(UPDATED 4 p.m.: Additional comment was included in this story.)
The violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 6, evoked near universal condemnation as news of the troubling event quickly spread worldwide.
Locally, that sentiment was evident among several individuals who shared their thoughts about the chaos that reportedly left four dead, forced lawmakers into temporary hiding and prompted Trump to concede to a peaceful transition of power for the first time on Thursday, Jan. 7.
Even as this story publishes Friday, Jan. 8, Congress was contemplating articles of impeachment against Trump, and pushing for the invocation of the 25th Amendment that would remove the president from office by his cabinet, in the wake of Wednesday’s events.
Aside from the collective disapproval of the violence that surrounded the rioting, some local residents’ reactions varied greatly, reflecting a diverse range of political beliefs.
Former El Centro council member and mayor Jason Jackson said a sense disappointment came over him when he first became aware that rioters had stormed the Capitol Building where lawmakers had gathered to approve the results of the presidential election in favor of President-elect Joe Biden.
Though some objections to the certification of some states’ Electoral College votes was expected and supported by the thousands of citizens who had gathered outside the Capitol in support of Trump, what ultimately unfolded proved shocking.
“It’s not what I would expect from any party or group of individuals,” Jackson said. “Especially people who are flying under the color of patriotism.”
The unrest was another example of the deep political divide that the country is now experiencing, and further proof of many individuals’ inability to “agree to disagree,” he added.
“Now it seems like everything is so personal,” said Jackson, who is a Republican Central Committee of Imperial County board member. “It’s the wrong direction for our country.”
Some of the riotous crowd’s anger leading up to Jan. 6 could have been relieved had Democratic lawmakers made more of an effort to investigate voting irregularities that were reported during the Nov. 3 presidential election, Jackson said.
While acknowledging that such investigations would not have likely changed the outcome of the election, those concerns should not have been outright ignored.
“(The Democrats) didn’t want to give on anything, and it caused people who are conspiracy theorists by nature to think the worst,” Jackson said.
Following the breach of the Capitol, many were quick to blame Trump for inciting the crowd, which he had addressed at a rally moments before on the nearby grounds of the Ellipse near the White House.
Though Jackson said he hadn’t listened to Trump’s speech on Wednesday, he conceded the president’s remarks likely didn’t help the overall situation and were likely a reflection of his future plans for office.
“I think the president is still in campaign mode for 2024,” Jackson said.
Others, including prominent Republicans, were not so deferential, however.
“We just had a violent mob assault the Capitol in an attempt to prevent those from carrying out our Constitutional duty,” U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, stated on her Twitter account on Jan. 6. “There is no question that the President formed the mob, the President incited the mob, the President addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”
One woman who had reportedly breached the building, and who was later identified by media as an Air Force veteran who resided in the Ocean Beach community of San Diego, was fatally shot by a Capitol police officer. In addition, three other individuals reportedly died of medical emergencies, according to national media reports.
Calexico resident Daniel Ramirez said he also was displeased with the violence that transpired at the Capitol yet felt that those gathered there had every right to contest the election results.
“I think it’s right what they were doing,” said Ramirez, a self-described conservative Democrat. “I believe in my heart that this election was a fraud.”
He said he came to such a conclusion, partly, because of his awareness of at least two individuals who had received more than one mail-in ballot for the presidential election.
The widespread use of mail-in ballots this year, largely on account of COVID-19, was an open invitation for electoral fraud, Ramirez said.
Ramirez, who had vied against Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista, for California’s 51st Congressional District in 2012, is no fan of the party’s current leadership and the incoming Biden administration.
A staunch pro-life and pro-family advocate who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, Ramirez currently has large signage affixed to vehicles parked on private property on Highway 98 in Calexico that expresses his displeasure with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“People are upset, and I don’t blame them,” Ramirez, a 76-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said.
Though the outcome of the presidential election was not what Brawley resident and Trump supporter Jim Abatti had wanted, the violence that erupted at the Capitol was unacceptable to him and his fellow Trump supporters.
“We need to find peace within our own country,” Abatti said. “The division cannot continue.”
During Trump’s visit to the Valley in April, he had a presidential challenge coin delivered to Abatti after the local grower and some colleagues had carved “Trump 2020” in an alfalfa field that was on Air Force One’s approaching flight path to Naval Air Facility El Centro.
