It was an overcast, chilly morning in Washington, D.C., on January 6th. My roommate and I awoke early and began layering up against the cold. A sense of excitement mixed with a touch of trepidation accompanied us to the metro stop a couple of blocks from our hotel. Once on the train we were greeted by other sleepy, coffee-deprived pilgrims on the same journey.
Just the day before we had walked the 1.2 miles to the National Mall to scope out the site for the Save America March to be held the next day. The crowd was sparse but we bought some patriotic hats from a vendor, attended a pre-event rally in Freedom Plaza, and sat on some cold concrete steps sipping soup from a fancy hotel offering Covid-friendly takeout as we watched the people stroll by—many decked out in red, white, and blue and carrying American flags. We eagerly anticipated the day to come.
The next day as we approached The Ellipse, the circular park just behind the White House, arriving at 7:45 AM for the event scheduled for 11 AM, we saw a line miles long. We soon learned that those were the people who were waiting for admittance to get into the park where the stage was. They had to go through security, and it was obvious many had been there all night.
Realizing we were too late to make it into that inner circle, we joined thousands of other warmly dressed patriots in the field between the White House and The Washington Monument. We were able to position ourselves within sight of a big screen but never saw any of the speakers live. By the time the rally began, I could see people clear to the horizon in every direction. Every road leading into the area was packed with people who obviously stood in the cold for three to four hours without being able to hear or see anything. The media estimated 30,000 in attendance, but as Trump often said at his rallies, if only they would turn their cameras around to show how many people were really there. Maybe 30,000 were in the inner circle, but I’ve heard the total estimated as high as two million. I feel more than safe settling on a million plus.
The hours went by fast even though we were stomping our feet to stay warm. We chatted with the people closest to us and found out they were from California, Wyoming, Ohio, New Jersey, and many other states. It was a crowd of all ages, all races, and all socio-economic groups. I saw an old woman on a walker and more than a few babies in strollers. A young man on crutches was right in front of me. A dad handed his cell phone up to the young daughter he’d hoisted onto his shoulders and then turned slowly so she could capture the scope of the crowd on video. “Wow! Wow!” she kept saying over and over. Teenage boys climbed some of the tall trees near us in order to see better. Our section of the crowd laughed together when one of them with a bullhorn kept repeating, “Jason, come to the big tree!” Jason didn’t have a prayer of finding his friends. There were a lot of big trees!
Finally the event began. I wish I could tell you what it felt like to be in a crowd of a million patriotic Americans saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing all the words to the National Anthem. When a pastor began the invocation I bowed my head and looked down at my feet amazed that I was really there, standing on that one square foot of earth in my nation’s capital. Standing up for freedom of speech and the electoral process. Standing up for my country.
All I can tell you is that this was the most peaceful, polite, respectful crowd I’ve ever been in. Not once was I so much as jostled or bumped. At one point my friend’s back was hurting because we’d been standing for so long, so she went down on one knee. A woman near us handed over a bottle of ibuprofen and a young man behind me passed up a bottle of unopened water. That’s the kind of people we were with. We had sacrificed time and money to be there, yes, but gazing across that crowd I realized many of them had sacrificed much more—possibly driving for days. These were all good people concerned for the future of their country.
As the strains of Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American” filled the air we focused on the screen and saw President Trump take the stage. He didn’t wear a MAGA hat, just a long black overcoat and red tie. His mood was subdued, and he was visibly moved as he looked out over what he said was the largest crowd he’d ever seen. Like each of us, he was encouraged to know that so many Americans still believed in truth, justice and the American way! We collectively breathed in courage, and breathed out hope.
You can read the transcript of Trump’s speech for yourself. In no way did we feel that we were being incited to riot. Those who take such expressions from the President as “we must fight like hell” for the truth and call it insurrection must have been absent from school the day they taught the lesson on metaphors. He enumerated the facts proving the election was fraudulent, yes, but he encouraged the crowd to go to the Capitol by saying we should, “peacefully and patriotically walk to the Capitol and make our voices heard.”
In case you don’t know, Jan. 6 was the day Congress was to certify the Electoral College votes. Several key swing states had asked for time to re-certify their votes because they discovered irregularities that would change the election results. Vice President Pence could have granted that permission to those states but opted not to for what he said were constitutional reasons, which was his prerogative.
Many say Trump’s speech and Pence’s decision combined to incite the riot that caused the storming of the Capitol building that afternoon, but even the FBI has confirmed that the riot was planned far in advance and included instigators previously arrested at some of the riots of last summer. The riot would have happened regardless of what was said by any of the speakers at the rally we attended. Besides, it started well before the President finished his speech.
My strongest testimony that we were not incited to riot comes from the fact that after the rally my friend and I began walking up Constitution Avenue toward the Capitol. At 68 and 72 there is NO way we would have moved in that direction if we thought we were walking into a violent mob. We walked about a quarter of a mile surrounded by other happy, celebratory rally attenders, but she was very cold. I convinced her we wouldn’t be able to hear what went on inside from outside the building anyway, so we popped into the nearest metro station and went back to our hotel to warm up. When we turned on the TV we couldn’t believe our eyes, because in our two days in D.C. we hadn’t seen a single agitator nor been afraid for one second.
By any account, the attack on the Capitol was horrible, incorrigible, and disgusting. It was surreal to see that was happening less than two miles from where we were, but we couldn’t watch the news for long because the commentators were all talking about “the rally that incited the riot.” We knew that wasn’t true, and we didn’t want to be robbed of our experience.
The next day, my friend and I still wanted to do some sightseeing before heading to the airport. Our Uber driver took us to the Jefferson Memorial where we encountered only a few other people, no security guards and no park service employees. He waited to take us to the Lincoln Memorial where we saw more people but still no security of any kind. It was a crisp, blue sky day, and our nation’s capital city was as awe-inspiring and inviting as ever.
It’s taken over a month for me to be able to write about my experience in D.C. I guess I wanted to hold it close to my heart. I couldn’t take the chance that people would tell me I didn’t experience what I knew I did. Besides, the Lord has told me He’s more concerned about my being LIGHT than being right, and I didn’t want to stir up controversy. But when a friend told me she heard someone say, “You mean there were other people in D.C. that day besides the rioters?” I knew I had to share my eyewitness account.
Yes, there were other people there. So in the days to come as the media spin swirls around you, remember that there are still millions of Americans who seek and hold fast to the truth. Peaceful, law-abiding Americans. I know. I was there.