A year later, some locals still sparring over nature of riot

Women from Oklahoma, including from left Debra Proctor, Ruth Brelsford, and Sherry Wallis, flew, drove, and rode on chartered buses to take part in the Women's March on Washington.

One year ago, protesters breached the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the presidential election results of 2020, and in reflection, northeastern Oklahoma residents are debating what happened and why – and they hope it won't happen again.

Many, including political scientist educators, believe it is important to address the issue, because they say false narratives have a strong effect on democracy.

“We need to remember this event because the intent was clear. America could cease to exist should some peoples’ intents come to fruition, but hopefully we won’t get to that point,” said Jason Nichols, a former Tahlequah mayor who teaches political science at NSU.

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, said that because he wasn’t on the scene at the Capitol that day, it's difficult to describe what happened.

“There’s a lot of mixed messages from that activity. They are still trying to get out, whether they exercised their freedom,” he said. “I don’t think I’d call it an insurrection. History will decide on that one.”

Pemberton believes that in the future, there's little risk of another breach, because the Capitol building will be better prepared and personnel will have learned from past events.

“There was crashing and busting of windows. There was from the sublime to egregious,” said Pemberton. “There were people doing things that were illegal, which needs to be taken into account, and they need to be punished for it.”

Cherokee County party leaders also shared their thoughts on the event.

“It was an assault on our American democracy. It seems that one year later, the assault is still going on,” said Yolette Ross, Cherokee County Democratic Party chair. “It is taking place by so many Republicans who are whitewashing history, by saying it either didn’t happen, or it wasn’t as bad as we like to think it was.”

Many, including Ross, have explained that the insurrection must be taken seriously because the Capitol was breached, destruction of public property took place, and lives were threatened, including that of then-Vice President Mike Pence.

“People died as a result of this. In my opinion, it was incited by a president who was defeated in the election,” said Ross.

As the riot unfolded, then-President Donald Trump was reportedly watching the events on TV. NPR reported on Dec. 4 that U.S. Rep Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and vice chair of the select committee overseeing the riot probe, condemned Trump, and noted that she has received “firsthand testimony” that first daughter Ivanka Trump encouraged her father to call off the violence.

“I think it’s very frightening that it even occurred – at the highest office of our land, with an unstable person who promoted it, approved it, fed it, and encouraged it,” said Debra Proctor, former Cherokee County Democratic chair. “Sean Hannity was begging him to stop. His children were begging him to stop. To go into denial helps no one, regardless of our party. It isn’t healing division; it is feeding it.”

Proctor said many Republican senators condemned Trump at the time. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called his actions “disgraceful” on Feb. 13, only to backtrack later on his words Feb. 25.

“We should be appalled. The majority party at the time, the GOP, disavowed it, and they were genuine. They gave news releases and they were honest on how atrocious it was. Within a few days and weeks, the thoughts completely turned around like it was the Twilight Zone,” she said.

On the Tahlequah Daily Press Facebook page, readers were invited Monday to give their thoughts.

“I have read parts of the investigation results. It is frightening and chilling what all went on and who all were involved, as well as what could have happened,” said Deborah Payton.

Kay Casady is upset at how Republicans have changed the narrative of the Jan. 6 events.

“Some would have us believe that it was a peaceful group, holding hands and singing kumbaya. But that is simply not the truth. It was a violent mob armed with metal pipes and ball bats and tear gas cannisters. Many were wearing riot gear to this so-called peaceful march. It was carefully planned far in advance," she said. "I am as angry today as I was that day, and I hope that every single person is punished. The world knows exactly what it was and no amount of sugar coating and denial will change that."

Some commenters maintained the event was not an insurrection.

“It was a mostly peaceful protest,” said Warren Myers.

Cherokee County Republican chair Josh Owen was reached out to by phone. After a brief conversation, he said that he had to go into a meeting and did not return the phone call by press time. State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, could not be reached by press time.

What you said

In a Tahlequah Daily Press website poll, readers were asked: “In hindsight, how do you feel about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection? Choose the answer that most closely corresponds with your opinion.” In response, the majority of voters, 67 percent, said it is an extremely serious and could foreshadow a threat to American democracy, and those responsible should be prosecuted. Six percent of respondents believe it was pretty serious, but no threat to American democracy, although those responsible should be prosecuted. Fifteen percent said it was just a protest that got out of hand, and 12 percent said it was a lawful protest protected by the Constitution and that the investigation should cease.

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