Local lawmakers speak out about attempt by rioters to seize U.S. Capitol building

U.S. Capitol Police and lawmakers gather in the front entryway of the House Longworth Building Wednesday afternoon. Rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in the afternoon and forced elected leaders to remain in their offices inside the Longworth Building. (Photo courtesy of Nick Strader/U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz)

UPDATE: This story includes new comments from U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz and state Sen. Lynn Findley.

VALE – Pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Wednesday as Congress met to certify the results of the presidential election. 

The mob quickly took control of the congressional campus, interrupting the count of votes and forcing elected officials to take shelter in secure areas.

According to multiple press reports and videos, a mob waving both American and Confederate flags could be seen defacing property and smoking marijuana inside the Capitol. One woman, apparently a rioter, was reported shot and later died. 

In tandem with President Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, the Republican who represents Malheur County, last month called for a federal investigation into the 2020 presidential election, citing “irregularities.”

Bentz could not be immediately reached for comment, but a statement posted to his official Twitter page read: “Peaceful protest is essential to our society. Violent protest is not. I urge all to respect @CapitolPolice and allow Congress to resume deliberation in the electoral process.”

“It’s interesting. Truly interesting,” said Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, about the mayhem.

Joyce said he wasn’t sure how he would explain mob violence to area voters.

“I don’t know if I would,” he said.

Joyce said he still believes there was at least some level of voter fraud in several states. He echoed Bentz and said there should be an investigation.

Joyce said he unsure what the impact of the mob violence would have.

“I am not sure what good it is going to do,” said Joyce.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, the Republican who represents Malheur County, said Wednesday he was not in the Capitol Building when the rioters stormed it.

“It was a huge surprise. We followed the direction from the speaker to stay out of the building because of Covid concerns if we were not going to be speaking,” said Bentz.

Bentz said there were “literally dozens, if not hundreds, of people crammed into the Capitol and running all over the place.”

“We were told not to leave our offices,” said Bentz.

Bentz said he did not support the action by the mob.

“I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. There is no justification for what they did. It was an embarrassment,” said Bentz.

State Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, said he supports the right of Americans to peaceably assemble until laws are broken.

“If a protest gets into vandalism or hurting people it is wrong and needs to be stopped. As soon as they threaten people I can’t support them,” said Owens.

Owens said while he believed there were election “irregularities” he wasn’t sure that fraud was widespread.

“We still have some underlying questions that need to be answered to restore faith in our democratic system,” said Owens.

Owen said he was “glad when I saw the president put out the message for them to go home.”

“I am thankful he asked his loyal supporters to go home and be safe,” said Owens.

In Ontario, Mayor Riley Hill expressed disappointment with his fellow Trump supporters, who he said had made the nation’s capital look “like a foreign country.” 

“I would like to see the president speak out against it and try to calm them down,” said Hill. “(For them to) go away peacefully like our country should be. Have your differences and disagreements but work them out in a democratic way.”

State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said after witnessing a fierce protest a few weeks ago in Salem that turned violent when a few anarchists arrived, he had been “fearful that the insurgent were going to come together” in the nation’s capital.

The statements by the President over the past few weeks didn’t help the situation, said Findley.

“I certainly believe that the continued rhetoric that the president has done has not been healthy. These rioters are trying to carry out his message in the wrong manner,” said Findley.

Trump’s repetition of falsehoods throughout the insurrection sent a mixed message to the crowd.

“We had an election stolen from us,” said the president in a short video posted to Twitter Wednesday afternoon and then later removed. “It was a landslide election.”

“But you have to go home now. We have to have peace,” he continued. “This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people.”

“We would simply like to echo the statement that the president put out on his Facebook page,” said a representative of the Malheur County Republican Central Committee. “‘I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, we are the party of law and order – respect the law and our great men and women in blue.”   

Earlier in the day, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withstood pressure from the president and fellow Republicans to refuse to certify the election results, prompting ire from Trump. 

“We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said at the “Save America March” Wednesday morning, before the insurrection. “Our country has had enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.”

President-elect Joe Biden called the mob violence “an assault on the most sacred of America’s undertakings – the doing of the people’s business.”

Biden said the incident “borders on sedition and must end now.”

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