Washington native Ted Swoboda went to Washington, D.C., last week cautiously optimistic that congressional leaders and Vice President Mike Pence would delay certifying the Electoral College election results.
“Our hope was that Congress would hear our voices or that Congress would present the facts that haven’t been presented (about the election),” Swoboda said of the estimated 350,000 people who gathered in the nation’s capital.
More than a dozen lawsuits contesting some states’ election results have been thrown out by judges — including many appointed by President Trump — who have not found credible evidence of voter fraud. Trump’s most ardent supporters had hoped to delay certifying Electoral College votes to further investigate claims of voter fraud.
Instead, Swoboda, now of Union, said efforts to call attention to Trump’s allegations of election fraud have been “extinguished” following the events of Jan. 6, which culminated with armed protesters storming the U.S. Capitol building, ransacking congressional offices and sending the building into lockdown. Swoboda said the actions of those protesters are a far cry from how the day started at the president’s rally on the National Mall.
“It was quite boring, I guess, in terms of a Trump speech, in my opinion,” Swoboda said, who brought his teenage son to the event. “I think his main intention in that speech was to lay out all of the facts of the election. ... Then he went over a lot of the stuff that he accomplished, but it was quite boring.”
Following the speech, Swoboda said protesters began moving toward the Capitol building, where a second demonstration with 12 speakers was planned on the east side. Swoboda said the demeanor was subdued at first, “like crowds walking into a sporting event.” As Swoboda approached the Capitol, he said he noticed people were beginning to climb onto the temporarily built inauguration stage and platform on the west side of the building.
“I could see maybe four or five police officers trying to keep them from going up the steps (of the inauguration platform) at that time, but then it just seemed like (the police officers) were backing up. A little later, I could see people had gotten up on the bleachers and were starting to climb the scaffolding. Part of you thinks, ‘Oh well, these are just some over rambunctious Trump supporters, but then it just seemed odd. I started asking myself, ‘Why are we here?’ ”
Swoboda said he couldn’t see that some had begun throwing objects against windows, attempting to get around police barricades and force open the doors of the Capitol.
“I left because I didn’t want to stick around and watch people climb a wall or try to get into the Capitol or anything like that,” said Swoboda, who said he did not go inside. Swoboda said he didn’t learn of the chaotic scene they left behind until he was driving home.
“It was disappointing (to hear). People were disappointed that Pence didn’t do what we hoped he would do, so it was very disappointing for Trump supporters,” Swoboda said, comparing the feeling to what a parent might feel if their child is accused of a crime. “You knew that you raised him differently. (So then you start thinking) was he influenced, does he really have a mean streak or bad streak that you missed? Again, just how could this have happened?” Swoboda said.
Swoboda said he has questioned reports that those breaking into the Capitol building were Trump’s supporters.
According to him, Trump’s speech started shortly after noon on Jan. 6. The first reports from The Associated Press of protesters attempting to enter the Capitol were made around 1:55 p.m.
Swoboda said he didn’t believe any Trump supporters would skip the president’s speech to get a better position at the Capitol.
“I am not denying that people went into the Capitol, and I am sure that there is going to be found some overzealous Trump supporters ended up inside the Capitol, but what happened there was that an overwhelmingly large crowd of good, decent people gathered to show their support for Trump. These are people who voted for him, who believe the election was stolen, and they went to D.C. to purely show their support for Donald Trump,” Swoboda said, adding he doesn’t believe TV footage of the events at the Capitol is “what really happened.”
Swoboda also explained why he thinks some Trump supporters, who have prided themselves on supporting law enforcement, fought with police officers and destroyed federal property.
“I think there is a very good possibility that there were a bunch of bad actors, or anarchists, that were dressed up like Trump people. They encouraged Trump people, who because there is a lot of emotion — and there’s no doubt that people were disappointed in Trump losing the election — could incite people to do things that they normally wouldn’t do,” Swoboda said.
The rumor that antifa members stormed the Capitol was circulated online over 400,000 times in one day following the protest, according to the New York Times, but the FBI said this is a false claim.
Francis Chung, a photojournalist with E&E News, who captured the image of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., raising his fist in solidarity with protesters outside of the Capitol building at 12:35 p.m. on Wednesday, told The Missourian in a telephone interview that his experience counters assertions made by some of Trump’s supporters, including Swoboda.
“I can confirm that there were at least 300 people gathered at the Capitol when Sen. Hawley made his appearance,” said Chung, who was taking shots on the east side of the Capitol. “Many of those at the Capitol were wearing Trump clothing and signs. The crowd was definitely growing, not by leaps and bounds, but people were definitely there and waiting for something. ... It all seemed to escalate when the people from the National Mall arrived.”
The Missourian reached out to Hawley, but staff members said the senator was not available for comment. Hawley has not publicly denounced the photo or contested its authenticity.
When Hawley walked into the Carriage Entrance of the Capitol, Chung said he did not follow him. Instead, the photojournalist went into a nearby governmental building to file his photos to his editor. Thirty minutes later, when he emerged from the building he noticed the mood had changed. On the west side of the Capitol, Chung said he watched as people climbed the scaffolding and inauguration platform. On the east side, he said people had breached the barricade and were entering the Capitol.
“It was a mix of people. You had people who were standing around and people who were breaking windows trying to get into the Capitol,” said Chung, who followed a group of protesters into the building. “People were running rampant. I first went downstairs into the crypt area and then I heard that there were people in the rotunda and found people there. Everywhere I went, I was taking photos.”
Chung said while he can’t attest to every story or photo published in the wake of the protests and breaking into the Capitol, those he has read have been accurate to the events he saw.
He said, “The photos speak for themselves.”