Democracy didn’t die in Washington, DC last Jan. 6, despite the efforts of the 66 Pennsylvanians who have been arrested for their role in the deadly attack on the US Capitol.
US Rep. Brendan Boyle flashes back almost daily to the moment when rioters aimed at stopping the certification of the 2020 election began to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Boyle (D-Philadelphia) was in his office, preparing a speech about preserving democracy that he would read aloud later that night on the House floor. Outside, a swarm of Donald Trump supporters — fresh from being told to “fight like hell” by the former president at the “Stop the Steal” rally — was descending upon the Capitol, determined to upend democracy by any means necessary. An insurrection was on.
“I will never forget the surreal juxtaposition of sitting at my desk, writing about the need to save our democracy, which was born in Pennsylvania in 1776, while I’m seeing and hearing the crowd outside my window,” Boyle said recently. “I had to stop writing, make sure my doors were locked and with my staff help put furniture in front of my doors to barricade us in case the worst were to happen. I grabbed scissors to use as a weapon. I could have never imagined that fellow Americans would physically storm the Capitol, get into hand-to-hand combat with hundreds of police officers, and storm the chambers. It’s something I think of nearly every day.”
When the dust settled, five people were dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. Dozens were seriously injured, and the Capitol building sustained approximately $1.5 million in damages. Public court documents show that, one year later, more than 725 people have been arrested for participating in the deadly attack, including 66 Pennsylvanians. The only state with more residents arrested in connection to the insurrection is Florida, with 79.
Boyle doesn’t make too much of that dubious distinction, attributing it to Pennsylvania’s size and location more than anything.
“It’s obviously very disturbing, having the second largest total of individuals arrested,” Boyle said. “But it doesn’t surprise me, given the size of the state and our proximity to DC. We’re the fifth biggest state in the country, and of those states, we are physically the closest to DC. I don’t read too much into it.”
Who Are the Pennsylvanians Arrested in the Jan. 6 Attack?
Of the 66 Pennsylvanians arrested, 13 have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, including four individuals who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer. The most serious of those cases involves Julian Khater of State College. He has been charged (along with George Tanios of West Virginia) with nine counts of assaulting several police officers, including Sicknick. Khater has pleaded not guilty to all counts and remains jailed after being arrested in March.
The ages of the attackers range from barely out of high school to well past retirement. The youngest Pennsylvanian to be charged is Leonard Pearson Ridge, who was 19 at the time of the attack. The Bucks County resident was sentenced on Jan. 4 to 14 days in prison for entering the Capitol during the attack. The oldest is 81-year-old Army veteran Gary Wickersham of West Chester, Chester County. He was sentenced in December to three months of house arrest after pleading guilty to charges of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building.
They came from throughout the state to storm the Capitol. From small towns, like Marshall Neefe of Newville, Cumberland County, who was arrested in September on a litany of charges including assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, and using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer. And from big cities, like James Michael Dickinson, of Philadelphia, who was arrested in October on similar charges.
Four members from the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys have been arrested, including chapter president Zachary Rehl. Also arrested: retired firefighter Robert Sanford, of Boothwyn, Delaware County, who was seen on video hurling a fire extinguisher at a line of police officers, and former Republican state Senate and state House candidate Frank Scavo, of Old Forge, Lackawanna County, who was sentenced in November to 60 days in prison after pleading guilty to parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building.
A husband and wife from Lewistown, Mifflin County, participated in the attack. Christy and Matthew Clark were each arrested on multiple charges, including violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol Building. Riley Williams, of Harrisburg, traveled to DC on Jan. 6 with her father, who did not participate in the attack. Williams has been accused of stealing a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. She has yet to enter a plea and is under house arrest.
Some rioters carpooled to DC. Others took Amtrak, like Bucks County residents Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith, who are scheduled to be sentenced later this month on charges of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building. Larger groups of Pennsylvanians took chartered buses, with several such trips organized by Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, though it is unclear if anyone on Mastriano’s buses was involved in the attack. One charter was delayed after Tammy Bronsburg was mistakenly waiting to be picked up by the bus at a McDonald’s in Williamsport, when she was supposed to be waiting at a McDonald’s in Lewisburg.
Many boasted about their participation in the Capitol attack on social media. One such Facebook post came back to haunt Russell James Peterson, who in December was sentenced to 30 days in prison. During sentencing, US District Judge Amy Jackson recited some of Peterson’s posts including one that read “Overall, I had fun lol.” The judge told Peterson that his posts made it difficult for her to show him any leniency in sentencing.
“I hope you’ve come to understand nothing about January 6 was funny,” Jackson said to Peterson. “No one locked in a room, cowering under a table for hours, was laughing.”
Preventing Another Insurrection
For six months, the US House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has been working to find out how the insurrection happened, and who knew what when.
They’ve hit roadblocks in their quest for information. Five-term Dauphin County GOP congressman Scott Perry denied their request for an interview to discuss his efforts to install Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general prior to the Capitol attack. Trump’s former senior advisor Steve Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows refused to comply with subpoena requests from the Jan. 6 committee.
They’ve still interviewed more than 300 witnesses, collected tens of thousands of documents, and traveled around the country to talk to election officials who were pressured by Trump. In the coming months, members of the panel will start to reveal their findings against the backdrop of the former president and his allies’ persistent efforts to whitewash the riots and reject suggestions that he helped instigate them.
“The full picture is coming to light, despite President Trump’s ongoing efforts to hide the picture,” Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee’s vice chairwoman and one of its two Republican members, told the Associated Press. “I don’t think there’s any area of this broader history in which we aren’t learning new things.”
Regardless of what comes from the committee’s efforts — congressional investigations are not criminal cases — Boyle feels their mission is vital to uphold democracy and prevent another insurrection. While democracy ultimately prevailed on Jan. 6, the congressman believes the continuing efforts of Trump and his allies to push lies about election fraud and install like-minded officials at all levels of state and local government proves that Trumpism is alive and well. And, with it, the threat of another attack.
“If Jan. 6 were one date in time, but it was over, that would be one thing,” Boyle said. “Unfortunately, we are still dealing with the big lie. Because of that, more than anything, the danger of another Jan. 6. is something that’s still very much present with us, and something that still occupies my thinking. The threat still remains.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.