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Supporters of President Donald Trump mob the Capitol Rotunda after breaching security during the Jan. 6 riot.
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New congressman — a Christian and former Trump doctor — reflects on U.S. Capitol riot

'A fight or flight kind of thing kicks in,' Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, says of his Jan. 6 experience.

‘The House was surrounded.”

 On his fourth day as the U.S. representative from Texas’ 13th Congressional District, Republican Ronny Jackson found himself shoving furniture against the House Chamber entrance. A mob of Trump supporters intent on breaking into the large assembly room pushed against the doors until they began to buckle.

President Trump poses with Ronny Jackson during Jackson’s campaign.

President Trump poses with Ronny Jackson during Jackson’s campaign.

“The doors were going to be breached. They were either ramming them or throwing the weight of multiple bodies into the doors,” the lifelong Church of Christ member told The Christian Chronicle. “There were only a couple of Capitol police, and they were overwhelmed. We didn’t have near the number we needed.”

Jackson and several other freshman House members from Texas and Oklahoma were seated near the doors. They helped armed officers drag furniture to barricade the exit and broke off pieces from hand-sanitizer stations to craft crude weapons for themselves. 

“A fight or flight kind of thing kicks in,” Jackson said. “When you look around and there’s nowhere you can go, you go to fight.” 

Jackson heard a “pop, pop, pop,” and someone shouted, “Shots fired!”

Capitol police decided to evacuate the members through one of two doors from the Chamber to the Speaker’s Lobby and hope for a safe exit path, he said. At the other end of the Lobby, one rioter was shot and killed as the mob sought to breach the second entrance.

Protesters wave flags and climb the walls of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Protesters wave flags and climb the walls of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

A long way from Levelland

Jackson, a 53-year-old retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, has been in war zones before. 

But he grew up in aptly named Levelland, Texas, 35 miles west of Lubbock, attending the Austin Street Church of Christ.

The oil, cattle and cotton town of about 13,000 people is a long way from Washington, D.C., where, beginning in 2006, Jackson spent his last years in the Navy serving as a White House physician to Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

President Barack Obama speaks with Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, in the Outer Oval Office on Feb. 21, 2014.

President Barack Obama speaks with Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House
physician, in the Outer Oval Office on Feb. 21, 2014.

Jackson hasn’t lived in Levelland for a long, long time.

A week after he left the Navy on Dec. 1, 2019, he went back to Texas and filed Dec. 8 as a candidate in the Republican congressional primary. Since then, he’s hailed from Amarillo, largest city in the bright red district, where the Jacksons bought a house in April 2020 and began making a new home in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They visited The Colonies Church of Christ there during the campaign, according to minister Jeff Keele, but have not placed membership.

They still own their home in suburban Maryland, and their youngest son will finish high school, remotely, from the Maryland high school where he’s in the top of his class. For many years, the Jacksons were members of the Laurel Church of Christ there.

Laurel minister Bren White describes Jackson as “a straight arrow, the kind of person you can look eyeball-to-eyeball with and know he’s a person of great integrity, a very genuine person, very sincere.”

Whenever Jackson was in town, White said, he was at church and “very engaged” despite demanding travel requirements. The congregation of about 550 members worships about 20 miles northeast of the White House, a 35- to 50-minute drive depending on traffic.

President Donald Trump speaks with Dr. Ronny Jackson in the White House on March 28, 2018, after nominating Jackson to serve as veterans affairs secretary.

President Donald Trump speaks with Dr. Ronny Jackson in the White House on March 28, 2018, after nominating Jackson to serve as veterans affairs secretary.

A big chunk of Texas

In contrast, the 13th is the second largest congressional district in Texas, spanning 41 counties and stretching a six-hour drive from the northernmost border of the Texas Panhandle, south across the Llano Estacado and then east through the Red River Valley to just north of Dallas. 

In 2016, 80 percent of district voters supported Donald Trump. In 2020, it was 79 percent, mirroring the total Jackson earned in the November election. 

The March primary had been more challenging.


Related: Defense investigator issues scathing report on Congressman Ronny Jackson


Jackson came in second, receiving 19.9 percent of the vote in a 15-candidate field. 

Opponents criticized him as a Washington insider. Remarkably, one even tried to tie him to Obama’s healthcare initiatives because he had been the president’s physician. 

Ultimately, however, the newcomer was victorious in a July runoff against Josh Winegarner, a cattle industry lobbyist whose own Beltway resume included service to Texas’ longtime, former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and Texas’ senior senator John Cornyn.

President Donald J. Trump talks with Capt. Mark Kobelja, Dr. Ronny Jackson and Lt. Col. James Jones after a Jan. 12, 2018, physical at Walter Reed hospital.

President Donald Trump talks with, from left to right, Capt. Mark Kobelja, director of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center; Dr. Ronny Jackson, physician to the president; and Lt. Col. James Jones, physician assistant to the president and medical director at the Medical Evaluation and Treatment Unit in Bethesda, Maryland, on Jan. 12, 2018, following the president’s annual physical at the medical facility. (Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

Three presidents as patients

While Trump’s endorsement proved pivotal to Jackson’s congressional victory, he said he enjoyed working for all three recent presidents, whom he described as “vastly different” in personality and approach. 

