How did it come to this?
What WORLD saw among the crowd that rushed the Capitol
Sarah Burnett, a 29-year-old mother of three from Shawnee, Okla., came to Washington this week to demonstrate for free and fair elections. Her political interests lay dormant during much of her 20s, but that changed when coronavirus lockdowns hurt the video production company she runs with her husband and kept her from attending the Baptist church she loves. She launched a Facebook page that urged Christians to engage in politics and protect their liberty. On Wednesday, she and about 45 members of her group attended President Donald Trump’s speech at the White House and marched toward the Capitol afterward.
As they approached the building, they saw rioters overwhelming police and pushing their way inside. Burnett and her co-demonstrators regrouped at the U.S. Supreme Court and left the city in a hurry.
“What a sad ending to a great rally attended by so many Christians,” she said. “We didn’t come here for this. This doesn’t feel consistent with the people I stood with all day before the march. This was un-American.”
I stood on the Capitol grounds and watched with growing uneasiness as people who had marched from the rally outside the White House climbed monuments, flying Trump and American flags.
“We’re here for Trump!” they shouted. Then came the chants of “All the way! All the way!” I saw a tear gas canister fly into a distant crowd at the south steps. A group climbed the Northeast Capitol scaffolding and covered it with a massive U.S. flag to shouts of “It’s our house, now.” I followed another group inside a north entrance to the building, where I heard cries of “Whose house? Our house,” and profanity-laced shouts. Capitol Police fired tear gas and shoved the group back outside, but passions remained high.
By that point, many of the people I spoke to at the rally earlier in the day had already gone home. Everyone I talked to held a firm belief that Trump rightfully won the election, but few agreed with the actions taken by rioters.
“When I found out the vote stopped because they stormed the Capitol, I was disappointed,” said TJ Hunt, a 44-year-old African American Trump supporter from Manassas, Va., who attended the rally. “Trump never asked for that. The overwhelming majority of us were peaceful, waiting for results.”
Burnett and Hunt exercised restraint despite their frustration, while others gave in to their passion and anger. Some of the people at the rally outside the White House yelled, “Today’s the day!” as though they had planned to take their protest as far as they could. But the crowd I was in that pushed into the Capitol building seemed minimally organized. They looked unprepared for the police response of tear gas and physical contact, unlike the experienced protesters or Antifa activists seen at other riots across the country over the summer.
I did see individuals scattered among the crowd outside the Capitol wearing tactical vests but not face coverings similar to what trained protesters might wear. I did not see anyone in that gear or in the all-black clothing typical of Antifa enter the Capitol where I was. One of the people who stormed the Capitol, a shirtless man wearing a horned helmet, is an identified supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement. Another person in front of me wore a hooded sweatshirt branded with the name of a QAnon website.
Sean O’Hare, a recent college graduate from Petersburg, Va., followed rioters into the Capitol but was headed home by 5 p.m. He expressed a sense of inevitability at how the day’s events unfolded: “We didn’t hear any new evidence; we knew we weren’t going to. … We are all frustrated, and the people who needed to hear us were right there. That’s why I did it.”
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