Local Attendees Say Most D.C. Protesters Were Peaceful

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Supporters of President Donald Trump who attended the protest Wednesday that culminated in a deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol say the vast majority of the participants during the march were nonviolent. 

Doris Layfield of Austintown, who arrived by bus a day earlier, marched to the Capitol Wednesday along with thousands of others after Trump had finished his remarks at a rally held across from the White House. She said she never entered the building but did watch the scene unfold from just inside the breached security barriers on the lawn.

“I do not condone the violence,” she says. Instead, she adds, the march to the Capitol was peaceful with the crowd singing songs such as “God Bless America” and the national anthem. “Everybody was trying to help everybody,” she says.

Thousands of Trump supporters flocked to the nation’s capitol on Wednesday to protest a joint session of Congress that convened to certify the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.  

Trump has claimed without evidence that the election was fraudulent and stolen, and both his legal team and his supporters have lost numerous challenges in court contesting the outcome of swing states . 

Trump addressed the crowd at the Ellipse across from the White House. During his remarks, the president urged his followers to “show strength” and told them “We’re going to the Capitol.”

Later, the scene descended into chaos when hundreds of Trump supporters broke through security gates and entered the Capitol, occupying and trashing lawmakers’ offices.  Counting the electoral votes was suspended for hours as the House and Senate were evacuated until order was restored. Biden and Harris’ election was officially affirmed around 3:40 a.m. Thursday, more than 12 hours after the joint session of Congress was first started.

One woman was shot and killed during the assault, while three others died because of medical emergencies, according to reports. 

Layfield and others who attended the protest claim, without proof, that left-wing activists such as antifa had infiltrated the group and were the ones who instigated the violence when protestors stormed the building. 

Layfield said she was a safe distance away from the building, but could see the tear gas and witnessed some who were standing closer get singed. 

“We just wanted to be there to support our president,” she said. Layfield said that she left the Capitol grounds around 4 p.m.

Nancy Sciortino of Canfield also attended the event, but did not march to the Capitol after Trump concluded his remarks at the rally.

“The wind was awful,” she said. “I couldn’t even make it through Trump’s speech.”

Instead, she spent most of the rally at the Lincoln Memorial. 

Sciortino said that she took a bus to Washington along with others from the Mahoning Valley from Austintown early Wednesday morning.  While she didn’t witness the violence at the Capitol, others on the bus did. 

“Two of the girls who were there had to jump over walls to get away,” when gunfire erupted, Sciortino relates. They both saw the woman who was shot at the Capitol and later died.

“I was told that there were antifa guys there dressed as cops,” she noted. “And it was antifa that stormed those doors open.” 

There is no evidence that left-wing activists stoked the crowd. Several prominent members of right-wing groups were at the Capitol livestreaming their activities and popular message boards used by the right-wing groups talked about laying siege to the building in recent weeks.

Sciortino also suggested that other “bad” elements in the crowd contributed to the violence, most of them angered by Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to abide by Trump’s demand that he unilaterally overturn the results of the election as President of the Senate. 

The vice president’s role in counting the electoral votes is ceremonial, simply requiring that he lead the joint session, open the electoral ballots and ask for objections.

Sciortino said there is frustration among the ranks of Trump supporters because no one is listening to their calls of addressing what she claims is a stolen election.

Sharon Wenowitz, a campaign volunteer for Trump in Mahoning County, says she did not attend the protest but stands by the president.

“At the end of 2019, I put my real estate license on hold and spent my entire year volunteering,” she says.  “That’s how important I felt it was for people to realize what’s going on.”

Kevin Adams, chairman of the history department at Kent State University, says although the siege on the Capitol is unprecedented, there are numerous episodes during the 19th century in which mobs attacked state legislatures in the South.

“This has happened in the past during Reconstruction,” he says. “Mobs seized capitols and deposed governors and installed essentially White supremacist governments.” 

While these attacks were limited to statehouses, they nevertheless were incited by common fears.  “The basic threat is that people perceive the political order they believe in and sustains them is being taken away,” he said. 

During the Reconstruction era, which lasted from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to roughly 1877, former White Confederate governments in the South were replaced with legislatures and governors that included Black Americans. 

“Southerners were distraught that White supremacist regimes had been replaced with bi-racial democracies,” Adams says.  

Reconstruction ended after the disputed presidential election of 1876. An electoral commission selected Republican Rutherford B. Hayes as president, under the condition that his administration would abandon Reconstruction policies. Free to do as they please, these southern states nullified their existing governments, adopted racist constitutions and enacted discriminatory laws designed to disenfranchise Black people. 

“Here, we have a segment of the population that believes the electoral process is illegitimate and that President-elect Biden should not be seated,” Adams says.  “Behind all of that animosity is insecurity and fear about the future of the country, and that the country is changing in ways they can’t control.”

“We’re seeing people who are doubling down on a political position, and they’re not willing to change it at all,” he says, in similar fashion to how Southern Democrats resolutely defended slavery in the years before the Civil War. 

“I think you see some of that rhetoric in play here, which is disturbing.”

Pictured: Protesters walk from a rally at the Ellipse near the White House to the Capitol Building. Local residents who attend the rally say they saw a largely peaceful protest before groups broke into the building and occupied for several hours Wednesday afternoon.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.