News & Politics

Congress Must Preserve Artifacts From January 6 Attack, Says Eleanor Holmes Norton

Trump supporters outside the Capitol on January 6. Photograph by Evy Mages

How should we memorialize the January 6 attack on the Capitol? On Thursday, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton wrote a letter to the Architect of the Capitol urging Congress to “find ways to preserve and display artifacts” from the historic day. “Memorializing the damage caused by the insurrectionists in perpetuity would remind all who enter the hallowed halls of the Capitol how precious democracy is and how close we came to losing it on January 6,” wrote Norton.

The push to preserve items connected to the attack is partly to contribute to collections of American history, but it’s also about ensuring the truth of that day is accurately noted in the future. Norton says that these efforts will combat “conspiracy theorists and political opportunists” who downplayed the gravity of the attack just hours after it unfolded.

The Justice Department is currently holding some objects and debris as evidence for prosecuting the alleged rioters. “Moving forward, we are looking at options to display a collection after objects are no longer needed for prosecutorial purposes,” an Architect of the Capitol spokesperson told Roll Call this week.

In addition to collecting objects from the riot, some lawmakers believe the Capitol building itself should preserve some of the damage for historical purposes. Though it’s unclear what that would look like, the Capitol does feature traces of previous violence that have been kept as part of the building, like the blood-stained steps from the 1890 shooting of Congressman William Taulbee. “Architecturally and historically I think it would be a good thing to preserve some evidence of the destruction of the building,” Mitt Romney said recently. “So that 150 years from now, as people tour the building, they’ll say, ‘Ah, this was where that insurrection occurred.’”

In the past year, there have been other efforts around DC to memorialize major recent events, like the Smithsonian’s work collecting signs, art, and other items from the George Floyd protests last summer. The National Museum of American History has also collected items from the Capitol attack, including flags, buttons, and signs, according to Roll Call.

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Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.