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Backstory: Coldest Stakeout


Published December 29, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 29, 2021 at 2:17 p.m.

Vermonters return from Washington, D.C., early Thursday morning - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermonters return from Washington, D.C., early Thursday morning

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2021.

January 6 wasn't circled on my calendar. COVID-19, not electoral politics, was my reporting focus, so I didn't give much thought to president Donald Trump's Stop the Steal rally planned outside the U.S. Capitol. My to-do list for the day included conducting interviews about Vermont's vaccine campaign, chasing a story involving the Tiger King and following up on some court cases. I was tired, though, because I'd stayed up the previous night watching the vote get tallied in two pivotal U.S. Senate races in Georgia. For fun, I guess.

Once the Capitol "rally" morphed into a violent mob that afternoon, everything else stopped. My colleagues jumped on the story, calling every reachable Vermont Republican and Democrat to get their reactions to the unfolding horrific spectacle.

We also knew that a busload of Trump diehards had chartered a ride from Vermont to the event. Their departure the previous evening from a grocery store parking lot along Route 7 in South Burlington had been in the news. We watched as the riders posted, and later deleted, videos from outside the Capitol. We wanted to know what this group of Vermonters did and saw. I also wanted to know what they thought about the chaos — what they really thought, before the right-wing influencers mobilized and Trump's team disseminated talking points to his faithful followers.

I spent the evening scheming. I knew that the bus was scheduled to depart Washington, D.C., in the late afternoon. The 10-hour drive would put its return at around 2 a.m., though traffic was bound to be bad. What if the trip took several hours longer? I couldn't wait outside the whole 21-degree night.

Alas, there was no other way. I arrived at the dark Hannaford parking lot just before 2 a.m. and waited inside my car, trying not to fall asleep. By 2:45 a.m., I was ready to bail. I started my car, but as I began to drive away, streetlights illuminated something in my rearview mirror. It was a car parked at the opposite end of the long parking lot, with a WPTZ-TV logo emblazoned on its side.

The prospect of being scooped brought a jolt of adrenaline. I turned around. The bus pulled in just after 3 a.m., and the maskless rallygoers stepped out into the cold. Some retrieved the American flags they'd stowed in the luggage compartments. They were tired and a little grumpy, like a football team returning after a defeat on its rival's turf. Yet their spirit had not been broken, I quickly learned, as one of the trip's organizers calmly explained to me that left-wing infiltrators were responsible for the violence. Proof for this theory, he insisted, was already circulating online.

If I hadn't been so tired, I might have asked to see his evidence. Instead I went home and filed my story at 6:45 a.m., just in time to catch a nap before my next interview at 9 a.m.