Siege of nation's Capitol shocks Oregon: 'Is this really happening?'
Throughout the Portland region, people reacted with shock, anger and disbelief as news came midday Wednesday, Jan. 6, that an angry mob had stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Heather A. Kmetz is an attorney and a partner at the Portland law firm Sussman Shank. Her first reaction upon hearing the news was to remind herself that Jan. 6 is Epiphany, a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.
"Today's the Epiphany! That's when Christians traditionally bless their homes! And celebrate our Lord, right? And the people's house is in shambles and under siege. It's just so sad to me. That we could be in such a state of disarray. It's the siege of our house!"
Kmetz said she had the same reaction to the violent looting and rioting that Portland saw this summer, and which Portland and Salem saw on New Year's Eve. "I can understand where their frustration and anger is coming from," she said. "But I don't understand violence as an answer. I've never understood it."
Jeff Reynolds, a Gresham Republican, condemned the storming of the Capitol. The father of two had attended both the 2012 and 2016 Republican conventions but said he was a "reluctant Trump voter."
"Clearly, I denounce the violence, the break-ins and the breaching of the Capitol. But this is the result of a lot more complex stuff that has happened all year," he said.
Reynolds said "the media has misrepresented everything that has gone on with Black Lives Matter and antifa. Where was everybody calling to stop the riots in Portland all year?"
Reynolds also questioned whether those breaching the Capitol were all Trump supporters. "I saw someone with a hammer and sickle tattoo."
Reynolds, a consultant and writer, calls himself a Tea Party Constitutionalist. "I hope and pray this will end," he said.
"All of the anti-fascists in Portland who were warning about a scenario like this were proven correct," said Civil Rights advocate Zakir Khan, board chair for the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Portland literally tried to warn the entire country for four years of what was coming."
For much of Wednesday, Khan watched the storming of the Capitol unfold on livestreams, Twitter and cable news. In his view, the pro-Trump supporters received light treatment from authorities compared with the barrage of pepper spray, impact munitions and baton swings meted out to demonstrators here over the past months of unrest.
He said the disparity is driven by the white supremacist sympathies lurking inside law enforcement agencies. "I assure you it's not just one person," he said.
Thomas Aschenbrener is a longtime Portlander who now sits on the Manzanita City Council. He said he wavered between shock, disbelief and anger over the news. He has two granddaughters who live in the D.C. area, and he's spoken with them today. "They are scared. They aren't sure what's going to happen next…. Everyone's operating with a high level of fear and concern," he said.
Aschenbrener lived in D.C. for almost 20 years, and watching the desecration of the Capitol angered him, he said.
"Even the president's message: 'We won the election, but go home?' Give me a break," he said.
The current trend toward divisiveness extends well beyond the U.S. Capitol, he added. "Even in small-town, rural Oregon, I'm surprised how much conversation is an attack. It happens all the time."
Wilsonville resident Debi Laue said, "At some point the other side has to be gracious and say we lost and they're not doing that. … I'm hoping there will be healing. I'm a person filled with hope. I'm hoping once we get past this the other side will say 'Let's give them a chance and see what they do with the mess we're in.'"
Greg Leo, a lobbyist for the city of Wilsonville, spent six years as the congressional liaison in D.C. He remembered, when he first went to D.C., heading to the Capitol at night to watch evening proceedings. "There was very little security. It was pretty wide open," Leo said. "Now you can't, as a citizen, walk into the Capitol, which is really sad. The more things like this happen, the harder it is for people to participate, to go to the Capitol and see their government at work.
"We are a nation of laws," Leo said. "We have to do things consistent with the Constitution. Even if you don't like the outcome of an election you still have to abide by the constitution."
Dr. Stephanie Maya López, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, said her first reaction upon hearing the news was disbelief, followed by shock. "Is this really happening?" She asked.
López said she grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960s and '70s, and her mother was active in the Chicano rights movement. "I grew up thinking protest is a positive thing; a positive way to exercise some of our most fundamental rights in this country," López said. "But this is not protest. This has gone beyond protest. This has gone into the clear realm of crime."
She said a siege on an elected body, carrying out the will of the people, "borders on sedition."
Debra Kolodny is a rabbi at Portland UnShul and, for the last year and a half, executive director of Portland United Against Hate. "Tragically, I was not surprised," she said. "The president has been inciting this kind of … irrational response since he began campaigning, more than four years ago."
She said members of her congregation have been reaching out to her all day. One person told her she's considering buying a gun, because she feels unsafe.
"We should say hate is a public health crisis," Kolodny said. That includes taking
White Nationalist movements seriously and anti-bullying education in schools, "So bullies don't grow up to have guns and do things like this."
Ritu Sahni, a local emergency physician, said, "My reaction? It was a mix of disbelief, but 'what did you expect?'"
He said the often-repeated falsehoods of the stolen election incited the anger and violence in D.C. But still, "But it's pretty unfathomable to watch this today."
Lori Kuechler is of Clackamas County, a college professor, grant writer and primary facilitator of the Women's March on Sandy political activity and awareness group. "Today's events represent the first time that the U.S. Capitol has been breached by an enemy since 1812," she said "In this case, an internal faction, led and encouraged and attended on the same day by the executive branch of the United States of America, incited a violent attack upon the Congress of the United States of America while it was in session. The executive branch must therefore be held accountable for an attempted coup and insurrection against of the duly elected representatives of the people, and should therefore be identified as an unconstitutional and illegal act against the people of the United States of America."
Bert Key of Sandy, a retired Sandy High School government teacher, called it an historic day. "I personally think this is what becomes of a breakdown in leadership at all levels. I'd love to be teaching civics again right now," he said. "In 31 years of teaching, I could never have envisioned something like this happening in America.
