TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City resident Jason Gillman absolutely believes President Donald Trump’s persistent claims the Nov. 3 election was taken from him by malfeasance.
That’s why Gillman joined thousands of other Trump supporters in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
“In a political battle you put it all on the table,” said Gillman, who is a member of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. “We wanted to show great numbers of people. We wanted to impress upon the Congress that we as voters are not to be trifled with.”
Gillman, who condemned the actions of those who broke into the Capitol, said he was also there to take pictures and document a historic event.
Trump hosted a rally earlier in the day, again reciting unsubstantiated or disproven claims that widespread election fraud caused him to lose the Nov. 3 election to President-elect Joe Biden. During his speech, Trump called on his supporters to “... walk down to the Capitol. We are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them — because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
Many, including members of congress from both parties, have accused the lame-duck president of inciting the mob’s invasion of the Capitol.
People began amassing at the Capitol after hearing Trump speak, Gillman said, but he only made it as far as the outskirts of the grounds.
“I couldn’t get through the crowd because it was so dense,” Gillman said. “As I was getting closer there was somebody on the phone to somebody inside and he said ‘They’re breaching the Capitol.’ And there was a bunch of cheering.”
Gillman, who drove to Washington, D.C. the night before, said that the goal was to surround the Capitol.
“But when they break the law that’s not cool,” he said. “That’s not cool at all.”
By late Thursday, dozens of criminal investigations were opened in the wake of Wednesday’s events charging people with illegally entering the Capitol, possessing a firearm, stealing Congressional property and assault, according to NPR reports. Earlier in the day the FBI asked the public for help identifying those who were involved in the riots and urged people to submit relevant information, photos or videos.
The unfurling chaos dominated the attention of northern Michigan residents throughout the afternoon and evening.
James Howell, an African American man and Traverse City resident, said he spent Wednesday night at home talking to his family about race in America and whether the riot at the Capitol was driven by racism. Howell felt it was not directly spurred by racism, but he admitted some likely were motivated by such hatred.
“If you’re in an apple grove, you’re going to get rotten apples,” Howell said. “There might have been some there with racial intention, but I’m not going to dignify their actions with a statement.”
What surprised Howell was how unprepared Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies were. Howell, a veteran and former military police officer, said the rally and ensuing march on the Capitol was not taken as seriously as previous Black Lives Matter protests or even previous Trump rallies in Washington, D.C.
“With every social media saying ‘January 6th, January 6th’ — I mean, they didn’t take that seriously? C’mon,” Howell said. “If someone is invading your work or your house, the first thing you think is they’re there to do something bad. You have to take a stance and to protect those you are charged to protect.”
Gillman calls himself and the people who attended the Trump rally “patriots.” They are people who believe in the rule of law and listen to law enforcement, he said. He has an explanation for why people got into the Capitol so easily.
“Capitol Police did not expect this crowd, these ‘patriots’ to be a problem,” Gillman said. “These are not people who do that kind of stuff.”
Yet, a sizable portion of the crowd disregarded the law, disobeyed Capitol police and forced their way into the sprawling facility, driving guards and police to lockdown the nation’s legislative epicenter.
One woman identified as Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed outside of the House chamber, while two men and one woman died of medical emergencies in the chaos, NPR reported. Fifty-six police officers were injured, including one who was beaten and tased repeatedly by the crowd and one young officer who may lose his eye, NPR reported.
Photos of a man holding the Confederate flag — an emblem of a lost war and failed insurrection against the U.S. — as well as a noose hung from a man-made gallows near the Capitol were among the images of captured Wednesday.
T-shirts with “6MWE,” which stands for a neo-Nazi slogan referencing the 6 million Jewish people killed during the Holocoust, were seen among the chaos.
Prominent white nationalist Nick Fuentes and well-known neo-Nazi Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, both known for questioning the existence of the Holocaust and promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, were seen at the siege.
Rabbi Chava Bahle is the founder of Congregation Ahavat Shalom in Traverse City, which no longer exists. She is also a former religion teacher at Northwestern Michigan College.
Bahle was appalled but not shocked by the presence of anti-Semitic rhetoric and “flaming anti-Semites” among some subgroups of Trump’s supporters. What horrified her was the normalization of those messages and that people feel comfortable wearing those shirts and shouting slurs in public.
Bahle said the actions were the product of a fear among Trump supporters that they will “lose their favored position” in America and a “blind loyalty to a very dangerous man” in President Trump.
“Folks in that crowd mocking Auschwitz and calling for the deaths and marginalization of the Jews is utterly not surprising,” Bahle said. “This is a particular hatred that doesn’t go away. We’ve been at this for thousands of years.”
Retired Dr. Keira Duvernoy of Lake Ann thought Benzie County voters would choose Biden, but was wrong, with the majority of voters there opting for Trump.
Duvernoy said Wednesday’s violent events were shocking but not altogether unexpected, given the political winds she felt both nationally and locally. She said after the election — more than two months ago — she did not see the Trump political signs and flags come down as might otherwise be expected following election season.
“It indicated to me they were buying into that fraud — that the election was stolen,” Duvernoy said.
The retired physician said Trump has shown “signs of autocratic and narcissistic behavior” all along, and the soon-to-be former president incited violence Wednesday among his supporters as Congress began to finalize the incoming Biden administration.
“In the face of him losing, I’m not surprised,” Duvernoy said.
She said even worse were the words of Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who called for a “trial by combat” at the rally that preceded the mob’s arrival at Capitol Hill.
“Rudy Giuliani? Just, woah,” Duvernoy said. “He very, very, clearly incited violence in his exact words. I certainly hope there are repercussions for that.”
She argued even U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman should face consequences for trying to disenfranchise American voters. When other lawmakers stepped back from their objections to Electoral College outcomes after seeing the violence within the halls of the Capitol Building, Bergman was not among them, Duvernoy noted.
“They ought to be held responsible for that because they don’t have any evidence,” Duvernoy said. “I really hope (Bergman) gets removed from office. I think he cannot be trusted with what comes next and needs to be removed.”
Record-Eagle reporters Sheri McWhirter, Brendan Quealy and Patti Brandt Burgess contributed to this article.