Why did hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country show up in Washington, D.C., last week to protest the presidential election? What were all those people doing there, and what did they hope to accomplish?
The corporate press, Big Tech monopolists, Democrats, and quite a few Republicans and right-of-center media outlets aren’t at all interested in those questions. They don’t care. To them, the people who rallied in support of President Trump last Wednesday and marched to the U.S. Capitol—whether or not they took part in the violence—are nothing more than traitors.
It doesn’t matter that the vast majority didn’t so much as jostle a barrier, let alone smash a window or throw a punch. Didn’t you hear? Those people tried to stage a coup. Trump incited them. They’re terrorists and insurrectionists, and all we need to know about them is where they live and who they work for.
That’s how you respond to the horrible events of Jan. 6 if you want to deepen the divisions in America and make it impossible to live together in peace. But if you want to fix what’s wrong and salvage our broken republic, you at least have to try and understand why so many Trump supporters gathered at the U.S. Capitol last week. And yes, you can do that without condoning or excusing the idiots who attacked the police.
That’s not hard to do, although the left has had trouble with it this year. When it was Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists demonstrating and rioting in the streets this spring and summer, corporate journalists churned out essays and commentary that either tacitly or explicitly endorsed the violence, while insisting that we understand and sympathize with the ideology and outrage fueling it. Some argued that we must kneel, literally, and profess BLM dogma, or be branded a racist.
By contrast, almost no one has insisted that we understand or sympathize with the cause of the peaceful protesters who marched to the capitol, to say nothing of the people themselves. So I decided to talk to some of them.
‘I’m Shocked to The Core’
Jaron Pensinger, a 21-year-old student at Georgetown University, told me he went to the protest for two reasons: to voice his opposition to what he believes are unjustifiable pandemic lockdowns, and to raise awareness about mail-in ballot fraud in the November election.
“I’m concerned that the Democrats actually changed and loosened election laws over the summer and made them less stringent,” he said. “So now more than ever we should be investigating fraud, and I felt like the Democratic Party just swept it under the rug and didn’t want to investigate anything.”
Pensinger specifically asked me to use his name because his school newspaper, The Hoya, ran a hit piece on him this week, badly mischaracterizing his presence at the protests, which was described as a “coup attempt,” and associating him with the violence that broke at the U.S. Capitol.
Pensigner attended the protest with two other Georgetown students, and he says they were caught “completely unaware” when they saw from a distance people pushing against police barricades, because the vast majority of the protesters—hundreds of thousands of them—were peacefully demonstrating. He says that where he was on the capitol grounds, he didn’t see anyone so much as cross a security barrier.
“We were just peacefully assembling,” he said. “And I assumed that this was going to be a completely peaceful statement to our government that we would like more investigation into the election and perhaps stop with these COVID lockdowns.” Pensinger says he’s “shocked to the core” that anyone would portray it as an attempted coup or an insurrection.
‘We Had A Civic Duty to Our Country to Attend’
Not everyone wanted to speak on the record, for fear of harassment and threats. Another college student I talked to drove six hours with her mother to attend the rally and protest. She said she felt she had “a civic duty to our country to attend,” given the “substantial evidence of voter fraud and irregularities.”
“We want it to stand up and show that we’re following the news and we’re reading between the lines,” she said. “I think the mainstream media has largely failed to report upon very concerning evidence of voter fraud. And really we just we wanted our voices to be heard.”
She says the crowd around her, both at the White House Ellipse where Trump spoke and when she and her mother marched to the U.S. Capitol grounds, was “calm and respectful,” and that there were a lot of young families with babies, elderly couples, and military veterans in uniform. One group had traveled all the way from Hawaii to be there.
This student and her mother decided to go back to their hotel to charge their phones and rest before coming back later that evening, but as soon as they left the area, she starting getting texts that “they stormed the capitol, somehow they got into the capitol.” At that point, she heard sirens and saw police cars speeding toward the capitol, so they decided not to go back.
Like Pensinger and every other person I spoke to, they obeyed DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 6 p.m. curfew that night and stayed in their hotel rooms. She never expected the protest to turn violent: “I absolutely did not intend to enter the capitol, I obviously did not enter the capitol, and if anyone would have told me on Tuesday or Wednesday morning that others had that intention, I would have just laughed.”
‘I Didn’t Have Any Delusions of Grandeur’
So, far from being the launch-point of an insurrection, much of what was planned for last Wednesday was orderly and ordinary—permitted groups planning events and speakers at the capitol grounds to draw attention to election fraud and irregularities ignored or dismissed by the corporate press.
