Pat Fallon was sworn in Sunday as a freshman member of Congress. On Wednesday, the Republican found himself ripping a tall wooden pole topped with a white hand sanitizer dispenser from the House floor and transforming the modern totem of pandemic precaution into a weapon. A frenzied mob of Donald Trump supporters had breached the Capitol and were approaching one of the most sacred spaces of American democracy. Fallon, who represents a northeast Texas district, estimated that some two hundred members of Congress—well more than were supposed to be gathered in close proximity at any one time under COVID restrictions—were on the House floor or nearby when the rioters tried to break in.
“We hear the mob and we don’t know if it’s 20 people or 250,000,” Fallon recounted hours later. “We just hear it at the center doors of the chamber where the president would walk in when you have a State of the Union. They were just being pounded on, pounded on.”
Fallon is big and athletic. He played wide receiver for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on their 1988 national championship team. In 2015, he completed the World Marathon Challenge—seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. As many representatives were led in small groups to secure locations, he and three other Texas Republican freshmen—Tony Gonzales, who serves a district stretching from San Antonio to El Paso; Ronny Jackson, who represents a portion of the Panhandle; and former sheriff Troy Nehls, who hails from Fort Bend County—agreed they would stay put on the floor to help the outmanned police. All had military backgrounds. Fallon had served in the Air Force. Gonzales is a Navy veteran, whom Trump endorsed in a closely fought GOP primary ultimately decided by fewer than fifty votes. Jackson is a retired rear admiral who was President Trump’s personal physician. Nehls retired as a major in the Army reserve. They were joined by Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican in his fifth term. “I just met him then,” Fallon said. “He said, ‘I’m going to be the last one to leave.’”
Amid the din of the mounting siege, Fallon recalled what Notre Dame center Tim Grunhard would say to pump up his teammates before every home game: “This is our house! And we’re going to protect it!” Fallon’s adrenaline coursing, he “screamed it.”
The congressmen moved furniture to barricade the door. Fallon said Jackson just missed getting hit by a projectile that pierced the glass in the door as police cried out, “Rounds fired! Shots fired!” “It was just surreal. We are going to get into a brawl on the House floor with a mob,” Fallon said.
Just hours before, Fallon had expected to be on the floor voting against certifying the electoral college votes for Biden, along with many Republicans in Congress who had signaled they would make a last-ditch effort to reverse the president’s November defeat. But they didn’t have the votes. At his late-morning “Save America” rally held near the White House Wednesday morning, Trump lamented that Vice President Pence could not be counted on to save the day and incited what would become the siege and lockdown of the Capitol. Fallon, Nehls, Jackson, and Mullin, but not Gonzales, would be among the great majority of House Republicans who late Wednesday night and in the wee hours of Thursday morning, after the insurrection had been subdued, would vote to object to certifying either the Arizona or Pennsylvania Biden electors. They would vote the way the mob wanted, but, predictably, without success.
Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett watched the afternoon’s mayhem outside the Capitol from his office on the third floor of the Rayburn House Office Building directly across the street, with the splendid view of a member entering his ninth term. “It was just truly shocking,” Doggett said late Wednesday afternoon, still under lockdown in his office. “The nearest to Washington like this was when I was here for 9/11,” Doggett said. “It’s just such far-reaching damage to our country and to our position in the world.”
After order was restored, Sylvia Garcia, a Democratic congresswoman from Houston who was among the managers of the House impeachment of Trump, which failed in the Senate, tweeted that Pence and the Cabinet ought to invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment and immediately remove Trump from office “and protect our country.”
Returning to business, the Senate and House worked through the night to confirm Biden’s victory, though most House Republicans—139 in all—voted in favor of the challenges to either the Arizona or Pennsylvania electors, or both.
Fallon does not blame the president for the day’s indelibly terrible turn of events, instead pinning the breach on just a “few, very few, bad apples.” He believes the rioters should have trusted their elected representatives. “That’s what we’re hired to do,” Fallon said. “This is a representative Republic. We’re hired to fight for the people from our district.”
And in his first three days as a member of Congress, Fallon, who lives in the well-named boomtown of Prosper, straddling Denton and Collin counties, said his office was flooded with hundreds of calls, all with the same message. “Literally every call we got was they wanted us to object,” Fallon said. And that’s what their new representative did.
Chip Roy, who just won a second term representing a Central Texas district, seemed to rebuke his Texas colleagues. He won a standing ovation from Democrats when he spoke on the floor Wednesday night to explain why he was voting against rejecting any of the duly chosen Biden electors.
“Today, the people’s House was attacked, which is an attack on the Republic itself. There is no excuse for it. A woman died. And people need to go to jail,” said Roy, a former chief of staff for Senator Ted Cruz, who led the failed effort to block approval of the Biden electors. “And the president should never have spun up certain Americans to believe something that simply cannot be.”