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In Philadelphia, liberals gather to experience the first Jan. 6 hearing together

More than 40 people gathered at Summit Presbyterian Church in northwest Philadelphia on Thursday to watch the first public hearing from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Juana Summers
/
NPR
More than 40 people gathered at Summit Presbyterian Church in northwest Philadelphia on Thursday to watch the first public hearing from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

About an hour before the first prime time hearing of the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol, people began to trickle into the courtyard of a northwest Philadelphia church.

They were there for a community watch event, one of roughly 90 organized by liberal activists, urging people to gather to watch the rare, televised evening hearing together.

"I expect to be shocked, and I didn't want to be shocked at home by myself," said Melanie Brennan, who lives in the Mount Airy neighborhood where the event was being held.

Brennan came to the watch event with a friend, Chauncey Harris. He had high expectations, and said that former President Donald Trump had evaded consequences for too long.

"I hope for now they'll be able to show people what the truth is, so we can get rid of our personal opinions and just judge the facts on the facts," he said before the hearing began. "That's what I hope happens. I hope we can get some justice in this country"

Brennan and Harris were among those who gathered at Summit Presbyterian Church to watch the hearing live, as members of the House select panel placed the blame for the violence that consumed the Capitol on Jan. 6 squarely on the former president.

Ahead of the hearing, Democratic State Rep. Chris Rabb, who represents this part of Philadelphia and spoke at the event, questioned how many people would be tuning in.

"It is likely that the majority of hardworking Americans will not be paying attention. And I don't say that as a judgement, I say that as an observation," he said. "And one of the reasons I feel that folks are not paying attention is there are a lot of people struggling just to pay the bills."

He called this a moment for collective action.

Before Chairman Bennie Thompson gaveled the hearing into order, Tim Brown, one of the event's organizers, presided over a satirical awards ceremony. The unflattering awards were doled out to Republican politicians.

"The first award of the evening is the Golden Boot award, given to the most servile and degrading act of bootlicking by a political toadie," Brown said.

The nominees for this award — again, really, not an award — were three Republican senators: Mitt Romney of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas.

Tonya Bah holds up a "Golden Boot" trophy, part of a satirical awards ceremony held at a watch party in Philadelphia for Thursday's hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Juana Summers / NPR
/
NPR
Tonya Bah holds up a "Golden Boot" trophy, part of a satirical awards ceremony held at a watch party in Philadelphia for Thursday's hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Brown, the organizing director of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, asked people to cheer for the politician they'd like to give the award to. Cruz won handily. A woman accepted a trophy, ostensibly on Cruz's behalf, standing in the front of the room, arms outstretched, holding a single, spray painted golden boot.

"I think it's important to add levity to dark situations," Brown said when asked about the role of the awards ceremony. "In some instances, to take the pressure off people, but also humor is a good way to get the point across."

By the time the hearing started, more than 40 people were seated in metal folding chairs to watch the livestream, projected on a screen in the front of the room.

Initially, people mostly watched quietly, occasionally having side conversations with a neighbor, or clapping to punctuate a point. That was until Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the select committee, spoke.

When she addressed fellow Republicans who have boycotted the proceedings and painted them as illegitimate, the crowd roared so loudly that it was hard to hear what Cheney said next.

"Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible," she said. "There will come a day where Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain."

What Cheney said stuck with Raymond Torres, who also lives in Mount Airy and was preparing to leave as the committee took a brief recess.

"I just remember the Watergate hearings when Sen. Goldwater confronted Nixon and said you need to resign," he said. "The Republican senators have not really confronted Trump and said he needs to stop lying. At least Liz Cheney has been willing to do that."

Torres said that while he believes many people were tuned in, he was concerned about those who didn't find it necessary to view the hearings.

"It was very sad that Fox News refused to cover this, and has acted as a mouthpiece for [the] Republican Party, when this is a country that needs to learn its history," he said.

While other news networks carried the televised evening hearings, Fox News continued with its typical prime time programming.

Organizer Tim Brown also worried about who would watch the hearing. He said some people told him directly that if they couldn't watch collectively, they wouldn't do so at all.

When asked why, he said: "Trauma."

"People were shocked at some of the things being said. One woman came up to me, she said, 'I couldn't have watched this alone, this was too terrorizing.' When you saw those people breaching the Capitol, cops fighting for their lives, it was just horrendous."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.