Violent images of Capitol breach remain a year later

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  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States
  • Derrick Evans
    American politician in West Virginia (born 1985)

Jan. 6—FAIRMONT — A year has passed since West Virginia was shocked to learn that a newly-elected member of the House of Delegates had led a group of pro-Trump insurrectionists into the halls of the seat of American democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.

Wearing a military-style helmet with a video recorder attached to its top, Derrick Evans shouted and chanted, "There we go! Open the door!" and "Our house! Our house!" He resigned in a letter to Gov. Jim Justice the day of his arrest and was replaced by an appointed delegate.

Evans was part of a group of Americans who bought into the untruth that Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump, a myth Trump floated months before the general election that November. Evans was one of five West Virginians arrested and charged in the attack.

Many observers of that tragic day say, that despite a year's passing, the shock of those events remain etched in our collective memory.

"I was rather shocked and rather surprised that this occurred and I don't know what to say beyond that," said Robert Duval, a West Virginia University professor who has studied domestic extremism for more than 35 years. "It's certainly a very uncharacteristic event in terms of all American history.

"You might find something similar just prior to the Civil War in terms of the polarization and the willingness to take it to violent extremes," Duval continued.

Closer to North Central West Virginia, a month after the attack, on March 6, 2020, federal investigators identified a Morgantown sandwich shop owner and his childhood friend who were determined to have been involved in an attack on a U.S. Capitol Police officer.

"In reviewing surveillance footage of this incident, [the investigating officer] observed the defendants, Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios, working together to assault law enforcement officers with an unknown chemical substance by spraying officers directly in the face and eyes," states the complaint filed March 6, 2021 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Jim Nolan, head of the sociology department at West Virginia University and a member of the Fairmont Human Rights Commission, applauds the progress of the criminal investigation, but said little has been done to heal the nation.

"The ideological divide in this country is immense," Nolan said. "It has caused an open wound in the body politic. For healing to occur, we need leaders in local communities and in government, at all levels, who can build bridges to unite with hope and not hate."

Duval said that even if the 2020 presidential election had been proven to have been fraudulent, a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol is not the way a democratic society is supposed to resolve its disputes. He said the nation's court system is the appropriate venue for solving such issues when, in fact, they occur.

"If you ask someone what's the rationale for January 6 and they will say it's the fraudulent election, but the problem is, that with a fraudulent election, our Constitution provides us a remedy — that's the courts. That's why the courts exist. They exist to resolve societal problems," Duval said.

Trump's legal team filed and lost some 63 lawsuits that flagrantly doubted the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, including suits in the so-called swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump's camp had hoped that judges Trump appointed would skirt the law and rule in his favor.

"So, to support a violent activity because you dispute the validity of the election is actually running contrary to the Constitution and it's the courts that are a remedy for that," Duval said. "Unfortunately, the people who are concerned about the election are not happy with the fact that the court cases have almost universally gone against the Trump camp and all the suits about election fraud, so it's really strange times."

Duval, a U.S. Navy veteran, said that when he signed up to serve the country, he took an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," but he did not sign an allegiance to one political leader or political belief system because that is not what makes America a democracy.

He holds on to a hope that the political divisiveness in the U.S. will get better as the country moves forward.

"As we put this together over time, our perspective on what this is all about, will gradually teach us something from it. But, for right now, today, it's really hard to see that coming," Duval said.

"To me, one of the things that's most lost in the discussion about January 6 is the support for the event and the failure to describe that as a threat to democracy is actually an anti-constitutional position in and of itself."

Reach Eric Cravey at 304-367-2523.

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