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SALT LAKE CITY — A group of a few hundred pro-Donald Trump supporters gathered outside of the Utah Capitol on Wednesday for what ended up as a mostly peaceful protest over the certification of the presidential election results.
The event in Utah ended up nowhere near the scene of an insurrection that played out thousands of miles away at the nation's capital. Nearly all of the protesters at the Utah Capitol dispersed by sundown, leaving behind a couple of signs in support of President Trump.
The group, which had remained outside the building for hours, left before members of Congress even returned to their respective floors to conclude the certification of the presidential election. Yet the chaos that played in Washington, D.C. clearly left an impact on Utah nonetheless.
It was a moment that highlighted the severity of political division throughout America. Here's how Utahns weighed in on the events of the day.
Utah officials react to Washington insurrection
Every member of Utah's congressional delegation condemned the acts of insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building Wednesday. Their condemnations, however, varied in strength.
Sen. Mitt Romney yelled, "This is what you've gotten, guys," as mayhem broke out in the Senate Chamber, with the remark seemingly aimed at his Republican colleagues voting against certification, according to the New York Times.
The senator later issued a statement labeling the riot as an act of insurrection, saying, "We gather today due to a selfish man's injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States."
Romney also urged his colleagues to unify in support of electoral certification, stating, "Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy. They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy."
#BREAKING: Sen. Mitt Romney excoriates Trump in speech that gets interrupted by applause:— The Hill (@thehill) January 7, 2021
"What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the President of the United States." pic.twitter.com/9jI6K37U9d
The full statement can be found here. Romney later read the aforementioned two paragraphs in his vote for certification before he saluted the senators who withdrew their votes to the contrary.
"The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth," Romney said further, greeted by applause. "The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost. I've had that experience myself. It's no fun!"
Sen. Mike Lee, a staunch supporter of President Trump, called violence at the U.S. Capitol "completely unacceptable" after it broke out. Once the Senate session resumed, Lee also voted for the certification of the election.
"Our job is to open, then count, open then count. That's it. That's all there is," Lee said of Congress' role in the process. He noted that as the legislatures of disputed states did not send an alternative slate of electors to D.C., Congress' job is to certify the vote tally.
Our job is to open and then count. Open and then count. That's it. That is all there is pic.twitter.com/CSYS5UKwQP— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) January 7, 2021
Rep. Burgess Owens also condemned the violence, tweeting, "I am deeply saddened by what is happening right now. Americans are better than this. Senseless violence is NEVER okay. We have to do better."
Rep. Chris Stewart added: "Protesters who are breaking windows, threatening violence, and accosting police are behaving inexcusably. It is un-American. This must stop now!"
Rep. John Curtis shared a video of himself in his office amid the siege, tweeting: "It's totally inappropriate what's happening here at the Capitol. This is not who we are, we're better than this. My plea is that we use all our influence to tone this down & return to reasonable debate."
"This looks like something that happened in Venezuela"@RepJohnCurtis tells @KSL5TV that he is safe after #USCapitol is breached (he used a virtual background during our interview to not reveal his location)— Ladd Egan (@laddegan) January 6, 2021
"This is not behavior that can be tolerated."@kslnewsradio@KSLcompic.twitter.com/miyCumjmRo
Curtis, who planned to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory, said it looked like "something that happened in Venezuela" and that "this is not behavior that can be tolerated," in an interview with KSL TV. He issued a statement later in the day reflecting on what happened.
"My anger continues to grow over today's desecration of the United States Capitol, our nation's home," his statement read, in part. "What happened was an act of domestic terrorism inspired and encouraged by our President."
Rep. Blake Moore said he and his staff were safe, and thanked Capitol Police for how they handled the situation.
"This saddens & troubles me greatly," he tweeted.
When Congress resumed the certification meeting Wednesday night, all six of Utah's congressional leaders voted against an objection to voting results in Arizona. Owens and Stewart voted in favor of an objection to voting results in Pennsylvania early Thursday morning, while Curtis, Moore, Romney and Lee voted against it.
Beyond Utah's congressional delegation, Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted a video in which he supported the Constitutional right to peaceful protest and encouraged those who desired to peaceably assemble, but denounced violence witnessed at the nation's capital.
