Editor’s Note: A guest post from Karen Haymon, a Republican activist who was in Washington on January 6.
I Hear America Singing is a Walt Whitman poem that celebrates the American worker, and to experience the multitudes of ordinary Americans who traveled to Washington on January 6 to make their voices heard about the failed, if not stolen, 2020 presidential election was to see Whitman’s inspiration in the flesh.
Regardless of what you might see on cable news or read in the pages of your local newspaper.
“We are not Trump; Donald Trump is us” was the sentiment of the peaceful crowd at the Elipse.
That day, I was one of over a million Americans who traveled to DC to support the America First movement and President Trump, and to peacefully voice opposition to voter fraud. From my vantage point, folks were not “bused in.” Rather, the participation was clearly organic, something unique in the political world. A
ctive in Republican politics most of my life—first as a grassroots activist, then president of my local Republican Women’s club, then elected to parish and state Republican committees, and even served in the electoral college for John McCain—but had never attended a Trump rally. I was late getting aboard the “Trump Train” in 2016, only after Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio dropped out of the Republican Primary.
I had NO expectation that VP Pence would refuse to accept the electors in disputed states on January 6. I had observed how he folded quickly on a key social issue as governor of Indiana.
In fact, I’m not certain there was one driving issue that led me to DC for the event. Perhaps it was my research on election fraud and a sense that I needed to stand—to fill a space that day and be counted; to be there in the place of those who could not logistically, physically or financially make the trip; or perhaps part of my motivation stemmed from a sense that the America I cherish and revere was being transformed into a one-party Orwellian state against the will of 75 million plus Americans, and I wanted to see the best of her before she died.
I did meet the best of America that day. They came from all across this country—farmers, pastors, lawyers, architects, secretaries, veterans, doctors, truck drivers, plumbers, teachers, welders, CPAs, mechanics, nuns, librarians; individuals hailing from every race, creed, and background in America, meeting together.
Little did I know that the irresponsible and dangerous actions of a few instigators planted in the crowd at the Capitol would wipe away the joyful sense of purity, power and solidarity of the million plus gathered that day in DC. The media, of course, would never convey the authentic spirit of the 99.99% gathered.
A 7:30 AM ride share from my hotel in the Adams Morgan neighborhood dropped me near the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue and from there I walked westward about 1.5 miles in 35 degree/winds whipping weather toward the Ellipse which encircles the White House complex, and site of the Trump political rally. The walk was festive, joyous, filled with vendors; hours before the President was set to speak, the crowd was massive. It certainly exceeded my expectations. I stood close to the Washington Monument and later learned that the crowd filled over 55 acres. I was standing a distance from even the jumbotron broadcasting the speeches.
The mood and demeanor of the crowd was friendly. Attendees were courteous to others and making sure trash was not on the ground. The crowd around me was incredibly focused on how we would be perceived by the media and strove to be at its best and I had no reason to believe that feeling was not the same for the entire 55 plus acres. Despite the cold weather, there were red, white, and blue beach balls being volleyed in the crowd, a gigantic American flag being passed above and rolling out over the heads of the crowd.
As far as the eye could see, there were families, pets…happy people…singing along with the music playing in between the speakers addressing the crowd. It was not uncommon to be tapped on the shoulder and asked to join in a makeshift/impromptu prayer circle. I joined in with 3 such groups throughout the rally. The list of rally speakers included Eric and Lara Trump, Vernon Jones, Don Trump, Jr. & Kimberly Guilfoyle, Freshman Congressman Madison Cawthorn, Rudy Giuliani and, of course, President Trump. The Trump kids, Jones and Cawthorn spoke about the future of the movement and the change made in the Republican Party as a result of the America First platform. President Trump’s speech was actually a bit flat…perhaps it was the cold weather, enormous crowd that made it difficult to connect or maybe it was the fact he knew it was over.
I left my place before the end of his speech but by the time I reached Pennsylvania Ave, he had finished. The walk to the Capitol was brisk, but not angry. There was a group outside the Department of Justice chanting “do your job” but nothing out of control. I think the crowd realized no one was inside the DOJ building. Along the route there were pro-life groups, folks singing patriotic music, vendors…and no signs of violence.
