How a DuPage County couple narrowly avoided chaos at the Capitol
For Bob and Alice Smith, Jan. 6 was both exhilarating and devastating.
The DuPage County residents, retirees who run a small business in real estate property management, drove 11½ hours to the Washington, D.C., area to take part in a pro-President Donald Trump rally.
They had no idea, or intention, at the time that it would later devolve into a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, an event that would lead to the impeachment of the president they went to support.
"It was just so 100% different from what we had just experienced (earlier) at that rally," Alice Smith said.
Alice, a former high school teacher, said she and her husband had attended a 2019 Trump rally in Milwaukee and found it to be a pleasant experience. So when they learned of the Jan. 6 event, they decided to go.
"We decided we're going to show our support for our president, and we're going to show support for trying to find the truth (about the election)," Bob Smith said.
On the drive there, Bob said, fellow drivers would honk at them and give a thumbs-up when they saw the Trump bumper sticker on their car.
"There were people with flags, there were people with signs, all the way to Washington, D.C.," he said.
After staying overnight at a hotel 20 miles from the city, the Smiths boarded a Metro train the morning of Jan. 6 and joined the crowd near the Washington Monument at 7 a.m. They hoped to get to the Ellipse at the southern end of the White House, where speakers could be heard, but by the time they arrived, the line already was more than a mile long.
"There were already probably 30,000 people there," Bob Smith said. "Everybody was upbeat. They were taking pictures of each other. They were talking about their trips. They were talking about what's been going on with the election and how disappointed they were."
The couple decided to watch the speeches instead from a large screen by the Washington Monument. They described a festive atmosphere, with a mixed crowd of older and younger people, many dressed in patriotic outfits.
Were there signs of the violence that was to come?
"Not among those folks," Alice Smith said.
After listening to Trump speak for a little more than an hour, Bob Smith said his knees began to bother him and he and Alice decided against walking to the Capitol. They headed back to their hotel and watched on television as the chaotic events unfolded.
"What we saw was just so discouraging and it just upset us so much to watch and see how such a positive experience had been usurped by such a minority, and that would become the legacy of the whole event," Bob said.
Alice described the rioters as "agitators" who showed up with mountain climbing equipment and gas masks. They were not part of the peaceful group she and her husband were with earlier, she said.
"Bob and I are not militant people. We don't think in militant terms," she said. "We wouldn't want that kind of thing to occur. I don't think anyone should ever storm the Capitol of the United States."