GILLETTE — Most Wyomingites took in the violence and destruction in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday through their TVs, phones and computers.
Mark and Patty Junek of Gillette were in Washington, D.C. — there to show their support for President Trump and their shared view that the 2020 elections were racked with fraud.
They’d gone on somewhat of whim, looking into the trip roughly 10 days ago. They were in D.C. for the Save America rally and heard President Trump’s address to the crowd of supporters at the Ellipse in front of the White House. They also took part in the march from the rally to the Capitol.
But the Juneks said they saw no violence personally. Speaking from their hotel room after 10 p.m. EST, they both lamented the fact that the breach of the Capitol was all that was being covered on the news. The reality of their experience — that of peaceful protesters gathered to support the president — was shared by so many there but being seen by few on the news.
“We were about halfway back (in the march to the Capitol),” Mark said. Though they said they didn’t see any of the violence, they saw and heard some of its effects.
“We heard an explosion, like a gunshot,” Mark said. “Must have been one of the flashbang (grenades).”
“There was a very few, minute number of people,” Patty said of those causing the violence. “It had to have been planned. They were there before anybody else got there. We did see some ropes that people were climbing.”
Mark said they also talked to a young man who’d been pepper sprayed, and he told them of the woman who’d been shot. “At the time, we heard it was just with pepper balls or bean bags, but we’ve since learned that she died,” he said.
They were both defensive of President Trump’s response to the incident. “We’ve seen on TV that Trump’s condemnation wasn’t strong enough,” Patty said. But cellular reception was weak, she said.
“Nobody in the downtown area would have been able to get his statement,” she said. “What good would it have done?”
The statement to which she was referring was when the president posted a video message to social media in which he told protesters to go home while also praising them, calling them “special” and telling them, “We love you.”
Asked to evaluate the president’s statements to the protesters not as a crowd-control measure but as a denunciation of their methods, Patty agreed that the president should speak more sternly and forcefully against the violence.
“I bet you’ll see that tomorrow,” Patty said. “I would be surprised if you didn’t see him come out with a lengthier, stronger statement tomorrow.”
Both Mark and Patty struggled at times to find the words to reconcile the horror of the violence with their experience outside the violence. “We’re all very disappointed with the violence,” Patty said.
Mark said he’d worried about being able to get through an interview.
“I’ve been getting upset and emotional watching the talking heads condemn the violence and law-breaking, of course, but when they’re asked about the election and results — that’s the biggest reason why people are here to protest,” he said. “We’ve got to investigate what happened with the elections. … I’m not sure if we’ll have another fair and honest election.”
They were unconvinced by statements from various states’ election officials that the 2020 was conducted fairly. The same went for news reports showing that to be true.
“We really dig into the news behind the mainstream news,” Patty said. “Our knowledge and what we have researched has convinced us that the elections were not accurate. They do need to be looked at. There was cheating.”
The Juneks understood the focus on the violence, but they were disappointed by it. “99% of the protest was peaceful; the focus will remain on the bit of violence. I don’t mean to diminish it,” Mark said.
“It’s just disappointing that is the total focus,” Patty said, finishing his sentence. She described it as a “deflating feeling.”
Patty mentioned seeing some people climbing up a statue near the Capitol and how the sight of it bothered her. She said she and many other protesters felt bothered by that, offended at the action, and that applied doubly for what was done to the Capitol.
“Any destruction of anybody else’s property is not acceptable,” Patty said. “To see it done to a historic building, and the People’s building, there are no words.”
Mark agreed but brought the focus back to the underlying beliefs that motivated the president’s supporters to rally in the first place.
“I think those foundations of government and democratic principles, not the physical building, were attacked two months ago and it seems like nobody wants to do anything about that,” Mark said. “That’s an attack on the intangible foundations.”
The focus on the good was important to the Juneks. Mark said it was a good trip, and he was glad they’d made it. “Our purpose was to come show our support for President Trump and we did that.”
“Our hotel was surrounded, everybody was displaying Trump paraphernalia,” she said. The rally was “jam-packed,” and they were so far back they watched the president speak on a screen.
On the march over to the Capitol, people would chant “Stop the steal” or “Do your job,” the latter of which Mark thought was for the benefit of the Justice Department as they walked by, but Patty said it was Congress, too. They sang patriotic songs.
She described events the day before the rally and breach of the Capitol. “People were dancing in the street,” Patty said. “It was a fun event. People were friendly. Today was no different. No sense of violence or disharmony.
"The only negative thing we experienced was when we were walking back to our hotel and a guy riding a bike yelled at Mark, ‘Go home, skinhead.’” She said this with a laugh of absurdity to the whole thing, saying it was laughable to anyone who knew what Mark looks like.
At the end of the conversation, they both commented on the feeling of shared patriotism at the rally. Mark described a giant American flag that was unfurled and passed above the heads of those at the rally. He compared it to crowd-surfing, but he insisted that it was very respectfully done. It was quite a sight, both of them agreed.
“How do you describe it when it just hits your patriotic gut?” Patty asked.