(WJHL) — After violence erupted in Washington on Wednesday, some Tri-Cities locals who traveled to the rally say they are now being associated with the violent group that stormed the U.S. Capitol, resulting in several deaths.
A group of five people left from Higher Ground Baptist Church in Kingsport to protest in the nation’s capital. Ronnie Owens, the pastor at Higher Ground, was a member of that group.
Owens said he is troubled that some believe he and others who were there that day were a part of the rioters.
“I turned on the news, and I thought, ‘Woah, this is not what I’d been a part of; it’s not what I saw,'” said Owens, who says he is facing backlash for going to Washington this week. “Folks are really too quick to jump to judgment on categorizing groups. I don’t like that.”
Like others from the Tri-Cities who chose to rally in Washington as Congress certified Biden’s victory, Owens says he went to the Capitol to show support for the president and “free and fair elections”, despite the dozens of Trump lawsuits that have been dropped and no evidence of any election fraud.
Owens said he “felt the spirit of God very much there.”
“As a matter of fact, the spirit of God was so strong, I broke down crying several times,” Owens said.
Dr. Arnold Hopland was another local who made his way to Washington as Congress certified electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden, confirming transfer of power.
He, too, traveled in support of the president’s baseless claims of election fraud.
“I didn’t expect to accomplish anything in particular other than to raise awareness that I believe the election had many, many flaws in its execution, and it needed to be examined carefully so we can correct it,” said Hopland.
Examined carefully it was.
Sen. Mark Warner (D- Va.) said in a media availability a day before the Capitol building was stormed that both Democrats and Republicans along with a countless number of election officials have reviewed votes multiple times.
Loyalty to Donald Trump seems to well exceed allegiance to the constitution…If there were efforts to come forward with additional evidence, that would’ve been brought forward with the courts. We’ve seen over 60 courts rule against these Trump efforts.Sen. Mark Warner
Hopland also faced backlash for attending a rally that ended with hundreds of rioters charging the Capitol building Wednesday. He doesn’t believe the break-in of the government building was committed by those who support Trump.
“I suspect that it was carried out primarily by professional agitators,” he said.
According to the BBC, several individuals who were in the building are identified as those associated with extreme far-right groups, such as supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory and the far-right, all-male group dubbed the Proud Boys.
“As I was returning, all of the sudden, I got Facebook comments about me being a ‘white supremacist’, me being a ‘racist’… and that’s so far from who I am; it’s inconceivable that anybody would think that,” Hopland said. “People have thought that they should take action against our business. I’m puzzled by that.”
Shannon Myers, another local who attended, believed the rally to be “beautiful.”
“It’s so easy to take something beautiful and spin it into something so unfortunately ugly, which in my opinion, we should be shining light on the good that happened that day,” Myers said.
Five people died during Wednesday’s violence: a woman who was shot by Capitol Police, a Capitol Police officer who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher and three others who died from “medical emergencies.”
Five people — including a Capitol Police officer— died during the attack on the nation’s capitol.
“It was about to get together to love on the president, to love on fellow Americans and to celebrate this country’s freedoms and liberties,” said Myers. “I felt like God was talking to me, and I felt like he was telling me that I need to be there, that I need to be a part of this experience, that I need to participate and contribute my energy in a positive way.”
Although Myers, Hopland and Owens claim they did not see the violence and storming of the Capitol, Myers did see people who had red eyes and appeared to be crying.
“We did see people coming out throughout the day that had problems with their eyes,” Myers said. “I think it was pretty clear. People were consoling them and being with them. I think that they had been maced. Maybe they were some of the people who had actually been in there.”
Owens believes the president did not incite the chaos that took place.
Trump could be in violation of several federal laws, Eliason wrote, including prohibitions on aiding a rebellion, which has a maximum prison term of 10 years, and conspiring with others to prevent laws from being enforced, which calls for 20 years in prison. The mob that invaded the Capitol interfered with Congress’ counting of the electoral votes and certification of Biden’s victory.The Associated Press
“He encouraged the American folks to pray; he had a pastor pray over him and over the whole situation,” Owens said. “We had several prayers, he did not encourage anything like that, he said, ‘when we march, I’ll march with you.'”
Owens says he is proud of Rep. Diana Harshbarger, who taught Sunday school at his church for several years, for voting against certifying the electoral votes and pushing for an investigation of the election.
The FBI continues to search for those who stormed the Capitol.