Vermonters return from Washington, D.C., early Thursday morning
President Donald Trump’s most loyal Vermont supporters had advanced on Washington, D.C., Wednesday with high hopes and mulish conviction. They returned home early Thursday morning in much less of a celebratory mood.
A charter bus ferrying 50 or so Vermonters from the nation's capital pulled into a pitch-black parking lot in South Burlington after 3 a.m., just as Congress finished certifying results that confirmed Joe Biden as the next president. The foot soldiers in Trump’s campaign to overturn the election looked weary as they filed, one-by-one, into the cold, windy night.
They quietly retrieved their bags from luggage compartments, taking care not to grab someone else's "Trump 2020" flag, then offered brief goodbyes to their compatriots. None wore masks.
One man grimaced at a WPTZ-TV crew that had pointed a light and video camera at the returning travelers.
“Is that necessary?” he asked.
“We’re just trying to get some video,” the reporter replied.
The crusaders had failed in their quest to "stop the steal," but only after their movement devolved into one of the more ignominious scenes in modern American history. Pro-Trump extremists overran the U.S. Capitol, scaling the walls, bashing windows and looting its halls. Makeshift barricades inside congressional chambers fell to the fevered mob, and U.S. senators and representatives ran for safety. Police shot one woman dead.
“We’re going into the belly of the beast,” one of the Vermont contingent’s leaders, Ellie Martin of Underhill, had said gleefully on the drive to D.C., according to a video posted online. “We’re going to clean that place out.”
But co-organizer Ron Lawrence, chair of the Essex Republicans, said no one on the bus was “directly involved” in any violent insurrection. Some of the riders did march to the Capitol — at least two boasting T-shirts that read "Biden Sucks, Harris Swallows," and "Trump Those Bitches," according to video footage — but as far as Lawrence knew, none had entered the building. The event, he said in brief remarks outside the bus, had been “wonderful,” “respectful,” and “cordial."
That wasn't the impression other Vermont Republicans had, including Gov. Phil Scott, who called for President Trump to "resign or be removed from office" for inciting the melee. Other state GOP leaders distanced themselves and their party from the bus trip when asked about it during interviews with Seven Days on Wednesday.
The bus departed D.C. for Vermont between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Lawrence said, as some Trump extremists continued their siege of the Capitol.
Lawrence, during an interview outside the bus, parroted a conspiracy theory floating around right-wing media that places the blame for the day’s “shenanigans” on left-wing activists. “The actual storming of the Capitol, my understanding, was actually Antifa,” he said.
He explained that he was “pretty sure” about the claim because some other travelers on the bus had compared photos of the Capitol occupiers with photos from “Antifa websites.”
“The president asked people to go to the Capitol to make a showing, and I think that was a positive thing,” Lawrence reasoned. “It was usurped. Some people made a good thing bad.”
He offered to speak at further length once he got some sleep. It had been a long day, Lawrence said, and he was having trouble finding the right words.