"It seems like every night I go to bed thinking 'I'll never be more surprised' (about whatever has happened that day) and when I wake up, I'm like 'Wow. What's happened now?' I'm really embarrassed about this because it's made the U.S. the laughingstock of other countries."
Diana Youtsey, a former Portland now living in Ridgefield, Washington, said "I sit in disbelief that police were not prepared for this breach of the U.S. Capitol, especially after four years of President Trump's lawless behavior. This should never have happened and everyone involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Gabrielle Star was out walking her 12 year old retriever Sasha in the rain at dusk on Wednesday.
"I just find it really disturbing and terrifying because of all the misinformation that's being given out in this country. It's brainwashing people, even family members of mine, and it saddens me." She said, referring to the "stop the steal" movement that says Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
"People believe that there were all kinds of falsities in the election, and it's been documented and watched more so than any other presidential election. Those workers have done their due diligence, and they don't deserve to be terrified of this kind of attack. President Trump just disgusts me - I have a hard time calling him president because he's not a man of honor. And a man of honor belongs in that position."
Star heard the news on National Public Radio then watched more on ABC and CNN.
"The last I heard was people had broken into the National Capitol and a man was sitting in Nancy Pelosi's chair in her chambers, with his feet up on her desk. And I'd seen pictures of people carrying the Confederate flag in the (hall of) statuary."
She was amazed at that because on visiting the site three years ago she was screened heavily before entering the building,
"I gave them my phone and my keys, but I had just some headphones, not connected to anything, and they confiscated those too. And then to see these people just barge their way in like that…"
As for the long term consequences, she says
"Well, we already have it. Because of this president there's so many people that are discouraged. So many people that have been attacked verbally. And it reminds me a lot of the riots of the 60s. And I'm also worried for people who are in the police profession, because they do a lot of good for us. Are there problems with it? Absolutely. Are there laws that need to be changed? Absolutely. I just don't want police to feel like the whole world hates them."
Chris Burton has just been for a six mile walk around town and was carrying his groceries home. He followed Wednesday's news from DC on CNN and FOX News, watching the crowds take over the chamber. He had two immediate thoughts.
The first was about when riot police cleared protestors near the White House so President Trump could pose with a bible outside St John's Church.
"My first reaction was the contrast between how Lafayette Park was handled when President Trump cleared what at that time was a peaceful protest. Versus how today was handled. Maybe the Capitol Police were truly overwhelmed, but it sure seemed to me that rioters received a lot more grace than protesters had."
He said Jan 6 had less to do with the symbolism of Congress being scorned, and "more to do with how we are responding to our fellow citizens in one situation compared to a second situation."
Burton's second thought was about Sept. 11, 2001, when a plane hijacked by al-Qaeda suicidal terrorists was heading to the Capitol until passenger took it down, sacrificing everyone on board.
"Those passengers rose up saved the Capitol. And I don't understand how we can memorialize that, but I hope we don't stand by and trivialize this. We memorialize the saving of the capital, I would hate to think we are going to trivialize the denigration of the capitol, meaning get used to it and no one getting prosecuted and business as usual."
He wants to see the Jan. 6 rioters prosecuted.
"If there isn't a legal response to this within mean, we are a nation of laws with the rule of law, then we are no longer making allowances. We're making excuses. And that would be a shame." Asked how the attack made him feel, he had just one word. "Sad."
Barista Paul Ahnn was working behind the counter at his friend's coffee shop Snow Bunny in the Pearl District. He's originally from the DC suburb of Vienna. Ahnn first heard about the attack on the Capitol around 1 pm PST, via Virginia friends on a group chat. "I looked on NPR and watched some videos then came to work at 3pm." He kept one eye on the story as his shift progressed.
"I heard there's like one shot and three injured, and they evacuated the Capitol. I don't know too much about the specifics, but from what I can tell, it just seems like it was a little bit provoked by something that Trump said in a tweet. Obviously, it doesn't seem like it was a very good reaction to how things are going. The context behind all of it is not the most founded," said Ahnn, meaning the narrative that the election was stolen.
Did it feel historic?
"It does seem like a big deal in terms of how like historic it might be. I think I just still need to probably do a little more research and figure it out."
Andrew Hoan, President & CEO, Portland Business Alliance, Greater Portland's Chamber of Commerce, said:
"We thank the Oregon delegation, elected members of Congress, for courageously stepping back in to do their job on behalf of all Americans this evening, despite attacks to disrupt our nation's Capitol building. Thank you to all the people who work daily to protect due process in democracy, and support safe and stable communities, here in Portland or across our state and country."
Rod Hochman, M.D., President and CEO at Providence, Chair Elect American Hospital Association, sent a memo to staff:
It is difficult to go on with our day-to-day work while witnessing the
violence in our nation's capital, and I trust many of you feel the same
way. We condemn this attack on the sanctity of our democracy and pray for
the safety of those working to protect it.
And though it may be difficult to focus on our work, we can also take
solace in our work. As we respond to the pandemic together, our communities
are relying on us now more than ever. We look forward to working with
President-elect Biden and our elected leaders in the House and Senate in
continuing to address the health issues facing our nation.
Loving God, Grant us Your peace and harmony, and an end to fighting and
division. Gift us with compassion to better understand one another, wisdom
and love to assist each other, and trust and patience to live peacefully
with each other. Help us to find ways to work together in unity, selflessly
dedicated to one another and to You. Amen."
Reporters Brittany Allen, Corey Buchanan, Teresa Carson, Zane Sparling and Joseph Gallivan contributed to this news story.
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