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Capitol under siege

Trump supporters try to break through a police

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. Credit: AP/Julio Cortez

Daily Point

This special edition of The Point brings you accounts from New York members of Congress, who were taking part in the certification of Joe Biden as the next president, as well as Long Islanders who went to Washington, D.C. to protest that constitutional process.

The State of our Union

As mayhem broke out at the nation’s Capitol Building Wednesday, Long Islanders were in the middle of the action.

That’s no surprise as the Island has been a center of Donald Trump road rallies, meet-ups, Facebook groups and advocacy efforts.

One such pro-Trump group, the Setauket Patriots, sponsored four charter buses at a cost of $65 per person for the round trip, while another 100 members went in cars, one of the group’s leaders, James Robitsek, told The Point Wednesday.

"It’s pandemonium," Robitsek said after protesters breached the Capitol. "There was tear gas and a huge crowd got up on the bleachers set up for the inauguration before the police could stop them."

At around 3:15 p.m., Robitsek said he and the group started to move away from the Capitol, and he added that they did not feel endangered.

Earlier, before the crowd breached the Capitol, Robitsek said he had been at the Washington rally where Trump spoke. "It was so crowded we couldn’t get anywhere near it," he said.

The Setauket Patriots, whose public Facebook page had about 23,000 followers until the company took it down this week, and whose private page has 2,300, is not the only large pro-Trump group on the Island, or the only one representing in D.C. Wednesday.

Also traveling were members of Long Island Loud Majority, with about 20,000 members, and STAY LOUD, which boasts 17,000. All three groups have posted for weeks about their plans to travel to D.C. this week, and starting Tuesday the feeds were giddy with excitement about the trip. Several featured members smiling and waving at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike as they headed south.

Long Island Loud Majority founder James Smith, a trucker by trade, told The Point that he had made it onto the temporary bleachers installed for the upcoming Biden inauguration before being tear-gassed and flash-banged by law enforcement officers. He had mixed feelings about their actions.

"I know they were doing their job and I respect that," Smith said, "but I also told them, ‘Those people in there you’re protecting have been calling you and all cops murderers and racists all year, while we’ve been fighting for you.’ "

Smith said about 500 Loud Majority members headed down in cars, parking at a suburban subway station outside D.C. and taking public transportation to The Hill. The cars were fairly well-covered in Trump paraphernalia, though, and late Wednesday afternoon Smith said that when they got back to the station many of the cars had slashed tires and broken windows.

Asked what he hoped to accomplish by the protest, Smith said: "You know as upset as we were about the election, it’s like the omnibus budget bill was the final straw. Why the hell are we sending all our money to Cambodia and Bangladesh when we can’t even get by here?"

Posed the same question, Robitsek texted his comment to The Point during the siege of the Capitol.

"I along with other patriots feel that there was no way Trump could have lost the election, we held Trump road rallies across Long Island with literally thousands of supporters. We went to support President Trump hoping the Senate would do the right thing and overturn this election. The show of support here is amazing. We came down with four busloads of Setauket Patriots from Long Island and could have filled four more," he wrote.

Voting in Wednesday’s Electoral College certification was taking place in groups because of coronavirus precautions, meaning members of Congress were in different locations as pandemonium broke out. Freshman Rep. Andrew Garbarino told The Point he was en route to the proceedings in the tunnel under the Capitol complex when that plan got disrupted.

"They locked down the buildings due to a bomb scare, before the protesters breached the Capitol," the Bayport Republican wrote in a text. He later was told to shelter in place in his office in the Longworth House Office Building.

Freshman Rep. Ritchie Torres of the Bronx was waiting for his turn in the Cannon House Office building when Capitol police directed him and his staff to evacuate.

"People should understand the gravity of the situation," said the Democrat in a brief phone call with The Point Wednesday afternoon. "At the moment, the Capitol is a scene of panic and pandemonium in what should be a smooth certification."

Torres said he was separated from staff and taken to a "safe room for members." At this fraught partisan moment, that undisclosed location included members from both parties.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Suozzi described a chaotic scene in the chambers themselves.

Debate in the House was suspended as alerts came in about the Capitol being breached by protesters, the Glen Cove Democrat said in an afternoon conference call.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer were "escorted from the chamber," Suozzi said, and there was "some commotion."

"Someone went to the speaker's chair and announced that there were gas masks under our seats and that we should open them up and be prepared to use them, because tear gas had been used in the Statuary Hall and the Rotunda."

Suozzi and the rest were told to "shelter under your chair or behind anything you could if necessary."

He added that he heard banging at the doors and what he thought were gunshots, "but I don't know for certain." There was a standoff at the door and a barricade put up, and Suozzi was told to evacuate.

He said he was one of the last people to leave the room due to where he was sitting. He said there were holes in the glass doors of the chambers and that he had heard "pop, pop, pop" but he was uncertain about the source of the sound.

Ultimately, he and other members were taken to an undisclosed location from where he did the conference call. He said there was no television on in the location, and that Democrats and Republicans were huddled together talking while others were mostly on their phones. He was getting dinged with messages, including family checking whether he was safe. He described himself as very saddened as opposed to scared. As of publication of The Point, Suozzi and the other members were still in the secure Capitol location because police thought it was unsafe for them to leave.

"Joe Biden will be the president of the United States of America," he said. "We need to get back to our chambers and certify that as soon as possible."

Earlier in the day, a delighted Sen. Chuck Schumer held a press conference about the Democratic sweep of Georgia’s two Senate seats, saying he was optimistic about becoming the new Senate majority leader. By late afternoon, he was in a secure but undisclosed location at the Capitol. The Senate was in session when the mob took over the building, and Schumer, along with Vice President Mike Pence, was rushed to a protected location.

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, former Rep. Pete King, who just retired, was home in Seaford watching the coverage of the rally and the Congressional proceedings when the protesters’ march to the Capitol began.

"It’s terrible. It’s absolutely disgraceful," King told The Point. "If we’re going to condemn antifa, which we should, in many ways this is worse."

King tweeted Wednesday afternoon, saying, "Trump must step up and denounce the terrorists who desecrated our nation’s Capitol. No excuses. Sad day for America."

King said the attacks particularly bothered him "because it comes from my side," adding that he was disappointed by Trump’s response.

"This is a test of us now," he said. "There are no excuses … Don’t say the election was robbed. No, these people are criminals, they’re domestic terrorists. There should not be one word of praise or excuse given to them."

"To have your own people do this, it’s really shameful," King added.

Long Islanders who headed to D.C. Wednesday weren’t only promoting a strictly pro-Trump message.

Blue Point resident and local advocate Rita Palma, who opposes requiring vaccines and runs an organization called My Kids, My Choice, headed to Washington with fellow advocates to rally for Trump and to promote her message about "vaccine choice."

On a Facebook Live video Wednesday morning, Palma, carrying a sign that said, "I love someone injured by a vaccine," told fellow rally-goers that while some people are concerned about a COVID-19 vaccine now, such worries aren’t new.

"We’ve had objections to it for years and years," she said.

Palma initially told her Facebook audience that she expected the electoral process would be "suspended" to allow for changes to the certification.

Hours later, Palma posted another video, this time from the Capitol lawn.

"It’s definitely not a dangerous scene, but it’s certainly well-populated," she said. "It’s all peaceful."

Palma called the protests "amazing," and said that while Washington’s mayor had called for a curfew, "No one is planning on leaving."

"I’ve never seen anything like it," Palma said.

—Lane Filler, Rita Ciolli, Randi Marshall and Mark Chiusano

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