want to make sure you’re not overstating what’s going on. That was the challenge in the initial minutes.

First, we heard there were evacuations in the Madison Building, then the Cannon House Office Building. What happened was, I think, the demonstrators wanted to get to the members of Congress and identified the Capitol as the building [where they’d be], so the office buildings were less focused on. I had a colleague who was in the House building when it was evacuated. She was evacuated with some members. She started sending bulletins, and it became clear that something was very, very wrong.

Photo credit: Kent Nishimura - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kent Nishimura - Getty Images

My instinct was to run to the Capitol but by the time this happened, they’d shut everything down. Broadcast news cameras are not typically allowed inside the Capitol itself, but yesterday those rules went out the window. I spent the day texting people. I had a bunch of sources on the House side and Senate side. Most of my texts at the beginning of the day were: Are you okay? Is everything alright? I was seeing our shot on the East front on one hand and getting tweets and texts that people were inside the Capitol. We were struggling to confirm this was actually happening, and then all of a sudden, they were in both chambers.

There was a period of incredible uncertainty. We knew they’d asked the National Guard [for reinforcements], but there was clearly no National Guard coming. Nobody was taking control of the situation. That’s when you start seeing these pictures of people hanging off the wall. There was the incident of the woman who was tragically shot, and they were barricading the House doors. My colleague Haley Talbot, who is one of our producers on the Hill, was actually in the House Chamber. There were very few reporters in the Chamber—five of them, charged with chronicling this for all of us. They were in the gallery.

When they were evacuated, they were pulling out gas masks. Capitol police came in, and it all happened very quickly. But when this lockdown happened, there was this stretch of time where nobody had any idea what was going on, and the protesters were running wild in the Capitol. By this point, members of Congress were safe in undisclosed locations, but the protesters didn’t seem terribly interested in pursuing that. They were interested in taking over the chambers, and that’s when the chaos happened. Windows were broken. People were bloodied. Police were trying to get things under control, but not succeeding. We were just wondering, where [are] the police? Typically you can’t just walk in here. It’s not possible. A handful of Capitol police behind one barricade just getting overrun by protesters. And what is there to do but retreat? Clearly they were not prepared, in a way.

It didn’t seem like there was anyone in charge, that it was an unorganized takeover, technically. I think that’s why we’re describing it as a mob. With a mob, people start doing something and everyone else follows. To a certain extent, once they got in, there was a sense of “Well, what do we do now?” We don’t joke about it, but you sort of know where you are in the list of who’s to be rescued if something like this happens. Because there’s a hierarchy. The Capitol police’s job is to protect the members of Congress. Once the members were safe, that’s when you started to see [the rioters] become cavalier; people sitting in chairs on the dais and taking selfies together and putting their feet on desks.

Photo credit: Win McNamee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Win McNamee - Getty Images

I think that the [Murder the Media] sentiment written on the wall has been part of the overall feeling and motivation of the people who were motivated to come here and do this. It wasn’t really surprising to see that, but it was still shocking. It’s been a piece of this that started slowly at Trump rallies. There was a carnival aspect to [the rallies] where people wanted to see “the reality star,” but it took a darker turn as the campaign went on. That has metastasized. President Trump has used the term “fake news,” and I try not to say it out loud because I don’t want to give it credence. But Leslie Stahl, the CBS journalist, has said he told her he uses it so when writers say or do something he doesn’t like that no one will believe us. I think we’ve learned what ideally we do in the media in telling the truth is more important than ever. But we have to have politicians who will say, “Yes, you should trust them.”

Eventually, the mood turned to resolve. Once law enforcement started to arrive in greater numbers, a couple senators—Joe Manchin was one of them—were saying, “We cannot give into these thugs.” It’s not a partisan thing. It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. We cannot allow these people to chase us out of here. It will send the wrong message to the American public. I have no idea what the hell time it was when that started to happen. Sometime before 8 o’clock. I don’t think I’ve finished processing it yet, but I think it’s one of the reasons it’s resonating today because it’s more than a building whose walls were breached.

I’ve been covering Capitol Hill for over a decade, mostly, and this is a place…it’s hard to overstate how much it’s a community. A lot of it stays the same over a long time. I bought my coffee from the same person at the cafe downstairs for years and years. The owner of the little restaurant named Cups here has always been the same. Many of the cops here in the hallways, I know them by name. I ask about their families. It’s that kind of place and nothing like this has never happened. Trying to grapple with it as a reporter, you always want to be right. I started watching this all unfold and thinking: Surely, this is exaggerated. Surely if I say there is a mob on the floor, it would be wrong. But it wasn’t wrong.

“How do we move forward?” is the question of our time. I feel my job is to be fair in how I cover Congress. I think I have a duty to people to be fair, and I also think it’s clear that we are a narrowly divided country. I think it’s important to at least make an effort where other people are coming from. However, I think yesterday made it incredibly clear that…it’s… there—I don’t have a problem being unfair to people who oppose democracy. I am proud to work for an institution that is protected by an amendment in our Constitution. I’m proud to be in these hallways. It’s clear that we have to have a reckoning because we’ve never seen anything like we saw yesterday in this country. We didn’t get there overnight. I don’t know what the answer is in terms of how we fix it. I know I’m trying my damnedest to be fair to both the people I cover but also the people I’m responsible to. To our viewers. To American voters. To people who want to know what’s going on and who need a source of truth.

I do believe it’s possible to do that without declaring yourself to be a member of a political party. But I have no problem declaring myself to aspire to be a person of character.

Photo credit: Esquire
Photo credit: Esquire

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