One such event organizer was Nathan Martin, an Iraq War veteran and city councilman in Shelby, Ohio. His group had obtained a permit from the Capitol Police, along with a bunch of other groups that planned events for that day. “We went through all the steps,” he said.
As for the march to the capitol grounds, “We didn’t think it would change the outcome.” Martin’s hope was that Republican lawmakers would put their objections on the record and go through the claims of election fraud, “line by line,” especially claims in states where instances of fraud and election irregularities were well-documented.
“That’s it. I didn’t have any delusions of grandeur that Vice President Pence would come swooping in and change the results or anything like that,” he said. “Although there had been some constitutional talk about whether that was allowed or not, I didn’t feel constitutionally that there was room for that.” At best, Martin says he was hoping for an election commission to look into fraud, and that maybe some good would come from that.
After Trump spoke, Martin went back to his hotel to get some supplies for their event. When he returned, he at first saw no signs that anything was amiss or that any part of the capitol security had been breached (and because there was no cell service, he had no idea of the violent clashes with police).
He was walking around the capitol grounds looking for his parents, who had driven down from Pennsylvania because they “wanted to pray over the capitol grounds and pray for our country,” when he saw some people going into the capitol through a side door. That didn’t seem quite right. A short time later, he says, the metro police showed up, “And it was at that point I realized that, you know what, I’m going to go back to my hotel.”
Back at the hotel, he learned what had happened. “All of our objectives, everything that we wanted to achieve, was destroyed in a matter of hours,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get an election integrity commission. I don’t think we’re going to get accountability or really fully know what happened.”
‘It Just Incensed Me’
Not everyone I talked to opposed civil disobedience or pushing past security barriers at the capitol. One man, a 62-year-old software engineer who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from his employer, told me he hadn’t planned to force his way into the U.S. Capitol or break any rules. But in the moment, something changed.
Initially, he’d hoped that the sight of a mass demonstration on the capitol grounds would give “weak-knee Republicans” the courage to “stand up and save our country.” He thought there was a last-ditch chance that GOP lawmakers would be able to force a vote on electors in the House, by state delegation.
Once he got to the capitol itself, he didn’t see anyone fighting with police or throwing objects, but he did see people pushing and pulling on the barriers. He and a friend were pretty far back, he says, so they walked around to an open area on the south side of the building where he encountered a flimsy fence and a sign that said “No Entry Beyond This Point.” Beyond that were a few Capitol Police, standing around.
“When I saw that I just kind of got—mad is not the right word, but I just got indignant, you know?” He says after nine of months of rioting and mayhem in U.S. cities, supported by Democrats and the media, the authorities at the capitol just assumed that pro-Trump protesters would obey the rules and do as they were told.
He told me, “I walked up to that [barrier] and said, ‘These people want me to keep off the grass and stay behind their barriers and obey the rules?’ And it just incensed me. I just couldn’t believe these people. So I start pushing and pulling on the stupid barrier at that point, I said, ‘I’m going in there.’ But it didn’t last long.”
He says a capitol police officer was walking down the line with a big canister of liquid pepper spray and dousing anyone who was jostling the barrier, and he got hit full in the face. His friend pulled him back and it took him hours to recover. He never made it into the capitol.
Even if he had, though, he says goal wasn’t to hurt anyone or stage a coup, or anything of the sort. It was to make a statement.
Our civil disobedience is, we’re going to walk into this building and wave the American flag. That’s what I felt like everybody who was around me, that’s what their attitude was. It wasn’t beating up officers, it wasn’t tearing things down or destroying. It was, that’s our building and we’re gonna go in there and wave the American flag. And if it puts a little fear of God into those people, I could care less.
Not everyone will agree with that view. I don’t. But I do understand it. It makes sense to me that some people, even law-abiding software engineers in their sixties, might get so fed up with the hypocrisy and contempt shown to them by our ruling class that they decide they’re going to break a few rules, push past a few barriers, and make their voices heard.
The vast majority of the protesters didn’t quite get there. But they did get to the point where they were willing to travel across the country to protest what they believe, not without good reason, was an unfair election. Far from being insurrectionist, theirs is a quintessentially American impulse—and the news media would have said as much if the protesters, and even the rioters, had been left-wing activists objecting to a Trump victory.
But they weren’t. So no one in the press or the halls of power will ever say a sympathetic word about them. They’ll be shunned from polite society and branded as traitors and terrorists and conspiracy theorists. They’ll be kicked off social media and mocked by cable news. If they have podcasts or YouTube channels, those will be shut down. Some of them will even be fired from their jobs and harassed in the street for nothing more than expressing a political opinion.
But they won’t go away.