Area Residents Share Experience During Capitol Chaos
(Pictured above: Clarion resident Gary Sproul in Washington D.C.)
Several of the area residents who were in attendance at the rally in support of President Donald Trump on Wednesday agreed to speak to exploreClarion.com about their experiences that day.
“People from Clarion who knew I was going said they wanted someone from our area to take pictures and document this event, so I tried to do that,” Clarion area resident Gary Sproul said.
“It was history in the making in a sense in both parts, the good and the bad.”
Sproul, along with 35 other area residents, traveled in a bus that left from the Clarion Mall late on Tuesday night and arrived in Washington D.C. before dawn on Wednesday.
According to Sproul, the day started out crowded, but peaceful, with thousands of people lined up to hear President Trump speak.
“It was fun. There were singers and prayers and lots of speakers.”
Another of the participants on the Clarion Mall buses was Jesse Hanna, who lives in the Fryburg area.
“Everybody was super polite,” Hanna noted. “I was actually really impressed at how polite and helpful everyone was being in such a big crowd.”
Another area resident from the Emlenton area, who asked to remain anonymous, noted the same of the initial rally.
“I’d say the overall tone of the crowd was excitement. People seemed to think that such a large showing would really make a difference and encourage lawmakers to vote against certifying the Electoral College and allowing for the ten-day audit proposed by Senator Cruz.”
According to Joanna Williams, of the Franklin area, while there were “a few crazy acting people,” the majority of the crowd remained peaceful.
“Besides some pieces of garbage left behind in the grass, there was no destruction anywhere on any streets we were on, none. No violence anywhere, just people walking, talking, marching.”
East Brady area resident Joshua Seybert said he decided to attend the event in Washington to document it as an independent photojournalist.
“Everyone was really friendly there,” Seybert reported.
Gary Steele, who resides in the Brookville area, attended with a group of people who took busses from DuBois.
“It was the first rally I’ve ever been to and I was surprised at the size and diversity of the crowd,” he noted.
“The crowd seemed really friendly and peaceful and everyone was high-fiving each other and cheering. It was a good experience.”
Chicora area resident Zach Scherer organized the busses that traveled to Washington from the Clearview Mall in Butler.
“It was awesome, and everyone had a good time, even though we did run into some issues.”
After the gathering near the White House, where President Trump addressed those gathered, the crowd began to march through the Mall area toward the Capitol Building.
“Everyone was still in a good mood and everybody just kind of followed the lead and followed people down (toward the Capitol Building),” Hanna said.
“The atmosphere didn’t change, everyone still seemed to be in a good mood and the majority of the people there were being peaceful.”
Steele noted that while many people joined the march to the Capitol Building, there were also many that did not.
“Our group didn’t want to get separated, so we kind of hung back a bit.”
The march did not go entirely smoothly for Scherer’s group, as one group member was shoved, fell to the ground, and suffered a minor head injury.
“She was treated by EMTs there, on the scene, and luckily she had other people with her, and they went back to the bus and got on it to stay warm and wait for the rest of us.”
At the Capitol Building
As the large crowd approached the Capitol Building, some folks got a better view than others.
“There were so many people we couldn’t get anywhere near the building. We were probably almost a quarter-mile away,” Steele said.
Hanna got a closer view, making it to around 100 yards from the Capitol Building.
“We couldn’t get close enough to really see what was going on right at the building.”
Scherer had a vantage point where he was able to see the officers on the steps of the Capitol Building.
“There weren’t that many officers on the steps holding people back,” he noted.
Seybert, who left the gathering at the White House early in hopes of getting a good vantage point for photographs, was able to set up right at one of the barriers near the stairs of the building.
“When I got there, there were probably only about 50 to 100 people milling around. I was just sitting there talking to the Capitol Police. They were very friendly with us.”
Sproul also managed to find a good vantage place, making his way forward near some of the barriers where things began heating up between police and the crowd outside.
“I was trying to take pictures looking back down the row when teargas started to come our way from one of the balconies, and I got some in my eyes. I had never experienced that, but luckily two nice ladies helped and washed it out.”
