Blood and Truth: Caroline Edwards Is a Profile in Courage for Protecting Democracy on January 6th
by Chitra Ragavan · 11 Oct 2022 · 13 min read
__A Viral Insights Column On Super-Survivors
Final House Select Committee Public Hearing to Be Held Today
Caroline Edwards stood at the west front of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, in a state of gnawing anxiety.
For months, Edwards, an officer of the Capitol Police First Responders Unit had been preparing, along with her colleagues, for a typical Trump demonstration, expected on the day Congress would certify Joe Biden as the next president of the United States..
The 2,300-strong U.S. Capitol Police force’s mandate is “protecting Congress and the public, and maintaining order while protecting the U.S. Capitol—the seat of our nation's government.”
“We treated it like the last two Trump marches that we had dealt with, which had resulted in skirmishes between protesters and counter-protesters. So that's what we were really looking for—violence between those two groups,” Edwards told me in an interview on my leadership podcast When It Mattered. “We weren't necessarily looking for a riot against ourselves or against Congress.”
“They Would Have Started Killing”
But on that cold winter morning, Edwards feared the worst as she saw the tsunami of overheated protestors, many of them armed, approaching the bastion of democracy.
“It was a scary thing to realize that they’re not after me, they’re just trying to get through me. And I am very, very convinced that if they couldn’t have gotten through us, they would have started killing.”—Caroline Edwards on When It Mattered.
Edwards is believed to be the first law enforcement officer injured by the rioters as she tried to push the rapidly growing crowd from encroaching the west front. She suffered a concussion, cognitive injuries, and eye damage from bear spray and pepper spray.
Scroll of Shame
In June of 2022, Edwards testified about her ordeal before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. This Thursday, the Select Committee is expected to hold what could be its final hearing this year regarding the violent insurrection by thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump.
To date, at least 919 people have been arrested and charged with a litany of federal offenses related to the siege. Hundreds have pleaded guilty and been sentenced; dozens of other criminal cases are ongoing; hundreds more are bound to be prosecuted as the FBI continues to methodically identify other perpetrators and investigate their roles in the attempted overturning of democracy.
And yet, despite the growing scroll of shame from the U.S. Department of Justice, in a disturbing story published on October 6th, Washington Post veteran national political reporter Amy Gardner reported “A majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices—299 in all—have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election, according to a Washington Post analysis.”
In a nutshell, with less than four weeks to go before the November ballot, leaders of the Republican Party are still burying their heads in the sand in order to fulfill their victory-at-all-costs strategy.
Keepers of the Truth
So, it’s up to the Select Committee and the heroic White House staffers and police officers from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), who have testified under oath, to remind the world, over and over again, what happened on January 6th and who the vainglorious leaders responsible were.
Edwards is one of those keepers of the truth.
As she described on my podcast, Edwards and her colleagues showed up for work that morning, woefully underequipped and underprepared for what was about to unfold, as evidenced by the fact that Edwards attempted to defend herself on the west front with just the two bike racks that were in front of her. She held them up, one in each arm, pushing the crowds away. But it was a brief and futile effort against the three angry men pushing back.
“And I feel the bike rack coming up above my head and kind of crashing down on my head and pushing me backward. And I remember stumbling backward and hitting my chin on the handrail and that’s when I blacked out. But as I fell where I landed, I hit the corner of the stair with the back of my head. And so, you know, I was obviously blacked out. I woke up on my feet with another officer yelling, ‘We have to go! We have to go!’”—Caroline Edwards on When It Mattered
“Dread in the Pit of My Stomach”
Edwards recovered long enough to register the throng rushing toward the inaugural stage, and she started running toward it, trying to keep them at bay.
“I just remember grabbing my can of pepper spray out of my belt and holding it in my hand, not knowing what they were going to do next,” Edwards told me. “And some people were trying to tell me, they’re like, ‘Just get out of our way. We're not going to hurt you.’ And I started yelling back, ‘You already did. You already did hurt me.’” —Caroline Edwards on When It Mattered
Edwards said she was soon trapped, along with six other officers, on the Senate side stairs. And as she scuffled with the rioters, her line of sight cleared, and her heart sank as she saw scores of angry and well-equipped protestors crushing her fellow officers.
“They had come prepared with wipes to wipe pepper spray out of their eyes . . . They had come prepared with walkie-talkies to talk to each other,” Edwards recalled. “One of them said, ‘Should we push forward?’ And they said, ‘No, wait for more. They are coming.’ And I remember feeling dread in the pit of my stomach when I heard them say that, because I thought, How many more are coming? What's going to happen? What are they doing? What's their goal here?”
