Things ‘really got aggressive really fast,’ says Capitol rally attendee from Butler County

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Butler County Sheriff says U.S. Capitol was ‘taken over by a bunch of thugs.’

Butler County resident Todd Helton was shocked when he saw the Washington, D.C. riot unfold in front of him Wednesday as he was in the crowd marching toward the U.S. Capitol.

When the crowd started its planned march from The Ellipse park next to the White House to the Capitol building, it was peaceful, he said.

“It was great, it was very moving,” said Helton, who was there with his wife and a friend. “I went there as a sign of patriotism, he’s my president. He made promises, he kept them. This is what I basically feel is probably going to be his last speech while he’s in office that I can attend.”

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Trump told the crowd the outcome of the election was an “egregious assault on our democracy” and continued claims of election fraud, and Helton said he believes there was widespread election fraud committed in several states in the Nov. 3 election. However, media reports, federal and state officials, and election experts say no widespread fraud was committed.

Trump told the crowd they were “going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” and “you will never take back our country with weakness.” Helton didn’t see the president’s speech as telling the crowd to storm the Capitol.

But during the walk, Helton said “some agitators started to work on the crowd,” shouting into bullhorns and influencing them to join their raid. He said they “were making the whole movement look bad” and it things changed quickly.

Helton’s group got as close to the Capitol as comfortable, which was on the yard, and then they heard something that sounded like an M-80 firework go off. At that point, things escalated, including seeing what he called “a militant group” of people ― complete with helmets and cameras ― marching in lockstep through the crowd and toward the Capitol.

Mason City Councilman TJ Honerlaw was at the rally and left just before violence broke out, he said to our news partner, WCPO. He said he was shocked to learn what had unfolded after he left.

Like Helton, Honerlaw described the rally as a generally wholesome event, not much different from Mason’s Heritage Day Parade.

“It’s a tragic thing that happened,” Honerlaw said to WCPO. “I mean, watching the news, a woman lost her life and seeing some of that stuff, I was, like, ‘Who are those people?’”

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Miami University Professor John Forren said Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol was “nothing short of shocking.”

“Truly a very dark day in American history. We need to be clear about what happened yesterday. Peaceful protest is a cherished right of all Americans ― and a right that is absolutely essential to protect in a democracy. But what happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday was not that,” Forren said.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said the U.S. Capitol should not have been “taken over by a bunch of thugs,” adding it was aided by the “inaction” of the Capitol Police. There were numerous media and intelligence reports about potential violence on Wednesday, he said.

“This (riot) shouldn’t have happened,” Jones said. “(The police) should have arrested people and they should have stopped it. (The rioters) should have been arrested and they should go to prison.”

“Our country is in a dark place right now and people are divided,” he said. “It should scare the hell out of everybody.”

Jones said the blame also lies at the feet of “all our politicians” nationwide as they “have allowed this to go on.” He also said the news media has some fault “for inflaming this.”

“For the past 14 months all the cities throughout the country … they have been burning buildings, protesting and the police does nothing and they don’t stop them,” Jones said.

Butler County Republican Executive Chairman Todd Hall said he has stated publically “we stand for peaceful and lawful protests as our Constitution guarantees,” but what happened yesterday, as well as around the country this past year by both extreme conservative and liberal factions “is not an American right but criminal riots.”

“There is no one person or party to blame,” Hall said. “Both sides have extremists who have crossed sacred lines over the past several months. We need leadership, open disclosure, unity, and laws that put rioters and violent demonstrators in jail, regardless of what side they are on.”

Staff Writer Michael D. Clark contributed to this story.