Many saw it coming. And yet, watching people storm the U.S. Capitol in the other Washington, people across the state were still amazed, saddened and almost speechless.
They clung to optimism, believing in a return to American stability and democracy as we know it, while acknowledging that wouldn’t be easy.
“It makes me weep,” said Nanci Main, a chef and former restaurateur in Southwest Washington’s Pacific County, and then she proceeded to do just that. “It’s like the biggest form of blasphemy to me.”
Nobody had seen anything like it before, not in the U.S. A mob refusing to accept that President Donald Trump lost the election, egged on by the president himself, breaking glass to get into the chamber where lawmakers were counting electoral votes. Congress members ducking for cover and donning gas masks while a woman was shot and killed. The president tweeting for an end to the violence, then in a later video telling rioters “go home, we love you.”
Among them were people from Washington, like Michelle Le, a Bellevue real estate broker and ardent Trump supporter who sees Democrats as having the kind of socialist agenda that took over her homeland of Vietnam.
Reached at a Virginia hotel Wednesday evening, Le said she was part of a group that went to D.C. Talking briefly before meeting up with other members of the group, she said she stayed in the back of crowd and didn’t see the violence firsthand.
She said she couldn’t comment on it before watching videos of the day, but raised suspicion of a “mole” in her group and a “setup” — exactly what kind she didn’t say before rushing off.
“Michelle Le was my real estate agent. I know her,” said Uyen Nguyen, co-owner of the Seattle restaurant Nue and board member of a national progressive Vietnamese American group called PIVOT. She said she was baffled by such die-hard Trump supporters, including one of Nguyen’s brothers.
Born in Vietnam just as the war ended in 1975, Nguyen said, “the White House and America has always been very emblematic of freedom for many of my years. To see it being taken down so easily … Wow, what’s going on?”
In the end, the government was not taken down. The D.C. National Guard was activated. The Senate reconvened to confirm Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Still, retired Seattle city contract processor Annie Daniels was also mystified by the ease with which insurgents took over the halls of power. Where was the security? “It’s unbelievable,” she said.
Yet, she added,” I knew something was going to happen.”
Before the election, some were predicting a civil war when the results came in. Retired Yakima teacher Bruce Whitmore was one, discouraged like most everyone at the extreme polarization between Republicans and Democrats. When it didn’t happen, he said, “I felt a lot of relief.”
But then came Trump’s refusal to concede the election and claims of fraud. Though he failed to produce evidence, and court and after court threw out his lawsuits, many supporters believed him and determined to “stop the steal.”
Mount Vernon dairy farmer Jason Vander Kooy said he doesn’t support violence. The Trump supporter spent Wednesday tearing down old buildings on his farm. But he understands the skepticism of election results.
“It’s not like the old days where I went to the fire station and put my signature beside my name and voted. Now everything is computerized,” he said. And different states have different rules, for instance about how long after Election Day ballots are counted.
“Maybe it is all legit but they have not convinced me of that,” said Vander Kooy, who also questions whether Washington Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp lost by as a big a margin as announced. Like Trump, Culp refused to concede and claimed voter fraud.
James Kane, a Trump supporter who owns a small general store in rural Lincoln County, also continues to question the election results.
“If we have questions, just audit the damn vote, shove it in our face, wag your finger at us and say ‘look you lost,'” Kane said. “They don’t want to do that.”
He said he doesn’t condone the violence, nor blame the president’s rhetoric for it. “If he was going to call the people to arms, it’d be a little bit clearer,” Kane said.
Whitmore, on the other hand, began to fear violence again as the retired teacher heard Trump amp up his attacks on the election’s integrity. Actually, Whitmore said he expected worse, including holding Congress members hostage.
Even so, he said, “I feel the country is going to come back to a center, like it always has.” The 73-year-old, who lived through the Vietnam War and assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., said that’s what his lived experience has taught him.
He expected Biden to be confirmed, people to be arrested and Trump to be “embarrassed and sidelined.” It could not come soon enough for Whitmore, who said he wanted the president to be immediately removed through the 25th Amendment, as Democratic lawmakers are now seeking.
Main, the Pacific County chef, also said she expects the U.S. to recover, eventually. ‘I am hopeful that down the line we’re going to get our country back to where it should be, with lessons learned. I feel committed to that.”
“I guess one big thing is not taking freedom and democracy and our country for granted.”
On Wednesday, though, she had to reassure her 95-year-old mom, who lives in an assisted living facility. She’d been though the Depression and World War II. But when Main talked with her mom today about what was going on in D.C., the older woman was afraid.
“Don’t worry Mom,” Main said. “I’m here. I’m going to make sure you’re always safe.”
Staff reporter David Gutman contributed to this report.
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