As demonstrators mobbed the U.S. Capitol in an event that left five people dead, Trump supporters gathered at Utah’s statehouse Wednesday afternoon, flying flags and echoing the president’s false claims of mass voter fraud and a stolen election.
According to Salt Lake Community College alumnus Brian Preece, “tensions were high, and conversation was not welcome.”
Preece stated that the crowd consisted of large groups of Proud Boy members, and vitriolic language was being shouted from all directions.
“I saw a single Biden-Harris flag. The holder was immediately enveloped by Proud Boy supporters [and] those with Trump flags,” Preece said. “The single Black Lives Matter flag I saw suffered the same treatment and had to be blocked by UPD [Unified Police Department] to keep a distance between the two groups.”
Preece, who was positioned by the BLM group, was repeatedly pushed by a member of the Proud Boys.
“Let me be clear,” Preece said after he left the scene, “it’s ‘safe’ there [Utah State Capitol] right now but the amount of people there with high ammunition rifles is disturbing.”
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Taylor Stevens reported via Twitter that a staff photographer, Rick Egan, was attacked with pepper spray while covering the event.
— Taylor Stevens (@tstevensmedia) January 6, 2021
According to a letter written by Lauren Gustus, executive director of The Tribune, a pro-Trump demonstrator also verbally accosted Egan while another demonstrator shoved him.
“Journalism is enshrined in the First Amendment of our country’s Constitution. And today on the lawn of Utah’s Capitol it was tossed aside,” Gustus wrote.
Salt Lake City resident Michelle Church, whose home displays support for BLM, realized something was happening early Wednesday morning when her yard was littered with eggshells and “Pray for America” signs. Church noticed activity picking up around 1 p.m.
“My teenager was coming home, and we started to notice the Trump trucks and the flags starting to crowd the streets, but it seemed just a little bit more agro. The people from the cars were a little more vocal, you know, yelling back at the people,” Church said.
Church, who lives near the Capitol, noted that her family was used to getting a certain kind of attention. When she went outside, a Trump supporter was engaging with her daughter who had just arrived home.
“Immediately it was just a different kind of feel in the air,” Church said.
Church noted that she did not go to the Capitol, but had a feeling of what was starting.
“At that point, we just had a very strict talk about ‘today is not the day that we are enforcing our freedom of speech,’ mostly because the cars that were coming out, and the people had concealed weapons,” Church said.
Church stated that although the situation was reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the summer, Wednesday’s demonstration had the “air of an angrier type of community.”
“In the past where I would have felt compelled to speak my mind and my right, I think that safety overtook that [Wednesday],” she said. “It was almost like you were living with a different level of crazy.”