Two UVA Community Members Among Those Defending Capitol Following Jan. 6 Riots

Two UVA Community Members Among Those Defending Capitol Following Jan. 6 Riots

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United States Army National Guard Spec. Ziniu Chen was concluding his monthly drill at Fort Pickett in Blackstone when he got the notification. Second Lt. Quinn Conrad had just finished dinner with her parents in Baltimore.

Following provocative remarks from then-President Donald Trump, a violent mob had descended upon the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. The insurrectionists assaulted police officers and broke windows to gain entry to the building as members of Congress met to certify the election of Joseph Biden as the 46th president of the United States. Five people died as a result the riots, including one police officer and one insurrectionist who were killed and others who suffered medical emergencies. Two police officers later died by suicide.

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Chen, a production designer in the Office of University Communications, and Conrad, a third-year student in the School of Law, were summoned to Washington, D.C., in the following days, along with 25,000 other members of the National Guard to keep the peace.

Recently, they shared their stories with UVA Today.

National Guard Member Ziniu Chen

Chen and his unit arrived at Washington’s National Guard Joint Force Headquarters on Jan. 10 at 10 p.m., already tired from his weekend drills. His unit and thousands of other National Guard members were processed and given their assignments.

“The processing took a couple hours, because as you may have seen on the news, we all have to go through a background check to make sure everyone was U.S. citizens,” Chen said. “We also had to be sworn in as special police in support of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police.”

Chen, a native of China, spends time on the lobby floor of the Library of Congress. He joined the U.S. Army in 2015 to serve in active duty, and joined the National Guard in 2019. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)

In the early hours of Monday morning, a deep chill in the winter air, his unit was mobilized to the Library of Congress, which is just across 1st Street Southeast from the Capitol. Because many states were still in the process of sending guard units to Washington, Chen’s unit initially worked grueling shifts.

“The first couple of days at the Library of Congress, we were pulling 36-hour shifts,” he said. Members took catnaps when they could on the cold, marble floors of the lobby. “A couple of days before the inauguration, we were getting a regular rotation because there were more U.S. National Guard personnel on the ground and we had enough people to do the rotation.”

At first, Chen was fueled by adrenaline. “I was excited to be part of the mission. That was my first feeling,” he said. “Later on, especially after the 36-hour shifts, we got pretty worn out."

There were some tense moments. On Jan. 16, rumors of pending armed protests were spreading. Weapons were issued to Guard members and Chen was reassigned to guard the perimeter of the Capitol building.

“Some of us were even talking about the worst-case scenario, where we might have to take arms against our own citizens, so that was very intense. It would be quite sad if that really happened,” Chen said.

It did not happen. There were no armed protests. But late that night in the cold January air, before Washington had instituted massive road closures for Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, Chen said a large truckload of men ominously drove by while filming guard members with their phones. He said it was chilling.

The day of the inauguration proved uneventful for Chen. His unit was assigned to the Russell Senate Office Building as part of a quick-reaction force, or “QRF” for short. They were not needed.

National Guard Member Quinn Conrad

Conrad’s family has a long history of serving the country. “I’ve actually had a family member from every generation since the Revolutionary War serve in the military,” she said, “so we trace it back incredibly far. The most recent that I remember is my great-grandfather, who was in the Navy. My grandfathers were in the Army and the Marine Corps. My uncle was in the Army and Navy, and my dad was Army.”

Quinn Conrad comes from a long line of military service. She’s had a family member serve in the military from every generation since the Revolutionary War. (Contributed by Quinn Conrad)

Conrad arrived in Washington on Jan. 9 and, like Chen, her unit was assigned to the Library of Congress. (Chen and Conrad do not know one another.)

“We had a beautiful view of the Capitol on our first night,” she said. “It was very calm and quiet. It was very cold.”

After that, her unit transitioned to more rotations around the Capitol building. Although National Guard members had hotel rooms, the lobby of the building became a makeshift sleeping area, leading to photographs of sleeping Guard members circulating on social media.

“A lot of people who were reporting it, I think, were upset that we were sleeping on the Capitol floor,” she said.

People launched campaigns to send the troops cots. “The National Guard shared with these people that we appreciate the gesture. Basically, in between shifts, when we were standing out guarding the Capitol, we’d be able to come back inside and rest for a few hours. So, I spent several nights inside the Capitol, actually, which was wild and something I never thought that I would be able to do.”

Conrad said she has worked every day since she arrived in Washington and spent some of her down time reading “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand.

Asked if she felt like she was part of history, Conrad paused for a moment.

“It’s really crazy. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from family and friends wanting to check in and just remind me how crazy it is,” she said. “I think with our constant cycle of just being on for long shifts and then coming back and just sleeping as much as we can before we go back out, it feels a little bit detached from how special an occasion this is. But we are definitely in down moments, very much in awe  of what’s going on and where we are.”

Like Chen, Conrad and her team do not know where she will be deployed from one day to the next. It could be trying, but she said she’s become used to that.

“At times it can definitely be frustrating, but it’s kind of part of what we signed up for and understand that, you know, things can’t be predicted,” she said. “Nobody knew that what was going to happen on the 6th would be as serious as it was. And so, we willingly take the oath knowing that we could be called in at any moment to respond to something like that.”

Conrad said that is something National Guard members are ready and willing to do. She is making “the best of it” until she can return to her classes at UVA.

“My chain of command is really accommodating with that, too,” she said. “I mean, these soldiers dropped literally everything – their families, their homes, their jobs – everything that was going on in our lives, we picked up and walked away from in 10 hours to be able to come here.”

Chen and Conrad are still serving in Washington. Their missions are expected to end early this month. Below, take a look at some more of Chen’s photos from his time in Washington.

Leafless trees and a guard fence frame the U.S. Capitol building, days after rioters stormed the building. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)
Chen’s unit was on Quick Reaction Force duty the day of Joseph Biden’s inauguration. They assembled in the Russell Senate Office Building. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)
Ziniu Chen’s most memorable day in D.C. was when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser visited his team at the Library of Congress. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)
Chen’s team traveled to a base on Bowling Green, where they were evaluated before being armed. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)
National Guard members rest at the Library of Congress. All members were tested for COVID-19 before serving. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)
The sun sets behind the U.S. Capitol building. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)

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