He greatly admired Bush for his spiritual focus.

“I saw him rely a lot on his faith to help him make decisions and in hard times at the White House,” Jackson said of his fellow Texan. “I think I learned a lot from him.

President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush turn to joke with White House physician Ronny Jackson (off-camera) shortly after they boarded Air Force One for a trip to South Africa on Dec. 9, 2013.

President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush turn to joke with White House physician Ronny Jackson (off-camera) shortly after they boarded Air Force One for a trip to South Africa on Dec. 9, 2013.

“He was 25 years my senior, and obviously, most of what I learned in life I learned from my mother and father, but it was great to have an example at the White House like President Bush who realized that it was God and country but always God first. That’s a good thing to have in a leader.”

To be precise, Bush, 74, is 21 years older than Jackson, but the point remains the same.

“All three treated me and my family very well, were very good to all of us,” Jackson said.

Evidence of that relationship took the form of a positive note from Obama and former Obama staffers who defended Jackson’s reputation when — after Trump nominated him to become secretary of veterans affairs in March 2018 — assorted allegations derailed the nomination, which ultimately was withdrawn.  

“I grew up in a small, rural, hardworking, blue-collar farming community — farming and oil and gas. I think that is a culture where you are always looking out for your neighbors as well as yourself.”

Jackson denied all the accusations, calling them “garbage.” He remained in the White House as assistant to the president and chief medical adviser for the Executive Office of the President, a role created by Trump for Jackson.

That’s a long way from Levelland. 

“I grew up in a small, rural, hardworking, blue-collar farming community — farming and oil and gas,” Jackson said. “I think that is a culture where you are always looking out for your neighbors as well as yourself.

“I think that led me to be successful in the military and has led me to a point where I want to continue service to my country rather than go out in the civilian sector focusing on making a lot of money and things of that nature.”

A White House endorsement 

Jackson’s opportunity came in 2019, when former Rep. Mac Thornberry announced he would not seek re-election. 

Thornberry, who had served since 1995, endorsed Jackson’s primary opponent. Jackson’s political benefactor one-upped him, however.

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas

A Trump tweet praising Jackson was still featured on his campaign webpage days after the Capitol siege Jan. 6, and Jackson remained a loyal supporter of his former patient. 

After the rioters were removed, the new congressman returned to the House chambers to vote in favor of objections to the electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, part of a last-gasp effort by Republicans that ultimately failed to overturn the results of November’s election.

 Jackson said he never considered changing his plan to support the objections. The vote was not about keeping Trump in office, he said, but about protecting voter integrity and election security.

“I was voting for what I believe are constitutional reasons,” Jackson said, “reasons clear to me and other members who felt as I do. The Constitution says the state conducts elections per the state legislature, and many states changed rules to advantage Democrats without involving state legislatures.  Their votes shouldn’t count because they didn’t derive from constitutional means.”

Ultimately, the objections failed on a bipartisan vote in both the Senate and House after the joint session reconvened inside the ransacked chambers.

A bad ending for Trump 

As a White House physician, Jackson had built relationships not only with Trump but also with White House staff and Cabinet members. 

During the campaign, he talked about those relationships as an asset. But with the election of Democrat Joe Biden, he insists the lack of such enviable assets will not affect his work.

“We’re in the minority. It would have been better to be in majority. It would be an advantage to reach in the White House,” he said. “But I’m still going to represent this district and work on the issues that are important to it — agriculture, armed services, healthcare reform — and also try to get the culture of the country back and establish a system of voting we can be confident in. That must be dealt with in the next two years.”

 Jackson said the left needs to embrace the right to some extent rather than drive a wedge between themselves and the 74 million voters who supported Trump.

“They have the House, Senate and presidency,” he said of the Democrats. “They have the opportunity to move the agenda they’ve been talking about and do it the right way — legislatively.” 

But he believes there’s more interest in punishing opponents.

During his campaign, Jackson called Trump “the greatest president of my lifetime.” 

“I’m sad for the country and for the president that it ended this way. I still think he did a lot of great things in office — I think the Make America Great/Keep America Great movement he inspired will continue in a peaceful way.”

In the president’s final days in office, Jackson insisted Trump had done a fantastic job, but allowed that his administration had ended “on a bad note.”

“I’m sad for the country and for the president that it ended this way,” Jackson said. “I still think he did a lot of great things in office — I think the Make America Great/Keep America Great movement he inspired will continue in a peaceful way.”

Jackson cited the booming economy of Trump’s first three years and protection of First and Second Amendment rights, “things my constituents believe in,” as the 45th President’s legacy. 

On the morning of Jan. 6, just hours before he found himself barricading the House chamber doors, Jackson briefly visited with some of those constituents at the Ellipse, where crowds gathered to hear Trump speak.


Related: Q&A with U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson


The congressman said he saw “tens of thousands of patriotic, peaceful Americans down there protesting the vote but also supporting the president and his agenda.”

But the mob that later invaded the Capitol “crossed the line in a big way,” Jackson said. 

“I hope they’re all identified and prosecuted. They are not representative of myself or my district.”

Filed under: Capitol riot Donald Trump National News politics President Donald Trump President Trump Ronny Jackson Top Stories U.S. politics White House

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