Things Heat Up
While many area residents in attendance weren’t close enough to see some of the events taking place at the Capitol Building, both Seybert and Sproul had better vantage points, though on opposing sides of the building.
Seybert himself was standing against one of the barriers when police began pushing the back against the crowd.
“The closest thing I saw to violence was just people who were yelling at the police and calling them traitors,” Seybert reported.
According to Seybert, it was police who had come out in riot gear that began pushing the crowd back. However, he said they stopped when regular uniformed Capitol Police came forward and moved the barriers, allowing people through.
“I was in shock. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. That never happens at a protest.”
Seybert noted he ended up on the steps and had a clear view of the moment one man smashed a window of the Capitol Building.
“A bunch of Trump supporters escorted him away saying, ‘that’s not who we are.'”
However, he also noted that after the window-smashing incident, things calmed slightly.
“People were just chanting ‘We want Trump.’ Where we were, there wasn’t any violence, at all, just a bunch of Trump supporters waving American flags and Trump flags and yelling.”
Across the Building
On the other side of the building, Sproul was continuing to try to take photographs of the events of the day as things heated up.
“I stepped back further to take pictures of people entering the scaffolding area.”
After the first breach, where some of those in attendance began to scale the scaffolding against the building, Sproul moved to one side, closer to the Library of Congress, and then witnessed the second breach take place.
“Someone ended up grabbing a policeman’s baton and threw it. They were taking planks from the scaffolding, and police tried to take them back, but the crowd got too big and the police just scattered. Some guys went up and had flags at the top (of the scaffolding) then.”
Sproul noted that police tried to block some of the stairs on the outside of the building with police bicycles, but people simply threw the bicycles off the side of the stairs.
“Then the crowd moved to the second balcony and were taking over, then the third balcony, and that’s when I really moved back and away.”
According to Sproul, as the balconies were being taken over, police began deploying additional tear gas, and because they threw it some distance, he managed to get some in his eyes again.
“I was gagging and I almost threw up.”
Luckily, another good Samaritan with an extra water bottle came to his aid again.
Despite the chaos he witnessed, Sproul maintains that the majority of people in attendance in Washington were peaceful.
“Even some of the people that got inside were just taking pictures with the statues they’ve never been able to see.”
Getting the News
Those in attendance who were further from the Capitol Building had a very different experience.
“None of us even knew what was going on until we started getting texts from family members. We didn’t hear about what was going on until it was well underway,” Steele said.
“Before we knew anything, we saw lines of police cars going down both sides of the road there and we thought it was just Trump’s procession, to take him down there. We didn’t know what was going on.”
Hanna said he saw a lot of police making their way to the Capitol Building, but wasn’t aware of what had occurred inside.
“Nobody was forcing anyone out or anything.”
Most of the local residents who attended chose to leave Washington in the afternoon hours, to make the long trip home.
Seybert noted he left in the early afternoon, around 2:45 p.m., as he had a three-mile walk back to where he and the friend who had accompanied him parked.
“During that walk back to the car, there were folks of all walks of life walking with us with Trump supporter stuff.”
Scherer’s group had to delay their 5:00 p.m. planned departure time for one individual who had gotten separated from the group and was late getting back to the bus. They were further delayed after departing when another group member had a medical emergency.
“He had to be taken by ambulance, but we’re told he’s doing a lot better than he was now,” Scherer said.
The Butler group also got disturbing news shortly after leaving the Capitol, receiving notice that the tires on many of their vehicles, parked at the Clairview Mall in Butler, had been vandalized.
“We really hope we can get to the bottom of that and see that someone is charged for that,” he noted.
According to Steele, the group from DuBois was also delayed because of to having to meet the bus at a different location than initially planned due to road closures.
“I just wanted to show my support for the Trump administration, and for the most part, I think the people down there were good people, typical Americans who are just tired of being pushed around and lied to who wanted to show their support.”
Sproul noted that the group from Clarion ended their trip the same way they started it: with a prayer.
“We are just people who wanted to support the president and wanted the results of the election to be fair, and we don’t think they are fair.”
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