Credit: Creative Commons/Tyler Merbler

I made a somewhat last-minute decision to drive up to Washington D.C. two weeks ago to take photos and interview people at the pro-Trump rally. There had been a lot of chatter about what would happen on the 6th. I wanted to see it first hand and also be there when the actual certification took place. I knew it might be a little crazy, but I had no idea  it would devolve into what it did. 

I arrived at the National Mall around 9:30 a.m. that Wednesday. The crowd was substantial, but not nearly as large as some other protests that have occurred there. Some put the number of people around 30,000. I decided to start interviewing. There was a wide range of people at the event. I interviewed two women from California who specifically mentioned the state’s COVID policies as the reason they were there. I interviewed one woman who immigrated from China and was there because she believed Biden was somehow associated with the Chinese Communist Party. I also interviewed seemingly gentle people who said they were praying for both Trump and Biden and disavowed any violence. 

McCorkle | File

I also interviewed some individuals that were calling for levels of violence that made the events of January 6 look like child’s play. One warned that if the Congress certified the vote for Biden, they would come back to Washington armed and that it would be one of the ugliest moments in United States history. Another person quoted Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Yet another compared what was going on to the Civil War or the American Revolution. I interviewed one self-proclaimed lone-wolf militia man who stated there needed to be a citizen’s arrest of legislators. Another man said the Insurrection Act should be implemented and that the legislators who were going along with this “fraud” should be tried for treason. Another group was erecting a gallows in front of the Capitol. 

As a Christian, one of the most heartbreaking things for me was the full and vile display of Christian nationalism with people flyingtheir Christian flags next to their Trump flags, proclaiming they were doing the will of God. I saw one hat that said, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.” What it really seemed like was that Jesus was their savior but Trump was the Lord, their king. There was nothing Christ-like about what was going on. 

I decided to leave in the early afternoon. As I was leaving, I saw more and more people gathering around the Capitol building. I heard something that sounded like gunshots, but I was not sure exactly what was occurring. Some people said the Capitol building had been breached, but I assumed it was just hearsay and exaggeration. I couldn’t imagine they could actually breach the Capitol. When I finally got back to the car is when I saw the reality of what had occurred. 

It is a sad and embarrassing time for our country. Though immediate blame is laid at the feet of the mob and those choosing to justify violence, considerable blame must be laid at the feet of Trump and his enablers who have constantly fed this mob with unsubstantiated lies about massive voter fraud. People truly believed they were “defending democracy,” when in reality they were supporting an authoritarian coup. Trump needs to be convicted by the Senate. They must also ensure that he can never hold public office again. 

As a nation, we have to do some real soul searching to understand how we have arrived to this point. How have we polarized ourselves and gone into our own rabbit holes where these conspiracy theories are allowed to thrive. What in our history and ideology lays the groundwork for the justification for violence? How has the cowardice of many representatives toward authoritarians like Trump led us to this point? We need to move on and heal as a nation. But first, we need to do some true examination to understand what is so deeply broken in our nation.  

Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and immigration advocate