When Sharon Rogles arrived near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., around 5 a.m. with her husband and 9-year-old daughter, thousands already had gathered to hear President Donald Trump speak about his quest to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
“We wanted to get there early to stand by the fence where we could see the speech,” Rogles said. “It’s amazing when you see people coming from every state standing for faith and freedom and the voting process no matter who wins.”
Trump spoke just as lawmakers in the House and Senate convened to take the final step toward certifying those results. He encouraged those listening to walk over to the Capitol.
“We are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump told the crowd. “And we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
Rogles, who lives with her family in Waynesville, said the atmosphere was festive before Trump spoke.
“There was family there. There were kids. It was awesome,” she said. “There were people praying and pastors getting people to quote Our Father.”
After six hours of standing, Rogles and her husband took a break from the crowd and headed toward the Capitol and ended up right at the barriers where Capitol Police formed a line.
“There were already a bunch of people at the barricade,” she said.
Rogles said initially the Capitol Police were doing a good job controlling the growing crowd, but then to her immediate left some people broke through a barrier. People ran up the steps toward the building.
“There was a guy next to us, and he just removed the barrier right in front of us,” she said, “then thousands were starting to go, so we were like, ‘let’s go.’”
The view from inside
Meanwhile, inside the house chamber, Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the newly elected 25-year-old from Henderson County, was preparing to contest Joe Biden’s wins in several states when he noticed some of the Capitol Police in the large room growing uneasy. Then came some increasingly concerning radio chatter.
“You could hear like, ‘they’ve breached this barricade,’ then you hear, ‘they’re on the steps.’ My very first thought was, ‘wow, so two people must have just made a sprint for it and gotten past them’ and that was wild,” Cawthorn said. “But then all of the sudden we saw people come in and lock the doors all around the House floor.”
Cawthorn heard on the radio that tear gas had been deployed in the famed rotunda just down the hall.
“Then the next thing that happens is you have people coming in explaining where your escape hoods are, which are basically just a low-tech gas mask you can put over your head … they reminded us that the chairs that we were sitting in — not for me but for everyone else — were bullet proof and if something were to happen to get down below the chairs,” he said.
Cawthorn said people on the floor became impatient and anxious in the moments before they were finally ordered to evacuate. Cawthorn joined fellow North Carolina Congressmen Ted Budd and Richard Hudson — who he said helped him navigate the corridors — along with two other congressmen and nine congresswomen.
Cawthorn, who is partially paralyzed and gets around in a wheelchair, said things became difficult, considering there were many obstacles, including stairs.
“It’s actually very difficult to scale barricaded doors in a wheelchair when there’s a bunch of furniture in the way,” he said with a laugh. “But I will say, I don’t know if you’ve ever spent much time with Ted Budd, but the guy is absolutely jacked, and he was throwing cabinets around and moving things out of the way.”
“I praise the Capitol Police for doing a good job helping me through, but there were definitely some handicap impediments that we ran into,” he said. “We’ve made a plan to sit down with the Capitol Police, and we’re going to work out emergency protocols that will be more inclusive for people in wheelchairs.”
Cawthorn and his group eventually became separated from the police because he and another representative needed to use the elevator to descend to the corridors.
“As we started moving through the corridors underneath the Capitol, we had to divert our route multiple times because we’d heard protesters have breached this area or protesters have breached that area, and then we realized just how serious it really was,” he said.
However, he found a way to safety and ended up in another congressman’s office with his group.
“I called my staff and made sure they were all safe, and I called my family to let them know where I was and what was going on,” he said. “Then we looked out the window at the Capitol and I felt so much anger. This monument to democracy was just being covered with what looked like Orcs. I mean, it looked like the scene from ‘Lord of the Rings’ when Minas Tirith was taken over.”
Cawthorn said he felt a sense of security throughout the ordeal because he had a concealed handgun on him.
“When we had to separate from the Capitol Police escorts, if we had been caught in a dangerous situation, not only me but also the congressmen and congresswomen we were with, it would have been a terrible outcome,” he said. “I’m glad I was protected by the Second Amendment.”
When asked if he carries a firearm regularly in the Capitol, he said he carries everywhere he can.
“I think it’s a patriotic duty,” he said.
“There are several members that did carry, and we were very thankful we had those firearms yesterday,” he added. “I think it goes to show that members having firearms didn’t make the Capitol less safe. I actually believe it made it more safe.”
Red faces and tears
Rogles said eventually she and her family made it to a 4-foot concrete wall right in front of the Capitol.
“A bunch of people started going over the wall,” she said. “Everyone was standing on the wall, and we were behind the people standing on it. Everyone was in high spirits, and we were saying, ‘we hope this goes right; we hope they don’t take this from us.’”
