Smithsonian Continues Collecting Artifacts From Jan. 6 Capitol Attack

Congressional Medal for the Jan. 6 Defenders, Photographs, Law Enforcement Gear and Personal Effects Added to National Museum of American History’s Collections
August 21, 2023
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Congressional Gold Medal

Congressional Gold Medal. Photo by Jaclyn Nash.

Artifacts reflecting the violence, chaos and confusion at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021, have been added to the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in a continuing effort to document the attack on that day and its larger impact on American democracy.

The museum followed its rapid-response protocol Jan. 7, 2021, to collect ephemeral materials such as rally signs, posters and flags, along with a whip and a wooden pole used as weapons, which were discarded on the National Mall. Recent acquisitions join objects in the museum’s divisions of Community Life and Political and Military History and the Photographic History Collections.

“The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and on the foundation of the United States’ democratic republic, revealed the fragility of our political system,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s Elizabeth MacMillan Director. “As the nation’s flagship history museum, our staff is continuing to document and, most importantly, preserve this history for future generations to understand how the events of that day unfolded and to track their ongoing impacts.”

On Jan. 6, then-Vice President Mike Pence was to preside over the official process for counting the electoral college votes and certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election during a joint session of Congress. This peaceful transfer of presidential authority, the mainstay of American democracy since 1800, was intentionally interrupted when thousands of rioters, many carrying “Trump” banners and signs, violently broke through police security and entered the Capitol. This was the first time that the Capitol had been breached on a large scale since the War of 1812 when British troops attacked the city. Because numerous investigations are underway and collecting is ongoing, there are no immediate plans for an exhibition.

Collections From Law Enforcement

Collections representative of the officers who defended the Capitol Jan. 6 have recently been added, including personal donations from three officers. Lt. Rani E. Brooks of the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) donated the head scarf she was wearing under her helmet that day and her boots. Despite being pulled into the crowd and her helmet taken off, she continued to defend the Capitol and returned to work the following day. USCP Pfc. Winston Pingeon presented three watercolors depicting the Capitol in symbolic flames, officers in riot gear outside the Capitol and one with the iconic building’s dome framed within a gallows and noose. Pingeon’s law enforcement-related objects include his black tactical boots, protective vest, USCP patches, white gloves that represent the ceremonial unit he belonged to and a metal bracelet memorializing USCP Officer Brian Sicknick.

USCP Lt. Harry Dunn donated gear, including a jacket, a knit hat and a rosary blessed by the Pope and gifted to him by then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. On Jan. 6, Dunn was stationed across from the Speaker’s office in order to protect the stairway down to a lower level where USCP and Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers were being treated.

Photo History

An acquisition of 19 black-and-white gelatin silver photographs by photojournalist Louie Palu includes images from inside the Capitol that capture events in the building and on the grounds. Palu’s photographs are part of a series that begins with the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and extends beyond the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Previously acquired was the black protective vest worn by freelance photographer Madeleine Kelly, which was slashed by a knife-wielding rioter, and her damaged media credentials.

Political and Military History

The Smithsonian received one of the four Congressional Gold Medals presented Dec. 6, 2021, in recognition of the protection, heroism and sacrifices made by USCP and MPD officers. The medal is one of the recent additions to the political history collection along with a numbered copy of the Tally Sheet on the 2020 presidential election from Jan. 6. The sheet, number 37, was a transfer from the Clerk of the House.

During the initial 2021–22 collecting, curators added materials, including banners, signs, stickers and flags expressing support for then-President Donald Trump and the blue suit worn by Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) as he picked up debris in the Capitol building on the evening of Jan. 6. National Guard insignia and other law-enforcement lapel pins and patches reflecting the guarding of the Capitol perimeter for 75 nights were also collected. 

About the Museum

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open and admission is free. Hours and visit information are available online along with expanded offerings. The public can follow the museum on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to https://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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