With limited access to social media and cellphone service on the National Mall, news trickled to a crowd supporting President Donald Trump that former Spokane resident Monika Wachowiak was part of Wednesday afternoon.
That included news that Vice President Mike Pence would not personally challenge the election results declaring Joe Biden the winner.
“It was more of like an inferno,” said Wachowiak, who drove 12 hours from her home in Jacksonville, Florida, on Tuesday to attend what organizers called a “Stop the Steal” rally that turned into an occupation of the Capitol.
Prior to that news, the crowd had been largely peaceful, said Wachowiak, who attended Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., four years ago and then served as a precinct committee officer in the local Republican Party. She said she saw Confederate flags, but also Israeli flags, rainbow flags and more. Children were present, and marchers were largely taking care of each other.
But when the crowd passed the Justice Department and began to chant, she said, the doors were shut. That added to the crowd’s feeling that their voices were not being heard, a feeling that she believed propelled many to get into the Capitol.
“They weren’t planning on destruction. They didn’t go after businesses or anything,” Wachowiak said.
Windows were shattered in the Capitol, and a woman was shot and killed inside the building, according to reports. Pictures from inside the House of Representatives showed armed guards pointing guns at people apparently trying to break through the doors.
Wachowiak said she didn’t see any of that, because phone service was down in Washington, D.C. She briefly made contact with her brother, Adam, who was out past a curfew imposed by local authorities, after failing to reach him by phone earlier in the day.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, Wachowiak said. She was struck three times by the bullets, she said.
“I wasn’t engaging in lawless activity,” she said. “This is the first time ever in my life, I’m not backing the blue.”
Wachowiak also criticized U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who announced after the occupation Wednesday that she would now be voting to certify the Electoral College results.
“She’s a coward and a traitor,” Wachowiak said.
Wachowiak said she wanted a forensic audit of “all swing states,” and that she believed many of those who joined her marching on Wednesday would stop their actions if one took place. Such audits conducted in Michigan and Georgia have found no evidence of voter fraud, leading many – including former U.S. Attorney General William Barr – to state that widespread fraud did not occur.
Absent a hearing, Wachowiak said she predicted more division like that on display Wednesday.
“People are calling this the second Civil War,” Wachowiak said, continuing that Wednesday felt like “the first shot.”
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