The walk to the west side of the Capitol probably took a bit over 30 minutes. Honestly, I wasn’t watching the clock. Upon my arrival I made my way in the direction of the Capitol steps. Cell coverage was sluggish at the rally and Capitol due to the enormous crowds, so there were no real time news alerts, and I was observing the multitude more than I was watching my phone. There was already a huge crowd when I arrived; these folks had obviously not attended the rally. Throngs of people were pouring into the area. I made my way and was roughly within 50-100 yards of the Capitol steps, but I could not see the bottom of steps due to the layers of people. No one was on the steps or balconies when I initially arrived.
On occasion, a few individuals would somehow make their way onto construction scaffolding by the steps and wave a flag before police would pull them back. These individuals appeared to be wearing all black. I heard a loud boom and then a plume of smoke near the scaffolding on my left. The initial reaction of individuals around me was, “what lunatic has set off a smoke bomb here?” We had no idea the Capitol had been breached at some level.
During this time, I noticed three individuals. First, a man off to my left in tactical gear who was wearing a small helmet with a gas mask on his belt. He made visual contact with a woman wearing identical attire; she was in front and to my right. The third individual was well behind me; he was pushing and telling people to move forward toward the steps. Honestly, no one around me was budging. About this time, we saw and heard a second boom with a plume of smoke, and then another. We realized it was tear gas. We were quite surprised as we were just standing there voicing our opinion regarding re-election fraud and now wondering why we were being hit with tear gas.
Again, there was no awareness or recognition in my area that the Capitol had been breached. Around the time of the 3rd and 4th tear gas bomb, I and others started making our way to the street. As we pressed through the crowd, I encountered an older lady hobbling, attempting to leave the crowd and, sensing her physical struggle, I stopped and helped her get to the street and sit on a curb. This lady told me she had been part of the civil rights marches of 1960s and jokingly said “I just want to get out of DC and back to South Carolina where people love the Lord.”
Around this time, an alert started going off on phones regarding a just issued 6 PM curfew ordered by the Mayor of DC. For safety reasons, my game plan had always been to be back inside the confines of my hotel in Adams Morgan by 4 PM. The trek to get to a street where I could meet a ride share back to my hotel was not a simple process, as streets had been shut off to vehicles and some streets, to pedestrians, for blocks so GPS was not accurate due to those closures.
I was blessed to be with several ladies from East Texas. The plan was to make it safely to their hotel on the other side of the White House and, from there, I would take a ride share back to my hotel. On that walk to their hotel, as we veered off Pennsylvania Avenue in the direction of their hotel, we noticed police, heavily armed with guns drawn, outside the Treasury Department building. We also saw a group of six young men dressed in all black with hoodies, holding devices and lurking in an empty and open parking garage and, for the first time, encountered dueling protesters. At this point, we removed or covered our patriotic clothing to walk unnoticed.
We still had no idea the Capitol had been breached. When we left the Capitol, we could see a few folks on the scaffolding and a few on the balcony. That’s it. We had no idea folks were inside; imagine my surprise when I climbed into the ride share to my hotel and called my friend back home in Louisiana, Royal Alexander, to say I was Ok, and he informs me there’s a man with a Viking style hat inside the Capitol.
I still find it hard to comprehend how lax the security must have been. There’s a multitude of people in town and a joint session of Congress to debate and certify votes for the electoral college. Now I read there were raw FBI reports of possible violence. The outgoing Capitol Police Chief requested days before the riot the National Guard be placed on standby, but his request was rebuffed by House and Senate security officials and a top Pentagon commander. The New York Times reported that President Trump wanted the National Guard troops present to protect supporters on January 6 but was talked out of it.
In closing, this incident is heartbreaking and deflating. Such pure motives by 99.99% of those visiting DC that day are ripped away by the senseless actions of a few. We must ask, which political party gained from those actions…it was certainly not conservative Republicans. It was certainly not President Trump, it was certainly not middle class, hard- working Americans.
I did Hear America Singing that morning…but that evening I heard those same free thinking Americans crying.