Hours after President Donald Trump’s supporters seized the U.S. Capitol building, forcing congress members to barricade doors and crouch behind chairs they hoped would save their lives, an exhausted Rep. Lou Correa was getting ready to board a flight home to Anaheim.
Video circulating Saturday shows a crowd surrounding the Democratic congressman at an airport, hurling expletives and pointing fingers.
In some instances, Correa shouted back at them.
The video was shot Thursday morning at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. It was posted on the YouTube page of The Healthy Alchemist, where other videos suggest the explosion in Nashville on Dec. 25 was the result of a missile strike, discuss a UFO sighting and claim that voting machines in Georgia were inappropriately connected to the internet.
The scene in the Correa video was similar to that taped Friday when hecklers surrounded GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. and called him a traitor for ending his support for Trump following the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Other recent videos have shown angry Trump supporters cursing and yelling during in-air flights, with one group screaming at GOP Sen. Mitt Romney and another triggering shouting matches after projecting Trump’s name on the plane’s ceiling.
Correa said he’d had maybe 15 minutes of sleep Thursday morning, after House members were locked down for hours the day before and then returned to debate into the morning before certifying election results that recognize Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. He had been ready to fight for his life that night, as he tried to help colleagues to safety as Trump supporters broke into the chamber and a shot was fired.
The congressman said his adrenaline was still high when, he estimated, 20 to 30 passengers at Dulles airport recognized him as he was walking to his gate.
“I was just doing my job, which is being part of a democratic society here and trying to keep our democratic system in place,” Correa said by phone Saturday.
“They started lobbing all kinds of statements and just getting in my face, and I wouldn’t back off,” he said, with the video showing a large man at one point inches from Correa’s face. “It was a situation where they were amped up and I have no idea why they came at me. Then I was surrounded by them and I stood my ground.”
It’s unclear what the hecklers’ specific grievances were. They made references to China, Antifa and the insurgency at the Capitol.
One man repeatedly shouted: “Your lie has been exposed.” He then adds, pointing his finger at Correa: “This is not a democracy. It’s a republic.”
Later, someone said, “Nobody here voted for you,” to which Correa responds by saying that he received 70% of the vote in the most recent election. (Correa received 68.8% in the 2020 balloting.)
A man called Correa “a (expletive) rat” upon learning that he is a Democrat.
And Correa shouted back at a woman who told him to go work in China.
“Maybe Russia is better,” Correa said. “Comrade! Comrade!”
The tape was edited at some point. The final couple of seconds show a security guard talking to travelers.
Correa said it took several minutes for airport police to show up. The crowd quickly dispersed when police came. But Correa said he was shocked the harassment was allowed to go on as long as it did in a place where security is supposed to be so tight.
“I was quite surprised how brazen they were,” Correa said.
He said he also was surprised to learn when he followed up Friday that, to his understanding, the police had only taken down his name and had not questioned or detained any of the people who harassed him.
“No one was arrested or charged in the incident, so I don’t have any more information about what happened,” said Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority on Saturday. He said airport officials do not discuss specifics about security operations or tactics.
Correa said he was more confused than afraid during the encounter. He’s a self-described kid from “the hood,” having been born in East Los Angeles, spending his younger years in Mexico and growing up largely in Anaheim. He said he’s had guns put to his gut and knives waved his way.
As a state assemblyman and senator, and one of the first Democrats elected to such offices out of Orange County, Correa said he’s had many tense exchanges with citizens. That was particularly true 20 years ago, when immigration debates in California were dominating the news. But such encounters typically happened during rallies or involved just a person or two, he said, not dozens surrounding him and accusing him of things that simply aren’t true.
“I’ve never seen our nation so divided,” he said.
“I’m OK with people coming up and expressing their anger and what have you. It’s another thing when people go out of their way to surround you and go after you.”
Correa said he’s glad he stood his ground, but also said he didn’t feel like he had a choice. There was nowhere for him to go.
Despite what happened, Correa said that he cannot wait to get back on a plane and head back to Washington on Monday, when House members plan to introduce legislation calling for Trump’s impeachment.
He also is holding on to one silver lining.
“One thing I saw Wednesday, when we were under attack, under siege in Congress, was the members of the House, Democrats and Republicans, stood together to help each other out.”
Correa said he’s optimistic that leaders can hold onto that sense of unity as Biden takes office. And he hopes the example they set will carry down to the people, so healing can begin.