Then Rogles heard a loud crack, and her first thought was that protesters were getting shot.
“Someone said, ‘what was that?’ Then we see the tear gas,” she said.
As things spiraled out of control around Rogles and her family, she said she recalled warnings she’d received before leaving Waynesville that antifa might show up to clash with protesters. Rogles believes those who committed acts of violence were not Trump supporters but radical liberals.
Rogles said at one point she stood next to Jake Angeli, the now infamous man known as the “QAnon Shaman,” who has appeared in many national broadcasts bare-chested with a painted face and a Viking-horn fur hat. Although he is a well-known Trump supporter, Rogles was still skeptical about his intentions and believed that one of his tattoos indicated that he’s a pedophile.
“It was like, ‘alright whatever this guy’s up to it’s no good,’” she said. “He was pretending to be one of us.”
Rogles noted that people she considered patriots started running up toward the building “to figure out what was going on.”
“We had Proud Boys coming through saying, ‘we’ll check it out,’” she said.
As the scene continued to unravel, people with tears streaming down red faces ran away from the Capitol past Rogles.
“We took steps back because we weren’t going to put our daughter in that situation,” she said.
She noticed more people who concerned her.
“Some of them had full black outfits and MAGA or like military hats on,” she said. “Not that patriots don’t wear that, but they were dressed for a riot or something.”
Amid the chaos, there was still revelry.
“Once in a while, a young patriot would get in there in the bleachers and climb to the top and he was waving the flag and everyone would cheer,” Rogles said. “We were all laughing and cheering even though there was tear gas. It was like those are our people here to save the Republic.”
While Rogles said she thought those who breeched the Capitol were likely antifa imposters, she spoke with jubilance about those who remained outside.
“All the patriots were climbing over the wall and having a good time and realizing this was our house,” she said.
Around 3 p.m., as the law enforcement response to the insurrection continued to escalate, Rogles and her family headed back to the hotel.
Driven by pathos
Rogles said when she got back to the room, she put CNN on.
“I don’t watch CNN, but I did at the hotel,” she said. “It was just amazing how they chop everything up like that to paint things a certain way.”
Rogles said her primary information sources aren’t news outlets of any kind — they’re pastors, as well as Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, who have hinted that there will be sweeping arrests of members of the “deep state.”
“Seventy percent of the government would be arrested if they got everyone for rape and blackmail and everything else,” she said.
Rogles believes the pastors she listens to — such as Sean Feutch, a Christian singer-songwriter, and YouTube pastor Mark Taylor — are prophets and predicted the Trump presidency, as well as many of the events that followed his election.
“Dana Coverstone, this small-town pastor, had a dream that went off the charts,” she said. “He saw a fist hit the calendar right on November and an angel’s finger drew over the election date.”
“In the Christian world, you trust the prophecies,” she said. “If the first part comes true the second part will come true. Just watch.”
Rogles shares the ubiquitous belief held by these pastors that Trump will end up being president for four more years and said she plans to travel to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20 if that comes to fruition.
“If Trump is going to be inaugurated, I definitely will be there,” she said. “I believe even then we’ll have a bumpy January, and it may go into February and March. All my people are preparing. The news we’re watching is saying there may be a phone and internet shutoff.”
While Rogles said she thinks there may be widespread turmoil, it would mostly affect urban areas and places like Western North Carolina won’t be as tumultuous.
“The sleeping giant has been awakened, and the patriotic Americans will fight for their country,” she said. “Hopefully, it won’t get to a civil war, but it may get there in some cities if the left gets a hold of things.”
Rogles believes the best way for the country to get on the right track is for more who share her beliefs to get into politics. But in the meantime, Rogles said the movement uniting the most fervent Trump supporters is still going strong.
“Every patriot there was saying, ‘we’re ready for the next round,’” she said. “We’re locked and loaded. There’s so much evidence the election was stolen. How could this happen?”
The insurrection ultimately left five people dead, including a Capitol policeman and one protester who was shot inside the building. In addition, the surreal images of the riot fractured America’s reputation worldwide and created immense domestic instability.
Following the horrible events, Cawthorn was subject to severe scrutiny for his actions leading up to the insurrection, even from prominent Republicans in his own district like State Senator Chuck Edwards, who said in a Citizen-Times story that Cawthorn was “inflaming” our differences.
Cawthorn, who Trump has previously called a “star” of the party, recently posted a well-produced video on Twitter laying out a number of claims regarding widespread voter fraud, a video Trump retweeted. On Jan. 4 Cawthorn tweeted “January 6th is fast approaching, the future of this Republic hinges on the actions of a solitary few. Get ready, the fate of a nation rests on our shoulders, yours and mine. Let’s show Washington that our backbones are made of steel and titanium. It’s time to fight.”
