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A Tale of Two Protests: The Hours Before and After the Storm on Capitol Hill

capitol hill

I was a fly on the (National M)all for the “March for Trump” rally in D.C. on Wednesday, Jan. 6. And the first part of the day was … almost boring. But a lot can happen from daybreak to sundown, and what we remember is the day’s end. It’s a tale of two protests. Before the Capitol and after.

8:30 a.m.

From well before 9 a.m., energized protestors were a steady stream from all directions, congregating at the Ellipse and all surrounding areas. It was the most people I’d seen in one place, ever. Even in my spot closer to the Washington Monument, people were packed in like an overflowing suitcase.

10 a.m.

For the better part of the morning, young men were climbing trees to get a better view of the speakers (such as Rudy Guiliani and Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones), and people were either waiting for hours in the porta-potty line or hanging around, striking up conversations about what they all joined to protest: the 2020 election. They found camaraderie among fellow “patriots” who’d traversed cross-country for this event. They sang along to the same songs over and over, including “YMCA,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “In The Air Tonight,” “My Heart Will Go On” and “Proud To Be An American.” While I walked into this situation expecting clashes or anger, it was tame. The biggest gripe was the cold.

There were plenty of signs about voter fraud:

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris:

Niche support for Trump:

And (in a large number that surprised me) the Chinese Communist Party:

Noon

The only people who really could hear the featured guests were those close to the stage, so everyone else was either trying to find a path through the crowd or talking to their neighbors. They were waiting expectantly for the big speech, President Donald Trump, which was scheduled for 11 a.m. Though he made his appearance at noon, the crowd was electrified with chants such as “USA,” “stop the steal,” “fight for Trump,” “send it back” (referring to the election results), and “bull****” (referring to the 2020 elections). Here I met Vernon and Mark from southern Illinois, two grandpas who had traveled with a group of about 50 other seniors; they said they wanted their voice to be heard and to be a part of history.

2:15 p.m.

The point of the “March for Trump” was to petition Congress to not certify the election results, and this session was set to start at 1 p.m. Everyone would walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and stand on the National Mall. But Trump’s speech went a tad past 1 p.m., and many people there were getting tired of standing in the thick crowd. After the speech, many people stood in line for food trucks, ate their own packed lunches or even left.

I took my time walking to Capitol Hill, thinking that the “action” of the day was long gone. I ate my sack lunch, finally found phone service to answer a few emails and texts, and made the mile trek to the Capitol. Even then, an hour later, people were still flowing in from Pennsylvania Avenue and its parallel streets. 

2:25 p.m.

I was ready to leave, as the Capitol Hill gathering seemed to be uneventful. A lot of people left, so it seemed the day’s peak excitement had wrapped up.

Then, my cousin texted me and asked if I was storming the Capitol. I thought he was joking. There was no commotion where I stood, no shouts or screams or movement. People were sitting on the lawn or taking pictures. But as I looked closer, I saw a couple of dozen people on the south side steps. More and more people went up by the minute. There were clouds of what looked like tear gas. I got an Emergency Alert about a 6 p.m. curfew.

3:15 p.m.

I talked to Jenny (30) and Kayli (27) from Illinois, who were standing on the National Mall, watching the far-off events. They said they wanted to be a part of history and encouraged their fellow Millennials to do their own research on matters like the election. But while they wanted their voices to be heard, they didn’t agree with overtaking the Capitol.

Ethan (18) from Michigan said “we have a right to fight” for what we believe in, and that’s why he made the trip to D.C. But the Capitol storm was “pressing it a little.”

3:30 p.m.

A steady stream of people walked away from the Capitol lawn toward the Metro. There wasn’t any running or panic. There were families. I still didn’t feel the chaos. I heard a Minnesota man around age 60 say he was at the Capitol building. I asked why he was leaving, and he said “We’re disbanding ourselves. We the people made our point.” He told me that “it’s a great view from up there” and that I should check it out. And the police were talking with the protestors on the steps and that it was “fine.”

3:45 p.m.

Inching my way toward the front lawn, I overheard a man say he had been in the Capitol. Tyler Ethridge, a pastor from Texas, said he and a group of others walked through the doors. They broke through the first barricade, where it was “non-confrontational” because they were met with about “a dozen officers;” the second barricade had “the same thing.” At the third barricade (the foot of the Capitol), they were “met with innumerable police officers.” He thought “I don’t want to be violent. I just want to prove a point … that we have to stand up for our freedoms.” He said they were being tased, maced and shot with rubber bullets, and he kept a rubber bullet in his pocket. They then broke through the Rotunda, where they met uniformed men guarding Nancy Pelosi’s office. Of police officers, he said, “They were doing their job.”

5:30 p.m.

Uniformed men, assumed to be National Guard, walked in a line toward the Rotunda from the North side. I saw this vehicle on the street in front of the Capitol lawn.

There were still hundreds of people between the Grant Memorial and the front lawn. I left before curfew.

6:30 p.m.

I looked at social media for the first time, seeing news reports, videos and photos of the inside chaos. Former President Barack Obama said in a statement that “history will rightly remember [Wednesday’s] violence at the Capitol.” Many of these protesters thought they were making history for the large crowd. But all before sundown, the world was watching, and this day did make history. Just for something else.

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