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'It reminded me of Jan. 6': Democratic lawmaker describes clash outside the DNC

The lawmaker, who asked not to be identified by name, said 50 people were inside the DNC headquarters in Washington for an event when pro-Palestinian protests erupted outside.
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On Wednesday night, current lawmakers and candidates were mingling inside the Democratic National Committee's headquarters.

The guest list included top party leaders, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California.

But the quiet Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight when it was interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters who came to the doorstep of the DNC.

A lawmaker who was inside the building said about 50 people were at the event. The person said that they heard chanting and tried to leave but that police said the building was on lockdown and no one could leave.

The lawmaker said it soon became clear that something was out of the ordinary when a U.S. Capitol Police officer was brought in, suffering from pepper spray.

“It reminded me of Jan. 6,” this person said. “It rattled me.”

NBC News has confirmed that Democratic Reps. Sean Casten of Illinois, Brad Sherman of California and Debbie Dingell of Michigan were also at the DNC event.

Eventually the Democratic leaders were able to leave the building in their cars through the basement garage, and the lawmaker who spoke to NBC News was able to get a ride in one of the leaders’ cars.

“I’m very grateful,” the lawmaker said of Capitol Police. 

In a statement Thursday, the White House said President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden had called into a DNC and campaign staff meeting: "They expressed appreciation to law enforcement who kept everyone inside the DNC safe last night, including staff and Members of Congress."

Police and demonstrators clash Wednesday at the entrance to the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington.
Police and demonstrators clash Wednesday at the entrance to the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington.Getty Images; Reuters

Capitol Police said Wednesday night on X that a “large group of illegal protesters ... have cleared out, but USCP officers will stay on scene out of an abundance of caution.” They previously put the number of demonstrators at about 150, who they said were “violently protesting.”

Police said that six officers were treated for injuries as a result of the demonstration and that one person was arrested and accused of assaulting an officer.

Sherman tweeted Wednesday that he was evacuated from the DNC “after pro-terrorist, anti-#Israel protestors grew violent, pepper spraying police officers and attempting to break into the building.”

In a joint statement Thursday, Jeffries, Clark, Aguilar and campaign committee Chair Suzan DelBene of Washington thanked Capitol Police and alleged that "some protesters escalated their activity in a manner that exceeded a peaceful demonstration."

Protesters have repeatedly disputed the claim that protesters pepper-sprayed police.

During a virtual news conference Thursday morning, organizers of the protest alleged that about 90 demonstrators were injured by police. Organizers alleged that “a peaceful protester was hit by, hit with bicycles by two different cops," another "was pepper-sprayed directly in the face by police" and “at least two peaceful protesters’ glasses were smashed by the police," among other violent incidents.

Eva Borgwardt, a spokesperson for IfNotNow — a group that describes itself as “American Jews organizing our community to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system” — disputed Sherman's account, saying he is “spreading dangerous and reckless misinformation about our nonviolent movement.”

She added that protesters had engaged in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience "to call on Democrats to support a cease-fire and an end to our government’s funding of violence against Palestinian civilians."

“I personally have never seen such a, like, fast and violent escalation by police with no warning,” Borgwardt said. “Protesters were singing in front of the door to the DNC, and almost immediately, the police were trying to, like, tear them off of each other and shove them down the stairs.

“And then the peaceful protesters that were assembled in the street — again, we were holding candles to represent the Palestinian lives lost — and officers were shoving everyone out of the street with their bicycles, with no warning or explanation,” she added.

Capitol Police alleged in a statement Thursday morning that the group “moved dumpsters in front of the exits” and “pepper sprayed our officers.” Asked by NBC News to respond to the statement, Borgwardt said she “did not see anything like that” and maintained that protesters did not pepper-spray officers.

Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, one of the organizers of the rally, said that police had the tools needed to carry out a dispersal order peacefully and nonviolently to safely remove protesters but that “instead they chose to push people and shove people and hit and pepper spray.”

“The police have tools to deal with nonviolent civil disobedience, and last night they chose not to use them,” she said. “And I want to know why.”