By Beatriz Pascual Macías
Washington, Jan 3 (EFE).- When a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol, Democratic representative Ruben Gallego searched around for something he could use as a weapon to defend himself, but all he found was a pen.
Gallego, an Iraq war veteran, felt like he was on the battlefield again and quickly came up with a plan of action — he and other young colleagues in the House of Representatives would use pens to stab the attackers in the face or neck and then take their weapons to use for self-defense.
“I decided to take it upon myself to get up there, give instructions and kind of help organize people instead of letting it be chaotic,” Gallego, voice calm and chin high, tells Efe in an interview.
During the assault on January 6, 2021, Gallego stood on a seat in the chamber, suit jacket off, prepared to face what was coming. He instructed legislators how to put on the gas masks stored beneath their seats, and told them how to regulate their breathing once the mask was in place.
His biggest fear was that some members of Congress would begin hyperventilating in the mask, which could lead them to faint and require care, meaning at least two people would be distracted at a time when the utmost focus was paramount.
The smell of tear gas hung in the air as the mob pounded on doors of the besieged chamber, Gallego recalls.
When rioters breached the Capitol complex, police immediately escorted the House Democratic and Republican Party leaders out of the chamber, leaving other members of Congress behind in the chaos.
RISING ABOVE PANIC
Drawing on his experience as a soldier, Gallego feared that the lack of direction in the chamber could lead members of Congress to react in one of two ways: either becoming paralized by fear or starting to panic.
“You can’t have that when you’re being attacked. I remember guiding young men into war, and seeing them panic and freeze. And it was important that I would grab a hold of them and focus them. I felt the same obligation here, and that’s why I told people what to do.”
Gallego served with the US Marines between 2000-06. Rising to the rank of Corporal, he learned what it meant to be a leader. He deployed to Iraq with Lima Company, which lost 48 soldiers in action, among them Gallego’s closest friend.
During the Capitol assault, Gallego was one of the last to leave the chamber as the ugly scenes unfolded at the heart of US democracy.
“I went and checked every section of the House floor to make sure everybody had left because, if you don’t, you can leave somebody behind. That’s a very simple leadership rule that you’re taught. You never leave anybody behind and you’re not the first one to leave, and you are almost always the last one to leave,” he tells Efe.
After leaving the chamber, Gallego bunkered down in his office and offered refuge to several journalists who had been unable to escape the building.
AN OFFICE TURNED SHELTER
“I sat them down, calmed them down, and kind of explained to them what was going on,” Gallego says, adding that the journalists were young, and frightened. One of the reporters had low blood sugar levels, prompting Gallego to leave the relative safety of his office to find food at a vending machine.
He left his office again to round up other reporters who had been left stranded in the corridors of the Capitol building. When he returned, Gallego set out a list of rules for those taking shelter inside, including a password to stop intruders from gaining access to the room.
During the five hours Gallego was bunkered in his office, he continued to communicate with colleagues to ensure that the vote to confirm Joe Biden as the new President of the United States, which the “Stop the Steal” rioters were trying to prevent, could go ahead.