Thousands converged on Washington D.C., Jan. 6 in protest of what some feel was an unfair Presidential election. The rally, comprised of Trump supporters and QAnon conspiracy followers claiming acts of election fraud and corruption, began peacefully.
Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, President Donald Trump, and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani were just a few to speak at the event encouraging supporters to continue their fight against the incoming Biden administration and the congressional counting of the electoral votes. In an impassioned speech to supporters Brooks said, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
Followers cheered as he made claims about a “Socialist takeover” that may follow under the Biden administration. In a long-winded speech to rally-goers, Trump painted a bleak picture of years of alleged election fraud at the hand of the Democrats; despite there being no clear concrete evidence of such.
The allegations were met by “Boos” and chants of “Fight for Trump!” by the crowd. Then in closing, Trump thanked the crowd and invited them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill where Congress was meeting.
Rally-goers then took to the streets and made their way to the Capitol, which was barricaded and guarded by the Capitol Police force. Images of the event show participants in Trump apparel, waving Trump flags, and clenching signs. Wooden gallows with a noose were erected on the Capitol lawn as rally-goers were heard chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
Most protestors remained beyond the barricade; however, a large group of angry participants clashed with police, breaking down the barricades, and eventually breaching the entrances of the Capitol. Congress and staffers were forced to hunker down in the chamber and offices until they could be safely evacuated.
The insurrection left five dead including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was purportedly bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher by rioters. Also among the dead was Athens, Ala., resident, 55-year-old Kevin Greeson, who died reportedly as a result of a heart attack. Several were arrested the day of the riot. More arrests followed after rioters were identified on social media, some even boastfully admitting their part in the insurrection.
Oneonta graduate and political intern, Annie Perrin Grisham, who lives within walking distance of the Capitol, was forced to flee the city with her roommate after the riots. Grisham, a Congressional intern, said the rally-goers were well behaved for the most part.
“It was just like any other day, except we were waiting to hear the results from Georgia. My roommate and I had been watching the news all morning. There was nothing really abnormal,” she said. “The government and the police hadn’t told us to prepare for anything.
“Then it suddenly went very downhill. We started noticing sirens all around us. We first saw on the news that the protestors were moving from one side of the Mall to the Capitol. We saw police cars heading to that area and protestors walking in the direction of the Capitol and away from it, we weren’t really sure.”
She said it was then she and her roommate began to feel frightened about what was happening. And, the uncertainty of what the night might bring led Grisham and her roommate to flee the city.
“We started to get nervous about the whole situation, so that afternoon around 3 or 4 we decided to leave our apartment and stay with friends outside of the city,” she said. “We weren’t sure what would happen that night with the crowd, whether they’d move to other parts of the city or not, so that is why we chose to leave.”
Grisham said navigating the city streets was a bit challenging due to the increased police presence and large crowds. Upon leaving the city, Grisham saw the National Guard buses en route to the Capitol.
“We aren’t sure if it was Virginia National Guard or Maryland National Guard and there were tons of police coming into the Capitol from outside the city. That was very nerve racking,” Grisham said.
In the past year, Washington has been the scene of many protests, including the Black Lives Matter march in 2020. Grisham said that when she and her roommate took a walk to the Capitol the night before the rally everything seemed normal.
“I would say it’s pretty common to see Trump supporters and other protestors around the Capitol so we didn’t really think anything of it.” Grisham said having experienced both protests, there was a noticeable difference between the two.
“With the protests over the summer, we sort of expected that things might get worse, but they never really did,” she said. “With this protest, we didn’t expect anything to happen. It was so sudden and completely unexpected.
“Personally, after watching Trump’s speech and Brooks’ speech, I feel like that played a part. I also think people are upset about the election results and it has fueled anger in people.”
Speaking candidly on the allegations of election fraud, Grisham said, “Having worked on campaigns and knowing election laws, I don’t think there was election fraud on a large scale that would cause him to lose like he [Trump] did in so many states.”
Grisham returned to her apartment the day after the riots. She said the atmosphere around the city is a bit different. “There is more awareness and tension around the Capitol,” said said. “There is way more security near the Capitol than there was prior to the protest. Where we took our evening walk the night before the rally; you cannot even get there.
“My roommate and I both agreed it will be a long time before we can get to that same point where we were at. It made a lot of people nervous. We were not the only people leaving the city.”
City officials and Capitol Police are already preparing for the possibility of further protests by building concrete barricades and increasing security in and around the Capitol. With the Inauguration coming up, she said anxiety is shared among city residents.
“We are optimistic, but maybe cautiously optimistic,” she said. “With all of the nation watching, I think they are being more cautious.”
Having previously worked in the Capitol and in Congress prior to COVID-19 restrictions, Grisham said, “It was mind-blowing to me that the breach was ever able to happen. I always felt secure and always felt it was one of the most secure places in the city. I know a lot of staffers and workers who were locked down in their offices until 9 or 10 that night. They were just really scared.
“The Congressman that I work for was upset about the whole situation. It absolutely does make you question ‘Is this a safe career path for oneself?’ but I personally feel called to do what I am doing right now; working with policy and helping people.”
Grisham plans to continue working in Washington leaving her mark and helping citizens. She said the public view and opinion of Congress and Washington is not always accurate. “There is a lot of communication between both parties, a lot of co-sponsoring, and attempts at bipartisanship.
“There are really a lot of things that go on in Congress that the average person doesn’t see. There are friendships and relationships built across the aisle. It’s more bipartisan than most people realize.”
The world watches as the Inauguration nears. Murmuring and allegations of a stolen election continue, leaving the world to ask, “What will happen, if anything, on Jan. 20, 2021?”
Despite promises of a peaceful transition of power, a level of skepticism and uneasiness is palpable across the nation and world.