“It was All-Out Madness”
What happened in the ensuing hours was a “war scene,” said Edwards. “It was all-out madness,” with officers collapsing “left and right” under the weight of the violence.
“I saw people with blood on their faces, people with shrapnel in their arms, people with gouged faces, and missing their fingers, and their hands were all cut up and bloody.”—Caroline Edwards on When It Mattered
Despite her concussion, Edwards, fueled by adrenaline and survival instincts, was administering first aid to her injured fellow officers when she was hit with bear spray.
“And it felt like somebody had taken a metal pole and just gouged my eyes out. The bear spray itself was excruciating, but the stream was so pressurized because it’s meant to spray a bear from, like, twenty feet away,” said Edwards. “And this protester was maybe five to ten feet away, and he got me right in the eye. And I just remember trying in vain to open my eyes because I could hear the fighting behind me. And I couldn't.”
Insult to Injury
Edwards remembered thinking at one point that her end was near.
“I had pretty much told myself that I was probably going to die today. And I just didn't even stop to think about it. I was like, I don't think I'm going home tonight, so I'm just going to give it my all."—Caroline Edwards on When It Mattered
Edwards did survive. But a fellow officer, Brian Sicknick, died in the days following the insurgence, having undergone profound physical, mental, and emotional stress. One USCP and one MPD Police officer committed suicide after the attack. And, according to news reports, at least 140 officers, including Edwards, were injured.
They suffered head injuries from lack of helmets, cracked ribs, smashed spinal discs, swollen wrists and ankles, pervasive bruises, and lungs ravaged from bear spray and pepper spray.
And, quite literally adding insult to injury, the officers suffered injuries from metal poles ripped from the presidential inauguration scaffolding and used as weapons, being hit with the American flag.
“You’re Going to Really Find Out Who You Are”
Her ferocious stance on January 6th surprised Edwards.
After all, she told me, she had for years wanted to become a police officer but fought back her dream, thinking she was not physically or mentally capable of it. In fact, Edwards had settled for a marketing job that made her unhappy, until a mentor told her to at least give it a shot. January 6th taught her that she did indeed have it in her.
“I would say to most females who are trying to make it in male-dominated fields: you are going to really find out who you are. You’re going to find out that not only did you have it in you all along, but that you can be strong, you can be heroic, you can be whatever you want, while still being yourself.”—Caroline Edwards on When It Mattered
Edwards says one of the most important life lessons she learned upon joining the force was to never quit, which she was tempted to do just days into training. And she might well have quit, had it not been for a wise fellow trainee.
“Another recruit kept telling me, ‘Just give it a day. And if by the end of the day you want to quit, then give it a week. And, if by the end of the week. you want to quit, then quit,’” Edward recalled. “And it helped me to realize that if I just stick with something, if I just show up, that’s half the battle, right? It’s showing up and making it through.”
Edwards certainly upheld her end of the bargain on January 6th, 2021. On November 8th, 2022, the world will see if the Republican Party upholds its end and honors its oath to protect the sanctity of elections and the rule of law.
But, given the plethora of Trump-backed, power-hungry, election-denying candidates on the ballots nationwide, and Gardner’s recent revelatory analysis in the Washington Post, the prognosis seems dim for an election system that is in the death grip of metastasizing corruption.
“I Do Still Believe in America”
For Edwards, she told me that, although it has taken time, she has gotten past her extreme anger and forgiven the perpetrators, because of her faith and because she believes that many were misled.
What has been harder for her to reconcile, she said, was the role that the instigators, the leaders of our country, played in convincing the rioters—especially former military and law enforcement officers who participated—that they were doing their duty by committing insurrection.
“It’s still hard for me to understand how someone could use that sense of duty, that sense of higher purpose, and twist it into something so ugly. That makes me very, very sad.”—Caroline Edwards on When It Mattered
Today, Edwards is back on the force and on the First Responder's Unit, after spending nearly two years in recovery, which is still ongoing.
“I mean, eighteen months ago, I could barely walk in a straight line. I could barely talk without stuttering and slurring my words. And I couldn’t drive,” Edwards told me. “My reading comprehension was zero. And I worked so hard to get back to where I was because I do still believe in democracy. I do still believe in America. And I do still believe that we are a country that is worth fighting to get back to serve.”
Listen to Edwards share her incredible story of courage and resilience and those of her fellow officers on my podcast, When It Mattered, on YouTube. Or, listen to it on your favorite podcast platform at this link. And don’t forget to like, subscribe, and give it a big thumbs up!
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