It’s hard to find the most shocking image of Jan. 6. Was it Trump insurgents pushing barricades over the badly outnumbered police? That moment when the rioting mob smashed through the windows of the Capitol building? Was it watching Richard Barnett put his feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk as he left her a threatening note? Watching Adam Johnson attempt to carry away the speaker’s podium from the House floor? Was it watching Kevin Seefried parade the racist Confederate flag through the halls of the Capitol?
Or maybe it watching Sen. Josh Hawley give a white-power salute to the fuming mob as he made his way into the building. Or seeing 137 House Republicans continue to support overturning the election even after the attack. Or watching Sen. Ted Cruz join Hawley and others in voicing the Big Lie from the rubble-strewn floor of the House chamber.
Maybe the most shocking image of Jan. 6 didn’t even happen on Jan. 6. Maybe it came in the days, weeks, and months that followed, as Republicans repeatedly denied what the nation had seen with their own eyes to embrace the Big Lie and the violence it inspired. The worst image—the worst moment—of Jan. 6 may be difficult to find. A year isn’t enough distance to process the events of that day, and it’s certainly not enough to provide clarity on the ultimate effects of the insurgency.
But the most poignant image of that day, the most moving, might be a lot easier to find.
A year after the events of the Capitol assault, New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim posted a Twitter thread presenting the thoughts that went through his head as he returned to a House chamber that was still littered with broken glass and scattered papers.
“People spoke with hushed whispers. We touched each other’s shoulders gently with comfort as if at a funeral. Everyone still in a daze, swimming in uncertainty of the uncharted moment.”
For a few minutes, as the first members of Congress rose to speak, Kim thought that the horror of that day might be “a defibrillator pulling our country back into rhythm.” But that hope was swiftly extinguished.
“When speeches switched back to electoral college debate, I felt something change in the room. I watched people pull out the same speech about election fraud they were going to give before, as if the riot never happened. The prospect of unity lasted only 35 minutes and 53 seconds.”
According to Rep. Kim, the worst of Jan. 6 wasn’t the rioters. It wasn’t the violence. It was “the selfish silence and purposeful amnesia afterwards.”
As might be expected, Rep. Kim’s remembrances of that day are both sad and thoughtful, laced through references to Cicero and the moment when a violent mob halted the election of two consuls in the fading days of the Roman Republic. Through this story, Rep. Kim expresses the hope that America will come to understand that achieving E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one—requires more than following the law. It requires love.
Rep, Kim ends with a call to unity through service, the same spirit that sent him into the Rotunda, where he literally got on his knees to join in cleaning up the destruction left behind in the wake of Trump’s insurgency.
In a phone conversation a year after the events, former Kim staffer Ben Kamens told Daily Kos how, on the evening of Jan. 7, Rep. Kim’s staff was surprised by a sudden increase in social media traffic.
“Messages were coming from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania,” said Kamens. “They were coming in at 30 to 50 messages every five minutes. By the next day, we were getting messages from all over the world saying that Andy’s actions had ‘restored their faith in democracy.’”
The former social media director insisted that there had never been any planned photo op. In fact, Rep, Kim didn’t mention his actions to his own staff, and passing Capitol Hill reporters didn’t recognize the man in the blue suit kneeling to slide discarded Trump flags and crumpled papers into a garbage bag. “Andy didn’t tell the staff about the picture, or about helping to clean the Rotunda, It wasn’t planned, it just happened.”
The AP photo of Rep, Kim that went viral over the next day (and is featured at this top of this article) only happened because Rep. Dean Phillips and Rep. Tom Malinowski pointed out Rep. Kim to the photographer.
Kamens believes it’s the authenticity of that moment that shines through in the picture, and which made the photo of Rep. Kim that “one good thing” that so many people held onto in the hours following the assault.
“He was the right person for the moment,” said Kamens, “He would rather roll up his sleeves and do the hard work than get any praise. He comes through as authentic and real, because that’s who Andy Kim is. He’s one of the best human beings I have ever known.”
In the days following Jan. 6, the Facebook messages, Twitter comments, and emails were joined by thousands of physical letters. Some of these included “fan art” inspired by the image of Rep, Kim. Those letters have now been collected into volumes that Rep. Kim keeps in his office.
“When you’re not trying to get the attention,” said Kamens, “that shines through. He walked into the Rotunda and into Statuary Hall, and he thought that not even during the Civil War had these rooms been in such disrepair. He had to help. He saw it as part of his job.”
A lot of people saw it as something more.