Scenes of armed supporters of President Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday were “shocking,” “horrifying” and “concerning” to Berkshire County’s elected officials.
But, to many, they were not “surprising,” given the incendiary rhetoric Trump and other Republican leaders have used to impugn election results and systems.
“Leadership matters — this is the result of, essentially, the leader of this country undermining democracy and confidence in the American system of elections,” said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.
“This is not a protest — this is a riot,” added state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. “This is an effort to overthrow our government.”
On a day when state lawmakers were inaugurated for a new term, several contrasted the elections that gave them their mandate to serve with the chaos in the nation’s capital.
“It’s a sad day,” said state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams. “I’ve been in public service for over 45 years; I’d never thought that I would see this day in America.”
“In America, you don’t get to stop the count or the transfer of power because you don’t like the results,” said state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, “and every public official who has sworn an oath to defend our Constitution has a duty to affirm that sentiment right now.”
Some also noted the seeming ease with which the crowd infiltrated the Capitol.
“This has been a year when we talk about white privilege and white supremacy,” said North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard, a Democrat. “To see mostly white protesters and the way that they’re treated — and we don’t even have to imagine, [because] we saw when people of color stood up for justice, what the law enforcement response was — I think what it really speaks to is the fragility of our democracy and our systems and our ideals, as imperfect and as inequitably realized as they are.”
Body camera footage from the Boston Police Department’s response to protests in support of Black Lives Matter in May showed officers bragging about assaulting protesters and using pepper spray.
Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, also a Democrat, questioned the law enforcement response Wednesday.
“It does seem that this is something that law enforcement and the people who protect the Capitol should have been aware of and prepared for,” she said. “It is shocking how easy it was for the — I don’t want to call them protesters, really — how easily and how quickly they were able to get into the perimeter of the Capitol and get inside.”
Harrington added that she would like to see criminal charges brought against Trump for his rhetoric and “the resultant violence.”
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, another Democrat, said Trump “violated” and “disrespected” the pledge made when he took his oath of office.
“Being elected is an honor and a privilege, and it comes with a great deal of responsibility,” Tyer said. “This is a dark day in American life, and I stand with everyone in condemning this insurrection ... led by the sitting president of the United States.”
State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, condemned the “heartbreaking” actions of those who stormed the Capitol.
“I was raised in a family where we respected our institutions,” he said. “We did not have to agree with everyone in those institutions, but the actions today are not how disagreements get resolved.”
Many Berkshire elected officials expressed concern for the health and safety of lawmakers and others in Washington.
One woman who was shot in the Capitol died, The Washington Post reported. The circumstances were unclear.
Staff members for Massachusetts U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren told reporters they were safe, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said he was “sheltering in place.” There are no known injuries to elected leaders.
Hours after the incident, Neal took to Twitter to join a chorus of elected officials calling for Trump to be removed from office.
“The President incited an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol today,” Neal posted on Facebook. “The 25th amendment should be invoked, and he should be removed from office. What we witnessed in Washington today was an assault on the citadel of democracy.”
Trump has said he would leave office if the Electoral College votes for Biden. The protests disrupted the certification of Electoral College results, and it was expected that the process would resume Wednesday night.
“We’re not seeing leadership, and it’ll have to start right in Washington,” said Barrett, who expressed concern that Wednesday would dissuade people from running for public office.