Portage County reacts to D.C. insurrection with shock, sorrow and conspiracy theories

Photo by ElevenPhotographs on Unsplash
Photo by ElevenPhotographs on Unsplash

Portage County reacts to D.C. insurrection with shock, sorrow and conspiracy theories

Commissioner Badalamenti falsely claims antifa infiltrated the mob that stormed the Capitol Building

The reaction to Wednesday’s insurrection in the capital among Portage County Republicans ranged from blanket condemnation of the rioters to attempts to justify their attack with false conspiracy theories.

In public statements and interviews with The Portager, local elected officials waded through the moral wreckage of Trump supporters’ attempted subversion of the nation’s democracy, while many Portage County residents compared the experience to watching the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The Portage County Republican Party does not condone the violence that occurred today,” Chairperson Amanda Suffecool wrote in a statement posted to Facebook. “We continue to be advocates for the democratic process and will continue to support the rule of law.”

While newly elected County Commissioner Tony Badalamenti said yesterday’s insurrection was “uncalled for,” he added that he has “a problem blaming the marchers for all the violence that was there.” Repeating a baseless rumor, he said there’s a “great possibility” that provocateurs dressed as Trump supporters instigated the violence, claiming he heard this from a friend who was present during the riot.

“The people that were part of that riot destroying the House, were they all Trump supporters?” he said. “I believe not.”

But even as he asserted Trump supporters did not author the insurrection, he attempted to partly blame Democrats and Black Lives Matter protesters for angering them enough to rally in Washington and ultimately storm the halls of Congress. He defended Trump’s calls for his supporters to descend on the Capitol Building as well, saying, “The guy’s got brass ones.”

His colleague on the Board of County Commissioners was more measured.

Sabrina Christian-Bennett said she understands the feelings of frustration that led to Wednesday’s insurrection, partly blaming Democrats for inciting that frustration with allegations that Trump colluded with Russia in the wake of the 2016 election. And she flatly denounced the violence, saying it “cannot be justified.”

“I’m all for peaceful protesting, but that was just really sad for me to see,” she said. “And it was a sad day for everyone, no matter which party you’re with.”

A recurring theme, expressed by Badalamenti and average Republican voters, is that the police and elected officials tolerated episodes of violence on the fringes of protests for racial equality last year.

“No one called the National Guard,” asserted one local commenter on a state representative’s Facebook page. (In fact, the National Guard was present at Black Lives Matter protests across the nation last summer, including in Cleveland.)

“They got away with that with immunity,” Badalamenti said. (Also false. Police arrested over 10,000 protesters in the two weeks following George Floyd’s murder.)

Kevin Adams, chair of the Kent State History Department, who has studied American insurrections, said there is no comparison between the anti-racism protests and what happened in Washington, which was based upon false claims of election fraud.

“The bigger problem politically is that large segments of the Republican Party who are beholden to President Trump, I think, benefit from the sort of trends in our political culture,” Adams said. “These individuals have stoked these flames, and so it’s hard to see them just turning their backs on what their choices have been in the past few years. It’s hard to see them just instantly having a come-to-Jesus moment and deciding to do something different.”

The Portager attempted to contact other local officials, including Republican Sheriff Bruce Zuchowski, Democrat Commissioner Vicki Kline and members of the Portage County statehouse delegation, but did not receive responses in time for publication.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who represents part of Portage County, said in a press conference, “this has been a complete violation of the institutions, the norms, the values of this county. Something that many of us never thought we would ever see happen in this country.”

Ryan’s colleagues in the Portage County congressional delegation, U.S. Reps. David Joyce and Anthony Gonzalez, were among a minority of Republicans in Congress who did not vote to reject the November election results. Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown also affirmed Biden as president.

“What occurred today will forever be an indelible stain on our democracy,” Joyce said in a statement.

On Thursday, Portage County residents grappled with the trauma of watching the events unfold on social media and feelings of uncertainty about the future of the nation.

  • “I honestly had the same reaction as I did on Sept. 11,” wrote Cami Barber, 41, of Kent, in a Portager survey of local residents. “Wondering how far the attacks would spread, and for how long. How many planes were going to crash, and where? How far would this mob spread, and who will they hurt? Both days, I spent an unhealthy amount of time with the news, needing all the info, trying to make sense of what I was seeing, and trying to be prepared for the turns it might take.”
  • “Abject horror at the act, but unfortunately not shock,” wrote Rhys Sampson, 49, of Deerfield. “Now that horror has turned to concern over the inauguration.”
  • “It felt like an attack on our country,” wrote Josh Gonzalez, 26, of Kent. “I imagined this is how my parents must have felt on 9/11.”

The Portager also asked residents how they believed we could contribute locally toward healing the nation. Many suggested being more caring toward their neighbors or continuing to educate those who believe in conspiracy theories. Dave Brannon, 70, of Atwater, had a simple suggestion.

“Quit believing everything you are told or read on social media.”

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Michael Indriolo is a visual journalist based in Kent. He is a contributor at The Portager covering a range of topics, including local government and community.

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