By Dr. Karlyn Borysenko
It’s been almost a year since I attended my first Trump rally and left the Democratic party after being a member for 20 years.
I never expected to become a Trump supporter and I certainly never expected to be part of a protest that stormed the United States Capitol Building. But that’s exactly where I ended up on January 6th, 2021. In the last day, we’ve seen a lot of reporting about what happened at the Capitol, some of it true and some not. I want to offer a different perspective based on my experience there.
Before we get started, I have to offer the compulsory disclaimer: I condemn the violence that occurred and break-in into the Capitol Building, absolutely and unequivocally. I condemn it in exactly the same way that I condemn Antifa and BLM's violence for months after the death of George Floyd.
But the reality is that, just like the BLM protests, there were many more people who were there peacefully than those who were rioting. Our first amendment protects our right to peaceful protest. That’s true if you’re peacefully protesting for BLM, and that’s true if you are protesting to support President Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter if you like the cause that someone is a protestor for or not. Their rights are still protected.
There is a much bigger picture to this event that is being overlooked by almost everyone who has covered it. I believe the event was entirely predictable and entirely preventable. And yet, I also think something was compelling about it. But before we get into that, I have to share how I ended up there.
Since I left the Democratic party, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Trump supporters, and I feel I have a good understanding of their perspective. I was fortunate to be able to travel as a member of the #WalkAway core speaking team during the summer and the fall and spoke at over a dozen rallies in major cities all over the country. I’ve seen their humanity and their love of their country and its founding principles. They taught me to love America again after the Democratic party had managed to convince me it was a horrible, racist country.
I came to Washington DC on January 6th because I believe strongly that the allegations of voter fraud deserve a proper investigation, and that the voices of 74 million Americans who voted for President Donald Trump should be heard. And if this was to be the last Trump rally of all time, I wanted to make sure I was there and saw for myself what occurred, knowing that the media was painting this as a coup when it was not.
The first part of the day was fantastic. The line to get into the Ellipse was 2 miles long before 7 am! Being that I’m not that much of an early bird, I spent most of the morning in the overflow area in front of the Washington Monument. People were in great spirits, thrilled to be there. Spontaneous chants of “USA! USA! USA!” were heard while people were waiting for the event to start.
One of the most touching moments I had in the morning was when I decided to take a stroll down to the Lincoln Memorial to kill time. As I entered that awe-inspiring monument, I was greeted by a group of Trump Supporters singing “America the Beautiful,” with the acoustics of the memorial being mesmerizing. It was one of the most patriotic moments I’ve experienced in my whole life! When they finished, the crowd applauded, and then the singing started again. I don’t know how long they went on for.
I headed back to the event, and as I approached, I heard Donald Trump Jr. speak, encouraging people to keep fighting, make their voices heard, and stand up for what they believe in. This is important: When the left hears words like “fighting” coming from people on the right, they instantly think they are advocating for physical violence. This could not be further from the truth. But no one on Wednesday – NO ONE – was advocating for violence. We have to encourage Trump supporters to fight because they have been so beaten down by the left that they are afraid to share their political beliefs with anyone.
Remember, I spoke at rallies all over the country for months, and after each and every one of them, we would hear excuses from Trump supporters who wanted to attend but backed out due to fear. They were afraid of Antifa. They were afraid of BLM. They were afraid a neighbor would see them wearing a MAGA hat.
For the last five years, ever since President Donald Trump came down that escalator, Trump supporters have been portrayed as the dregs of society in every possible way. They’ve been called deplorable, white trash, racist, Nazis – every name in the book. They’ve been censored, canceled, and fired from their jobs because of their political beliefs. Beliefs, by the way that are not extreme – things like small government, the first amendment, and the belief that America is the greatest country in the world. Trump supporters are kind, generous, decent people who have been in an abusive relationship with every major institution in their country for years.
We have to encourage people to keep fighting for what they believe because it is every human being’s God-given right to express their opinions and their perspective, and the corporate media in this country has tried to take that right away from people with who they disagree politically, influencing society to hate them in order to create outrage that will score them ratings.
After Donald Trump Jr.’s speech, I decided to walk back to my hotel for a bit of a rest and watch President Donald Trump’s speech streamed on the Internet. The reality is that the sound was horrible at the event, and if you were in the overflow area, it was very hard to hear anything (anyone who thinks that Trump egged on his supporters might be surprised to know that most of them couldn’t hear what he was saying). So, I walked back, got some food, and listened to Trump’s speech in my room where it was warm…and he didn’t say anything that I hadn’t already heard from him a dozen times. Trump’s speech was not out of the ordinary for anyone that has actually listened to Trump’s speeches. I truly didn’t think too much of it.
When it was almost over, I decided to head up to the Capitol, not because Trump had said to in his speech, but because I thought there was another rally there. It had been announced by the Stop the Steal campaign that they hold a rally at the Capitol after the first event, so I put on my shoes and walked the mile and a half in that direction.
As I got closer, I could see the crowd was HUGE and was still streaming in from the Ellipse event. There were tens of thousands of people there, and everyone I encountered was in good spirits. Since I believed there would be another rally with more speakers, this didn’t strike me at all as out of the ordinary – it looked like a normal rally from afar.
And then I noticed a little mist over the crowd closest to the Capitol. Someone said, “oh, they’re tear-gassing them.” I thought, “you’re making things up; why would they be tear-gassing them?” But I pushed forward because I wanted to get a closer look at what was going on. At some point, I realized that people had climbed onto the scaffolding in front of the building and thought, “why did those idiots do that?” Loud bangs kept going off, followed by mist and people yelling, “they’re tear-gassing them again!” Men on megaphones yelled for people on the lawn to keep moving forward.
