By Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger
About 50 Vermonters made the trip to Washington on a coach bus that left Vermont Tuesday night, Jan. 5.
With a mixture of pride and defiance, the organizer who helped 51 people travel to Washington, D.C., for Wednesday’s planned demonstration at the Capitol building described a festive occasion where like-minded people shared stories and ideas.
“The congeniality of the group was apparent from the beginning,” wrote Ron Lawrence, chair of the Essex town Republican committee. He collected names and money for the bus trip and wrote a summary afterward. “One person brought a ukulele. There was singing at times, prayers, and conversation that often touched on professions of faith.”
Lawrence’s account also sought to dispel worries about the Covid-19 crisis that has Vermonters under strict orders to quarantine if they leave the state and return. The bus, with a capacity of 55, had 51 passengers — defying state rules that buses travel at half-capacity to minimize the risk of Covid-19 infection. Lawrence said he himself is quarantining and plans to be tested — though he added that his wife is a teacher.
But Lawrence said he doesn’t think everyone must do the same.
“First of all, there is no indication that anyone is sick,” he said. “And, I’m sure that participants will be taking appropriate steps to care for their loved ones back at home.”
The Vermonters’ trip to the Capitol has spurred condemnation and conversation in the state, where Democrats in the Legislature have called for President Donald Trump’s removal from office and Republican Gov. Phil Scott has been one of just a few top officials in his party to immediately urge the ouster of the president.
Many Vermonters who traveled to the U.S. Capitol posted video from their trips on Facebook, although some also took the video down as criticism of the riot mounted late Wednesday and through the day Thursday.
Five people at the Capitol died after a mob of pro-Trump demonstrators broke barriers and windows to stream into the Capitol building, ransacking lawmakers’ offices and clashing with police. The protest had been organized to disrupt Congress’ ceremony that day to certify the election of incoming President Joe Biden.
A man who identifies himself on Facebook as John Lyddy, an unsuccessful candidate for the state Senate this year from southern Vermont, said he saw the young woman who had been shot. She later died.
“Guns are next,” Lyddy posted Friday, Jan. 8. “Maybe the week after the inauguration.”
Lyddy, who posted his phone number in one of his Facebook messages, did not return calls.
The FBI is now circulating photos of intruders on social media and asking for the public’s help in identifying them. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said law enforcement officials in all states are working with the FBI to find people who were inside the Capitol. Tips are pouring in, law enforcement officials said.
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan issued a press release Friday explaining that if a citizen of Vermont traveled to Washington D.C. for the sole purpose of participating in a peaceful protest, but during that protest spontaneously committed a crime, such as assault or destruction of federal property, it “would be prosecutable in courts in the District of Columbia, not in Vermont.”
“If a citizen conducted part of the illegal activity in Vermont or conspired in Vermont to commit a federal crime in Washington D.C. and then traveled there to commit that crime, the individual would be prosecuted in Vermont,” she wrote.
Vermont residents have sent a torrent of information to media outlets and the FBI, including a list of the people who were on the bus and screenshots showing protesters very close to the Capitol whom they had identified as Vermonters.
Lawrence said that, to his knowledge, nobody from his party invaded the Capitol building. “Storming the building or creating a threatening situation was NOT at all characteristic of the gathering, or the people who participated in it,” Lawrence said. “Frustration levels are very high. I hope that our representatives can see that. But we are also a law-abiding people.”
When the Vermont bus arrived in Washington, the passengers formed subgroups and quickly found themselves separated from each other in the crowds of Trump supporters.
“While we were all maneuvering and bumping into one another, EVERYONE was incredibly understanding and friendly!” Lawrence wrote. “There were many exchanges as we worked our way around. It was fun to ask where people were from. Lots of advice and well wishes were exchanged.”