Locals react to DC violence

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
On the scene

Images from Washington D.C. on Jan. 6. Hank Muntzer photo

What unfolded around the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. last Wednesday, Jan. 6, will likely join 9/11 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy as placemarkers in people’s memories—dark points in history that everyone alive will remember the rest of their lives—and hold their own perspectives upon.

We talked to some folks around Dillon—one of whom was at and inside the Capitol Building that day in Washington D.C.—for their views on the events of Jan. 6.

“That was a terrible action and a wrong action. That is not how change is made or work is done in this country,” said Tom Welch, who represents Dillon in the Montana House of Representatives, currently in session in Helena.

“I am saddened by it, honestly,” commented Welch, a Republican who said he had not noticed any change in how people were behaving at the state legislature since the violence at the federal legislature last week.

“I think we all got our eyes opened. None of us expected or saw that coming, and now maybe we’re a little more cautious,” said the House District 72 representative since 2017.

“The most noticeable thing is that we are all more aware as individuals of our surroundings and what is going on,” said Welch.

“But everyone is being professional and cordial and getting along, which is usually how things go here,” said Welch of a demeanor far different than the one that took over the US Capitol Building last week.

“I was shocked, I was saddened to see people that would incite violence toward my country,” said Dillon Police Chief Don Guiberson of the dramatic actions that occurred in and around the US Capitol Building last week.

“If you are in a protest and vandalize or do anything violent, I think that the full gamut of the law needs to be brought down onto you. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Portland, Oregon, or Washington D.C.” said Guiberson.

“We need to protect our rights and our ability to protest. We need to protect our freedom of speech. What we don’t need to protect is criminals that use political beliefs as something to glom onto so they can commit criminal acts. That’s not what these protests are about,”

Hank Muntzer, a Dillon resident who has held several peaceful demonstrations here in recent months to express support for President Trump, travelled to Washington DC last week to take part in the rally preceded the outbreak of violence at the Capitol Building.

“I was in the capital for an hour when Trump spoke,” recalled Muntzer, a local business owner.

“It was like a giant setup. I can’t tell you what went on there for sure. But we heard stuff afterwards that Antifa and some other people there were staging some things. We don’t know—we didn’t see them. But I did see some people with helmets on and stuff like that,” said Muntzer, organizer of several recent MAGA parades in Dillon designed to express support for President Trump.

“When we got to the Capitol there—I don’t know how many, maybe a million people,” estimated Muntzer of the size of the crowd present that day.

“I am telling you, there were so many friggin’ people, it was unbelievable. Pennsylvania Avenue—completely a wall of people walking down it. They weren’t more than a foot apart, all the way back to the Washington Monument, and they were headed for the Capitol,” said Muntzer of the crowd he believes official estimates have underestimated.

“When we got there, only half the people had arrived. It was just an enormous amount, swarming all around,” said Muntzer.

“So, we get there and then we start hearing ‘booms’ going off. It was the tear gas. I didn’t know what it was. And people were coming down, woman were coming down, saying, ‘We were sprayed with pepper spray’ and all that kind of stuff. So, all of us just go running up there to figure out what the heck is happening. So, we get up to the top there, and they are just indiscriminately shooting and spraying stuff,” remembered Muntzer.

“So, they kind of pushed us all up to the top of—I call them the bleachers at the top of the Capitol there, you know, for the front door. So, we ended up right up there. We’re standing right up there, and all of a sudden, they are pepper-spraying us and canistering us with gas canisters, and then they open the doors and invite us all in,” said Muntzer of the moment he and others headed into the Capitol Building where members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives retain offices and convene in the House and Senate chambers to conduct official business.

“So, we get inside there and we’re going, ‘Our house! Our house!’ you know, just kind of chanting it, and just walking around in these rooms and standing there. And we’re in there about 15 minutes or so, and I was talking to the Capitol Police there, and the next thing you know, they started spraying all of us and pushing on us, and we had no place to go because we were all packed in there like sardines. Then we start pushing back against them, then it would stop for a minute and it would start again,” said Muntzer of what he characterized as a sort of ambush.

“I felt like we walked into a trap, looking back on it,” concluded Muntzer.

“It looked like it was an armed insurrection by an extremist group. It sounded like the extremist group was a sub group,” said Mary Jo O’Rourke of what she could tell from watching mainstream TV news and reading newspaper coverage of the protestors who turned violent in Washington D.C. last week.

“There was a larger protest of people protesting whether the elections were fair and honest, and that was the larger protest. I don’t know how many people were part of that protest. But somehow some splinter group broke off and stormed the Capitol and entered the Capitol, and five people are dead,” added O’Rourke, a member of the Dillon City Council.

“I think it is probably the saddest day for our democracy in our lifetime,” said O’Rourke.

“I’m just appalled and I am just hoping things will get better,” commented Guiberson.

“What I think we need as a society is to understand that no matter who is president, you are not going to find someone you believe in 100 percent,” added the longtime law enforcement officer.

“I have been kind of pondering this myself a bit. I’ve been thinking about how we react here to different things—how we react here to Black Lives Matter, as opposed to how we react the alt right. Or how Seattle or Portland reacts to different things. It’s almost like we react to what we don’t understand. I think it’s human nature that we react to what we don’t understand,” offered Guiberson.

“All you hear from anymore are these people on the extremes. Both sides have these extremes that are just not reasonable. Yet ninety percent of us are in the middle,” said the police chief.

“I think things will be okay. I still have faith in us as a society. I meet people every single day who have a difference of opinions, and they are just good people. I am just hoping that shines through,” continued Guiberson.

“I think if everybody just stepped back and took a deep breath, I think people might realize that we’re really not that far apart.”