WASHINGTON — Jalen McAllister said the insurrection “needed to happen.” Michel Mullen said lawmakers should be afraid of people like him. And Olivia Durlester is calling for more action against the government.
A day after armed rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol and forced Congress to halt deliberations, participants and attendees at Wednesday’s violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol said they still support President Donald Trump and believe they did nothing wrong. They claim they’re law-abiding citizens who needed to assault police officers to make their political point.
Racial-justice critics said that unrepentant attitude is just one more example of the white privilege that permitted hundreds of pro-Trump rioters to stream into the Capitol largely unfettered, while Black Lives Matter protesters have been beaten and arrested en masse for far less.
Mullen said he wishes rioters had stayed inside the Capitol longer than a few hours. Mullen, his wife and their three infant daughters drove nearly 3,000 miles in an RV from Washington state to participate. Rinsing tear gas off his fingers on Wednesday evening, Mullen said he wanted to participate to show politicians they should fear the public.
“I think it scares the heck out of some people that on a drop of a hat, we can all show up. It should scare them,” said Mullen, who owns a drain-clearing business. Mullen said authorities allowed rioters into the Capitol building in what he called an effort to temporarily pacify them: “We are having our country stolen from us and we can’t do anything about it.”
While the vast majority of participants were peaceful, Wednesday’s rally included thousands of people wearing shirts bearing incendiary, anti-government rhetoric, including some that said “MAGA CIVIL WAR” and the date, Jan. 6, 2021. Others carried Confederate flags, nooses and made outright threats of violence toward the nation’s elected government, including President-elect Joe Biden.
Many said they hoped their very presence would intimidate lawmakers into altering the course of the 202 presidential election, an effort that failed and even prompted some Republicans to withdraw their objections to the election certification. But other Republicans responded to the pressure: 68 Republicans initially objected to Biden’s Arizona win, but that nearby doubled to 127 after rioters left and Congress resumed session, according to media reports.
Many participants said they wanted Congress to “Stop the Steal,” a phrase they believed meant forcing elected officials to recognize Trump as president regardless of how many votes Biden got. Looking up at the occupied Capitol building, McAllister, who traveled from Indiana cast the day’s events as a battle of good versus evil.
“It’s a beautiful feeling,” he said. “It needed to happen.”
Durlester, 66, of Menifee, California, who said she was sprayed with chemical irritant during the Capitol occupation, said the risk was worth it. “This nation needs more, not less of this,” she said.
Trump praised his supporters as “very special” and told them, “We love you!” but also condemned the violence.
Speaking near the Washington Monument before the riot began, Trump incited the crowd to storm the Capitol, and thousands immediately began streaming that way, quickly overwhelming a small force of police officers, tearing down barricades and scaling the stone walls to enter the building.
Some carried banners or signs with the word “TREASON” on them — and cheered that the punishment for treason is usually execution. Others cited a quote often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
While the illegal occupation drew condemnation from many mainstream Republicans, anti-government activists aligned with Trump wanted more action from the rioters. Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who became a far-right hero during a 2014 standoff with federal agents, posted on Facebook that rioters didn’t go far enough. Bundy and his supporters have repeatedly called for armed insurrection against the government.
“You can’t clean the swamp by standing off at a distance and smelling it,” Bundy wrote. “President Trump had hundreds of thousands of people and he pointed the way– pointed towards Congress and nodded his head go get the job done. We the People did clear the chambers of Congress and 100,000 should have spent the night in the halls and 100,000 should have protected them.”
Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, to whom Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, dismissed critics of violence.
“There’s a lot of people calling for the end of violence. There’s a lot of conservatives on social media who say that any violence or aggression at all is unacceptable regardless of the circumstances,” he said Thursday. “I am glad Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, the actual Tea Party guys, the men at Lexington and Concord didn’t feel that way.”
Chicago Police Union President John Catanzara, who backs Trump, told WBEZ that rioters acted “out of frustration” and excused their behavior. Catanzara said it was “beyond ignorant” to call the rioters treasonous. At least a dozen Capitol police officers were hurt by the mob after being attacked with metal pipes and chemical irritants.
Some of Wednesday’s rioters compared themselves favorably to Black Lives Matter protesters, arguing that since they didn’t set anything on fire, damage any cars or loot any private businesses, they were morally superior — even while discussing an armed overthrow of the legitimate government, which could be prosecuted as either treason or sedition. They also rejected suggestions that their behavior in any way confirmed the fears of extremism experts who had warned about election-related violence.
“It is just an illustration that even when white folks commit an act of terror, they are sent the message that this country is on their side,” said Rashad Robinson, president of the online-focused civil rights group Color Of Change. “They have been able to feel completely comfortable because they believe that they own it, that it’s theirs, that, of course, they have the right.”
Robinson said the rioters who broke into the Capitol are inextricably tied to white supremacist movements, fostered by the notion that they are somehow immune to the consequences of staging an armed rebellion in the nation’s capital while Black people get beaten and arrested during peaceful protests.
“These are not sophisticated people with deep intelligence expertise. They were planning and plotting this right out in the open,” Robinson said. “And the fact that they could do it right in the open illustrates a level of privilege and confidence and hubris in feeling like you have a right to do whatever you want without consequence. They live in a world with different rules.”
Biden on Thursday condemned both the rioters and their treatment at the hands of Capitol police, who he said clearly treated them differently than if they had been Black.
“Let me be very clear: The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America. Do not represent who we are. What we’re seeing are a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness,” Biden said Wednesday. “This is not dissent. It’s disorder, it’s chaos, it borders on sedition. And it must end now.”
But experts say that’s unlikely, given how successful the Stop the Steal participants see Wednesday’s events. Already they’re boasting online about overrunning the Capitol and making plans to disrupt Biden’s inauguration.
“It did not succeed this time, but the danger from even a failed coup is to be taken seriously, setting the stage for them to come back sooner or later to re-seize power – with or without Trump,” the leftwing protest group Refuse Fascism said in a statement. “It leaves a bloc of elected officials who view and act as if the Biden administration is illegitimate and an armed street-fighting force ‘on call’ to dominate the public square.”
Contributing: Will Carless, Ryan Miller