In the hours and days after the insurrectionist mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, LNP | LancasterOnline sought to talk with county residents who went to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for “Stop the Steal” events. Almost every person contacted declined to speak or never returned messages. This story is based on a review of public posts to social media by Lancaster County citizens. We are describing what they posted, which included many videos and photos. Some of the content relied on has since been taken down.
Daybreak on Wednesday arrived overcast but dry in Washington, D.C.
At around 40 degrees, it was chilly, but certainly bearable for the hundreds of people from Lancaster County who began arriving downtown to march to the Washington Monument. There, later in the morning, they would attend a rally and hear a speech from President Donald Trump in which he asked the crowd to help him overturn the election by marching in force against the Capitol.
Even though Trump’s wild allegations about election fraud have been proven false by audits and found unsupportable by courts across the country, Wednesday’s chaotic violence in the heart of the nation’s capital shows that far too many Americans accept the falsehoods as fact.
So, when Trump took to Twitter on Dec. 18 to say, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!,” his supporters — including many from Lancaster County — were ready to heed his call. Just how much the president’s lies have resonated with them could be seen in their social media posts.
‘Our time to instill fear’
Andy Walker, of New Holland, heard the president’s call.
Walker — who’s been involved in pro-Trump rallies and election protests, including outside Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler’s home in southern Lancaster County — was excited by the president’s message. A few days after Trump’s Twitter post, Walker posted a video to Facebook, shot while he was driving an SUV flying a Trump flag.
In the video, Walker implored “patriots” to rally alongside him in D.C. on Jan. 6.
His Facebook page declares “I Am The III Percent,” a reference to The Three Percenters, a right-wing movement that takes its name from the notion that just 3 percent of the people in the American colonies fought the British in the Revolutionary War.
They consider themselves the 3 percent of principled American gun owners who will resist all efforts to disarm them.
“Our president has called us. Get your asses down there now. There’s no excuse!,” Walker said, in the video before explaining why a strong showing was important.
“You know why antifa wins? You know why Black Lives Matter takes over frickin’ cities? Because we don’t do anything about it,” he said. “They come in numbers and they instill fear in everybody.”
The answer to leftist groups, Walker said, was simple: “This is our time to instill fear. This is our time to take back our cities. Our country. We cannot let this happen guys. If we lose this, we lose our country, we lose our Constitution. We lose our freedom and our rights.”
Walker traveled to Washington with a couple hundred other people from the Lancaster area who rode down in seven Executive Coach buses that left Lancaster County early Wednesday morning.
Shortly after dawn, Walker walked the streets of the nation’s capital toward the Washington Monument. He wore a “Lions Not Sheep” ballcap, and a tactical vest with a walkie-talkie clipped to it.
‘My fingers for battle’
Wednesday morning started with a hearty breakfast of bacon, kielbasa, eggs and a Maxwell House coffee for Samuel Lazar of Ephrata. Before he and his companions left for the rally, he went live on Facebook from the balcony of what could be an apartment leased through a vacation rental service.
The self-described entrepreneur and business owner wore striped camouflage face paint, a camo flak helmet and camo vest. A patch read, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.”
“It’s going to be an eventful day,” Lazar said in the video. “Donald Trump is going to shock the world! We’re ready for war, if we’re needed. … What’s going to happen today is going to be historic. America is going to take back everything, its glory. We’re going to make sure that happens! Freedom!”
Around 8:30 a.m., Lazar encountered Tabitha Valleau, whose Facebook page identifies her as from Lancaster. Both were walking along a Washington street near the White House, and their encounter was captured on her Facebook livestream.
“Four more years,” Lazar said to Valleau.
Later, the video shows Valleau joining the crowd, some carrying “Trump” flags, to chant the lyrics to Twisted Sister’s 1984 song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
A couple minutes later, she chanted “We go all” in response to another marcher’s chant of “Where we go one.”
The call-and-response is the motto of followers of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory in which, The Associated Press described, Trump is secretly fighting deep state enemies and a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibals operating a child sex-trafficking ring. There is no truth to it.
Though a reporter contacted people through Facebook, and tried other means to contact Lancaster County residents who went to Washington, few responded. One who did was Dustin Heisey, 31, a truck driver from East Donegal Township. He took a charter bus that left from Elizabethown.
On Wednesday evening after returning home, he recounted his experience in a Facebook live, criticizing those responsible for the mayhem at the Capitol.
Who exactly that was, he said, was unclear.
“I think there were people there who were trying to push this further than it was supposed to go. I think most of us had good intentions,” he said.
Speaking with LNP on Thursday evening, Heisey maintained that antifa was involved in Wednesday’s violence, though the FBI said Friday there were no indications that individuals tied to the loose-knit progressive movement were involved.
But the antifa disinformation began circulating widely in conservative media within hours of the attack. By Thursday evening, that had apparently sunk in for Heisey. He said that at one point near the Capitol on Wednesday, he overheard two people ahead of him say that they were supposed to turn their hats around — a surreptitious signal to others, perhaps.
He didn’t think anything of it at the time, but said he read later that the hat reverse was what antifa members were doing. Still, he said Thursday night, he couldn’t say if that’s what the people he heard meant or if it was coincidental or something else.
In the Facebook video he posted from home Wednesday night, Heisey said he and a friend walked from the Washington Monument to the Capitol just to see it and arrived before throngs of rioters began forcing their way in.
Heisey said he heard flash-bangs and got some tear gas, even though he was far back in the crowd.
He heard breaking glass.
He said he told people who were doing that that they were idiots and got into a scuffle.
In one of his Facebook live videos from earlier in the day, as people were using a barrier to get over a stone wall outside the Capitol, Heisey said to his friend, “Here’s the thing: What is this going to accomplish? Nothing.”
Donald Dombach, 45, a business owner from New Providence, also posted on Facebook about his experience. He took his 13-year-old daughter. He also confirmed with a reporter on Thursday via Facebook that he was there, but said he saw no violence from where he was.
Dombach said he saw what he called “an antifa group” marching into town as he was leaving.
“They did nothing wrong towards us but still a little scary dressed the way they were,” he posted. “I still did not have any worries but it was a little intimidating.”
Of the violence, he posted: “The media is saying it was violent...it was not except for what ever happened with the group [at the Capitol]. They are a disgrace and hurt our cause. They should all be convicted. However there was no other violence anywhere.”
Lazar, of Ephrata, posted to Facebook on Thursday, acknowledging the violent attack on the Capitol. He wrote: “I hate to see violence happening in our country at this time in our history. I wish for peace and prosperity! However just like in the bible itself it says, there is a time for peace and there’s a time for war. Our constitution allows us to abolish our govt and install a new one in it’s place.”
2 from county arrested Wednesday
Two Lancaster County residents were among those charged for illegal activities related to the Jan. 6 protests and attack on the Capitol.
According to police, Tara Coleman, 40, was charged with unlawful entry and curfew violation. Dakoda Westfall, 23, was charged with curfew violation.
Coleman, whose Facebook page indicates she’s from Strasburg, and Westfall, a 2016 Solanco graduate, could not be reached for comment. Westfall previously was interviewed for an article about a 2016 Trump “thank you” tour in Hershey.