And while Abatti said he has since put the results of the Nov. 3 election behind him, he still feels a sense of unease about the incoming Biden administration and its proposed far-left agenda, he said.
That concern is largely stoked by instances across the globe where far-left policies have failed to deliver on their promises and instead have only led to further domestic turmoil, Abatti said.
“We’ve seen where they ended up at,” he explained.
The spectacle of Jan. 6 also proved hard for him to fathom considering similar well-attended Trump rallies in the past had occurred without incident. And not by accident, since Trump and his allies have long deemed themselves to be supportive of law and order, Abatti added.
“We really got to support our law enforcement officers,” Abatti said. “Those are the ones that always seem to be targeted and putting them at risk is just not a good thing.”
As the news of the day progressed, county Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Emmet Fried said he had watched with growing alarm as events turned deadly.
As someone who served his country in the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard, Fried said he is in complete support of every American’s constitutional right to protest peacefully.
“But once lawlessness comes into the picture, you’re no longer dealing with a protest; you’re dealing with a riot,” Fried said in a written statement. “At that point, measures must be taken to restore law and order.”
The breach of the Capitol reportedly left more than 50 Capitol police and D.C. Metropolitan police officers injured, Capitol police Chief Steven Sund said on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Jan. 7, he announced his resignation, shortly after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on him to step down.
That same day, several top lawmakers called for an investigation into how the violent crowd was able to storm the Capitol building and disrupt government proceedings.
Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said that as a police officer he can sympathize with the law enforcement officials who were at the scene and who faced a dangerous and difficult situation.
“I have a feeling this caught the police off guard big time,” Gerardo said. “I think they feel betrayed because they thought it was going to be a peaceful protest.”
And while U.S. citizens have a First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly, what had transpired at the Capitol was hard for him to comprehend. In his estimation, those who instigated the uprising are “domestic terrorists,” while those who participated in the turmoil failed to show any presence of mind.
“You can’t hold the Capitol hostage,” Gerardo said.
He also had some advice for Trump, since none of Trump’s attempts to contest the election’s outcome have succeeded either at the state level, with the lower courts, or the U.S. Supreme Court.
“At one point he should concede and move on,” Gerardo said on Jan. 6.
On Jan. 7, Trump did just that.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on Jan. 20,” Trump said in a statement issued through his deputy chief of staff.
“While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”
The admonition came after two months of refusing to concede to Biden and alleging widespread voter fraud that state and federal officials, as well as multiple courts, had determined did not occur to the degree that Trump and his supporters believed.
Following news of the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6, El Centro Mayor Pro Tem Tomas Oliva took to his Facebook account to voice his concerns and question how any Trump supporters could possibly believe such actions were appropriate.
Those unlawful actions were in direct violation of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the different branches of government and their respective responsibilities, Oliva said in a phone interview later in the day. The actions of the riotous crowd also ceded any moral high ground they may have sought and have resulted in a “horrible stain” on the nation’s history, he added.
“This is the foundation of American democracy that is being attacked right now,” said Oliva, who is Democratic Congressman Vargas’ Imperial County representative. “It’s not a protest, it’s borderline sedition.”
Imperial Valley Black Lives Matter coordinator Hilton Smith’s assessment of the deadly occupation of the Capitol was just as damning.
“It was totally domestic terrorism in full view,” Smith said Friday, Jan. 8. “It’s a despicable act, it’s appalling, it’s an embarrassment to our country.”
The lawlessness of the day fit the very definition of an insurrection, he said. In this case, a violent mob attempted to subvert the democratic transfer of power simply because it didn’t agree with the outcome of the election, Smith said.
For that reason, the mob’s presence and actions do not deserve to be equated with the unrest that at times accompanied some of the nationwide protests decrying the killing of Black individuals at the hands of police, he said.
“There’s a difference between getting your feelings hurt (because Trump lost) and demanding justice and equality,” Smith said.
Law enforcement’s response to the protesting mob’s violent attack on Jan. 6 also contrasted greatly with the tactics deployed against participants of Black Lives Matter protests across the country in recent times, he said.
“If it would’ve been Black and Brown people, there would’ve been Mace, rubber bullets, tear gas, and more deaths,” Smith said.