Capitol riots leave D.C.-based students reeling

By Maggie Reynolds

Sabrina Templeton

As the gravity of the violent insurgence at the Capitol reverberated across the nation, Middlebury students in the D.C. area reeled from the shock of its proximity. 

When the attacks began, Ethan Sherman ’21 was at his home about half a mile from the Capitol. “I started to hear sirens outside in the early afternoon, and they persisted for the rest of the day. As news of the insurrection trickled in, I was glued to my phone,” Sherman said.  

Just outside the city, Max Nagle ’24 also felt the shock of the riots. “I was scared of what might happen after dark,” said Nagle, who lives in Arlington, VA. He expressed concern that some of the insurrectionists would be forced out of the city and into his state. 

New precautions, including fences and concrete barriers, were installed after the Jan. 6 insurrection, keeping D.C. residents who had typically watched the inauguration in person from getting too close. (Ethan Sherman)

Although the initial fear has begun to dissipate in the wake of the attack, the scars of the events remain. With barely enough time to process the Jan. 6. insurrection, Washington D.C. began preparing for President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. As the date approached, security tightened — and its impact on the mood around the city was palpable. 

Mia Zottola ’24 of Arlington described the feeling as “apocalyptic” and Sherman said he saw “troops on every corner for about nine blocks” when he walked down a prominent residential street the day before the inauguration.

For Sherman, knowing the past actions of the police and military — especially during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests — made him nervous and distrustful of the security in D.C. 

“I was disgusted to see them put up very little resistance to armed insurrectionists storming the Capitol, considering that they tear gassed … and shot rubber bullets at the protestors over the summer,” he said. 

Some students were wary of the increased security presence in D.C. after law enforcement’s interactions with Black Lives Matter protestors in the spring and summer. (Ethan Sherman)

Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) leader Divya Gudur ’21 expressed concerns similar to Sherman’s about the increased police and military presence in the city. She said that SNEG members have been trying to support the D.C. population since this month’s attack, emphasizing difficulties in providing mutual aid, particularly for individuals without housing. 

In particular, Gudur noted that homeless and low-income groups in D.C. have been heavily impacted by the shutdown — as the military cleared out the streets — leaving community service workers struggling to provide them with essential services.

The domestic terrorist attacks put further strain on an inauguration already heavily modified due to the pandemic. During a typical year, Sherman said he would have walked down to the Capitol and National Mall to celebrate. 

Similarly, Mia and Marian Zottola, both members of the class of ’24, had hoped to enter the city from Arlington to attend the inauguration, but the military presence blocked nonresidents from traveling into D.C. Even though Sherman and the Zottolas were a few miles away from the inauguration, they watched it on TV like the rest of the country.