Capitol Breach

In this photo from Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021, Trump supporters beset a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

For a lot of local conservatives, revisiting the chaotic Washington, D.C. events of Jan. 6 from a year ago is a total non-issue; a needless way for national media and political adversaries to keep aflame the spirit of fearful divisiveness that’s permeated partisan discourse over the past 12 months.

“It’s not a current topic that preoccupies anyone in the local [Republican] party,” longtime Cullman County GOP member Ken Brown said on Wednesday.

“I’m on the executive committee of the local party. We met just last night. Nobody brought the issue up at all. We had all the leadership of the local GOP in one place, for an hour and half, and it never came up once. We’re focused on qualifying people to run in the next election. We’re not talking about January 6.”

For others, perhaps fewer in number in conservative bastions like Cullman, there’s a little more to it than that.

“I see it as a terribly dark day in our country’s history,” said Ernest Hauk, a retired local educator who describes himself as a left-leaning independent voter. “Time and time again, efforts have been made to show that that election was ‘stolen,’ and every single time it has come back that, no, it was not. I think when we get to a point where people feel like they can storm the Capitol and try to stop the certification of an election just because their candidate did not win, it’s a travesty.”

Politically active conservatives in Cullman County find that a tough argument to accept, especially in terms of how last year’s Capitol protests have been framed by national media —and that includes how they themselves have been portrayed for supporting it.

Two people with longtime Cullman connections spoke with The Times about their own presence at the capitol on Jan. 6 of last year, but each did so on condition of anonymity. Social media and news media, they said, has been a breeding ground for vilification of well-meaning conservatives who took part in the Jan. 6 demonstrations. For the past 12 months, they added, it’s inflated the personal cost of confiding in traditional news outlets their unwavering support for the protests, as well as for former President Donald Trump.

“I went up there with a friend of mine who lives in the Warrior area, as well as with my wife and my 15 year-old daughter,” said one Jan. 6 participant named Steve, who asked to be identified only by his first name. “We were going there to protest; to demonstrate; to have our voices heard. We did not agree with how the presidential election was handled, and we were all convinced that it was not handled legitimately and that the outcome presented was not the true outcome.”

Steve said he and other Alabama conservatives who made the trip to Washington, D.C. didn’t witness violence, political extremism, or incitement to subvert the functioning of government.

“Everybody that I saw — out of thousands and thousands of people — were just like me. They were there to have their voices heard; not to tear anything up or break anything or to hurt anybody,” he said. “They had no interest in going into the capitol building — unless, of course, they were welcomed by the authorities to do so. I never came across anybody with that type of intention.

“…I do think that we are being portrayed [by mainstream media] in a way that is just the opposite of the facts,” he added. “There’s no better way for me to describe it…I was taking my daughter up there for a lesson; for her to learn how we can participate in how our system of government works. Well, she got a little bit of a different lesson — one that showed her that maybe, in fact, that’s not so true.”

Former local GOP party chair Steve Cummings said on Wednesday that none of his conservative friends and acquaintances bear any resemblance to the extremist side of the protest that television news networks are highlighting today — or for the past year.

“They’re totally going with a narrative,” he said. “Of course the media narrative is going to be that it was all Trump’s people instigating acts of violence. But if you look at the timeline, he delayed his opening speech that day on purpose. He wasn’t even through with his speech when the Capitol riots started.

“I think most of us here are skeptical at best that Trump was involved, as far as motivating a riot is concerned,” he added. “Obviously about half of us think it’s a false flag, that it was something that Democrats did to make Trump supporters look bad. They — someone — kind of hijacked our event; an event that was meant to be peaceful. I know several people who went to Washington that day, and that was not their intention from the start. They weren’t there to incite a riot.”

A Cullman woman who asked not to be named described to The Times what she observed in Washington, D.C. as part of a bus group who attended the demonstrations. Like Cummings, she said the people who were there to support the president weren’t the kind of people who would accept — much less instigate — violent conduct.

She said the bus was “very spirit filled” with “a lot of prayer” and recalled people singing ‘God Bless America.’

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