"I urge you to stand up and speak out against the violence, against the terrorists, against the evil that we have seen in our nation's capital today," he said.
The Utah GOP condemned the violence, noted that peaceful transitions of power are a hallmark of democratic republics, and urged people to "unify and peacefully follow the processes established by our Constitution."
Former Senate president pro tempore Orrin Hatch also condemned the riots.
"The lawless incursion on our Capitol is both a physical and spiritual attack on an institution I love — an institution I spent more than four decades protecting," Hatch said.
"Enough is enough," he continued. "Our institutions are undergoing a stress test that they can only survive if our elected officials show unity in this critical moment."
A protest in Utah
The chaos in Washington unfolded on live television and social media. One woman died after she was shot by police during the insurrection, where various offices and chambers inside the Capitol were broken into. Officials said three others died as a result of medical emergencies during the day.
The scene that played out in Utah was mostly peaceful, as pro-Trump supporters vented frustrations about the election. They echoed Trump's claims of widespread election fraud in other states like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Those claims have been disputed by state officials in those states; courts have also rejected lawsuits brought by Trump supporters advancing those claims.
At one point Wednesday, longtime Salt Lake Tribune photographer Rick Egan was attacked with pepper spray as he worked to document the protest, according to the news outlet's executive editor, Lauren Gustus. She added that Egan was also verbally attacked by a protester in the moment.
"This is not freedom of speech," Gustus said, in an email to Salt Lake Tribune news subscribers. "It is a physical and verbal attack on an individual who was asked by his editor to cover the events at the Capitol building, protests that mirrored others across the country and emanated from the chaos in Washington, D.C."
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall condemned the incident, calling it "unacceptable" in a tweet and that it "should not be allowed to go unchecked."
An assault on a journalist is an attack on freedom of press and democracy. This is unacceptable, and should not be allowed to go unchecked. https://t.co/dYSZlV5upR— SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall (@slcmayor) January 6, 2021
Utah Highway Patrol officials tweeted that the incident was under investigation. UHP Lt. Nick Street said troopers monitored social media and various websites for weeks to get an idea of what to expect in terms of protests and were prepared to handle a worse situation.
Street disputed reports surfaced earlier Wednesday that the Utah Capitol was evacuated. He said workers were given the opportunity to leave work at 2 p.m. Cox's spokesperson told KSL.com that employees were directed to work from home.
Eric Hill, who lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, watched the protest across the street from the Capitol. He told KSL TV he was there to observe the protests more than anything, much like he did for protests that happened in the area last year. The Utah Capitol was the scene of all sorts of marches and protests in 2020, from teachers seeking more education spending, to the Black Lives Matter protests, to initial reaction to the presidential election results.
Hill said what he's noticed is that there is "too much hate" on both sides of the political spectrum but that both sides show that they have a lot of passion and concern for their country. It's one of the things he believes both sides could agree upon if they saw past the issues they fight on.
"In our country today, we can have two different sides of the political spectrum that are seriously dividing really strongly to either side yet nobody seems to recognize the fact that people are up in arms because they care — whether it's one way or another, they care," he said. "And nobody has taken the time to really listen compassionately to anybody on either side. I think that's what I'm learning mostly."
Wednesday night, as the meetings to certify the presidential election results continued at the Capitol, the Deseret News published an op-ed penned by Romney. In it, he blasted divisiveness between political parties and those who don't see eye-to-eye on issues that he said have only grown. He called on Americans to better listen to ideas on both sides of issues and to "broaden our reading material" when it comes to news consumption.
"Who we choose to lead us shapes our society," Romney wrote. "I believe that it is our national character that made America the greatest nation on earth, that the public personal character of leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Reagan and Truman had more influence on us than even the policies they promoted. Today when I vote, I pay as much attention to the character of the candidate as I do to their policies.
"If we choose leaders who inflame resentment and division, our nation will be angry and divided," he continued. "We have a choice to make: Would we rather have our 'side' win to punish the 'other side' or would we rather have our nation united?"
Contributing: Jacob Klopfenstein, KSL.com; Ladd Egan and Andrew Adams, KSL TV