Cawthorn even spoke before Trump the morning of Jan. 6.
“This crowd has some fight in it,” he told the eager throng.
Chris Cooper, the professor who heads up Western Carolina University’s political science program, said that kind of language is concerning.
“I find that rhetoric problematic,” he said. “I don’t think that he triggered the people to do this. I’m not saying that, but that is exactly the kind of rhetoric that fans the flames.”
Cooper did note that the concerning rhetoric began long ago, even highlighting concerns many had over tweets sent out by Cawthorn’s General Election opponent, Democrat Moe Davis.
- “Screw they go low, we go high bullsht,” one of Davis’ tweet reads. “When @NCGOP extremists go low, we stomp their scrawny pasty necks with our heels and once you hear the sound of a crisp snap, you grind your heel hard and twist it slowly side to side for good measure. He needs to know who whupped his ass.”
Cooper also offered his opinion on the unprecedented insurrection that played out before shocked audiences.
“It’s hard to overstate how concerning this was,” he said. “It was unprecedented and it was frankly terrifying. Some people are going to say this is the natural culmination of that accelerating rhetoric, but I think this was really a substantial break from what we’ve seen before and not in a good way.”
Cooper said there is evidence that people listen to politicians they agree with and that when their rhetoric is violent, those followers are more likely to think violence is OK.
“[Cawthorn] has a responsibility to not only tamp down the violent rhetoric but to engage in more nonviolent rhetoric to tell his supporters this is wrong and that he’s not with them,” he said.
Cooper also mentioned a tweet Cawthorn sent from the House floor that read, “I’m fighting a battle for our Constitution on the house floor with other patriots. The battle is on the house floor, not in the streets of D.C.” That tweet also has drawn criticism from numerous people saying it encouraged people to enter the chamber.
Cawthorn said that was not his intention.
“I got briefed by one of the Capitol Police officers that it was getting kind of violent outside, and I heard that my staff had been evacuated from the Cannon Office building where we preside so I sent that tweet right away,” he said.
Cawthorn said that while he expected there may be some violence around the Capitol that day, he didn’t expect things to get that bad. He didn’t expect the hub of American government to get ransacked.
“It gave me a lot of anger,” he said. “This is not the way things are supposed to be done. I called out Black Lives Matter and the protests and riots that happened all throughout the summer, but what happened yesterday was no better. Most people were waving American flags. The American flag is supposed to be waved when we are charging our enemies. We are supposed to be taking ground in defense of freedom, not when attacking our own Capitol.”
Ultimately Cawthorn still voted to contest the Presidential election results in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. While he said he still believes his contestation was valid and stands by his strong accusations of widespread voter fraud, he didn’t think that led directly to the violence.
However, he did say that now with the process completed and the election certified, it is time for people to admit that Biden won. In recent days, there have increasingly been calls for the 25th Amendment to be invoked to remove Trump from office, even from some Republicans, but Cawthorn said the President should finish out the remainder of his term.
When asked about specific tweets and statements he’s been criticized for, Cawthorn admitted there were a few things he’d said that he sees in a different light now. The one tweet that draws the most criticism was sent out by Cawthorn shortly after his victory. It simply said, “Cry more, lib.”
“That probably wasn’t the most congressional thing I’ve ever said,” Cawthorn said.
Cawthorn makes frequent use of words like fight, battle and war. Like Davis, who defended his tweet by saying it wasn’t meant to be taken literally, Cawthorn said he doesn’t want any physical violence.
“Those words are used so much around Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I think it’s become very clear that they do not necessarily pertain to fisticuffs or combat. I think we can still use those words, but there also needs to be an equal amount of words used that try to bring the country together. If you’re going to use words like fight and battle, you should also use harmony and unity.”
Cawthorn said now is the time for Republicans to sit down and define what they really believe. He wants conservatives to distance themselves from the likes of the Groyper Army, a loosely organized contingent of far-right nationalists trying to introduce extreme politics into mainstream conversations. He said he believes it wasn’t antifa disguised as Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, but rather Groypers and other similar groups.
“It’s the extreme far-right fringe element of the party that was on display,” he said. “That was the vast minority of the protesters that were out. We can expose them by saying those are not conservatives or constitutionalists. Those are people who are angry and want an excuse to lash out, and I think there’s the exact same problem on the left.”
“It’s time for us to come together and say we agree overwhelmingly, agreeing on 80% of the issues,” he added. “We can have impassioned debates about the other percentage we don’t agree on. Let’s come together.”