I realized that something was wrong and tried to use my phone to get on Twitter to see what was happening, but there was no service. This is a critical point to understand: The vast majority of the people at the Capitol had no way to see the news or know what was going on inside the building. All they knew was what they could see with their own eyes, and unless you were up by the doors, there was no way to see that the building had been breached.
I kept pushing forward to see and got up to the front by the bleachers constructed for the inauguration. I could see the crowd climbing the scaffolding and the Capitol police firing tear gas. No one around me was violent – they were all just standing there watching. One canister of it hit a gentleman right in front of me, and people in the crowd yelled to get down and cover your face.
At this point, I had not seen any violence coming from the protestors. I only saw the police firing tear gas. Among the protestors, I felt completely safe. They were protecting each other and were kind, even in good spirits. This was their Boston Tea Party moment! An act of civil disobedience, sure, but these were not violent revolutionaries. They didn’t want to stage a coup. They wanted their voice to be heard and their concerns to be taken seriously.
Once the gas cleared, I moved to the side and could see that people were going under the scaffolding to climb the Capitol steps. At first, I did not want to go – storming the Capitol was far outside of my comfort zone as it was. But there were a few factors that changed my mind.
First, I knew exactly how the media was going to report on this and I knew it wouldn’t be good. I’ve had the privilege of developing a platform since I walked away from the Democratic party and if I was there anyway, I believed I had a responsibility to be one of the people telling the story of what happened because I knew the media would not.
But the second reason I continued was actually more important. We’ve talked about how Trump supporters have been beaten down, demeaned, and insulted for years. Think of a woman who was in an abusive relationship, and finally, one day, she realizes that she deserves better and finds the courage to fight back. That’s the day she finds her inner strength, and that is a sight to behold.
On January 6th, I watched many Trump supporters find their inner strength. I’m not talking about the ones who were violent or broke into the building. I’m talking about the average people who were just there to stand their ground and say to the most powerful people in the world, “you answer to us.” It was an exquisitely beautiful thing to watch little old ladies, decked out in their finest fur to spend a day out in the cold weather and who had probably never done anything like this in their lives, to be the most passionate ones there. They love their country so much and were there to demand the attention of their government.
Every major institution in this country has emotionally assaulted Trump supporters for years. Things were already bad enough. Then 2020 happened, they were told that they weren’t allowed to run their businesses. To add insult to injury, they were forced to watch the Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots for months as the media called them “peaceful protests.”
So, you have an emotionally abused population that feels that their own elected representatives are not listening to them. What exactly did you expect to happen?
The media and the politicians who never denounced the violence and the destruction of Black Lives Matter and Antifa created this scenario. They want to blame Trump for it (they blame him for everything else, so why stop now), but the reality is that this is entirely their fault. They taught the group that was at the Capitol that this behavior was not only acceptable but encouraged. They taught them that this is the way change happens.
It wasn’t until I walked up the Capitol steps and made it to the front of the building that I realized people were inside. I saw people looking out through windows waving. I saw an American flag raised and people chanting “USA” again. And I saw people trying to break windows, but I also saw people yelling at them to stop. Rumors started spreading that someone in the building had been shot. At that point, I thought it best to leave and just walked away through a crowd of people who were mostly standing around and watching.
There were at least 50,000 people at the Capitol on January 6th, and the vast majority of them did not go in the building. They did not engage in violence. They did not destroy property. They were there to stand up for themselves on behalf of 74 million Americans that voted for Donald Trump and their story is not being told. And if this reality is not reckoned with, I fear we are headed to a civil war. You cannot demonize half of the country for years and expect them to sit back and say, “thank you, sir, may I have another.”
In the coverage I have seen in the last 24 hours, we have lost the nuance of this moment. People are calling for Trump to be removed, saying they will impeach him if he’s not, calling for his unpersoning and the unpersoning of everyone who loves him.
They do not understand that they created this moment by emotionally abusing his supporters for years, and then showing them that they would look the other way when extremists on the left engaged in violence, riots, looting, and destruction for months on end with no repercussions.
If the tens of thousands of people that were there had wanted to commit violence and destruction, the damage would have been far worse. Tragically, people died in the event, and that should not be overlooked (unlike when the left wouldn’t acknowledge the loss of David Dorn’s life, but I digress). However, if that crowd were truly as violent as the media claims, the damage would have been far worse. And if that crowd had been BLM and Antifa, we likely would not have a Capitol building today. Judging by the BLM riots in Washington DC in May, where ariel photos showed fires being set up and down the streets, there minimally would have been a lot of fire damage done to the inside.
Think of that abused woman again, the one who finally found the strength to stand up for herself and fight back after years of torment. Now, imagine that everyone in her life told her she had no right to stand up for herself and to go back to the abuser and continue to take that abuse. That’s what the media and the politicians are doing to Trump supporters today.
Violence should never be condoned, and I am denouncing the actions of the people that broke into the building in the strongest possible terms. However, a society that doesn’t understand the nuance of history is doomed to repeat it. In our case, given the response I’ve seen and the continued demonization of Donald Trump and the people who voted for him, I fear for our future as a society. When you allow riots to go on for months with no consequences, you create the environment for this to occur. We are only lucky that Trump supporters are generally the least violent people you’ll meet. I didn’t feel afraid for a moment being surrounded by them, and my heart aches for how they are being treated today.
Dr. Karlyn Borysenko is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and executive coach that became an accidental political commentator when an article she wrote about attending a Trump rally and calling for an end to the political divisiveness went massively viral, garnering 3 million views in less than one week. She has been featured on Fox News, Glenn Beck, Harvard Business Review and NPR among others. In addition to contributing to UncoverDC she is also a contributor to Forbes.com.