The insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol a week ago was shocking but, perhaps, not surprising. Over the last few years, the country has experienced previews of the anger percolating and, periodically, boiling over by far right wing groups.
Just last spring, the nation witnessed a dress rehearsal of the U.S. Capitol siege when a marauding group of heavily armed protestors carried out a similar undertaking at the Michigan state house. But we also may have actually gotten a hint of what was to come in Pueblo and El Paso Counties just a few years earlier.
“In 2013, people stood around with guns strapped to their hips around polling places,” said former Colorado State Senator John Morse, the focus of a successful recall by gun rights groups in the same year. “People wanted to hold us accountable with an AR-15 in their hands.” Morse and legislative colleague, Pueblo Democrat, Angela Giron, were successfully recalled over new gun control legislation passed just a few months earlier.
Last Wednesday was a déjà vu moment for Morse who watched the unbelievable eruption of violence at the Capitol undertaken by Trump supporters. They, too, were rallying over an election and the President’s debunked belief that it was stolen. For Morse, it was 2013 and then some all over again.
“I think the recall in Colorado was really the start of all of this,” said Morse. While the numbers at the U.S. Capitol dwarfed those of the gun rights advocates of 2013 in southern Colorado, the dynamics, he said, were eerily similar. The distrust of government and belief that individual rights were being abused were precursors, said Morse. “Three years later, Trump was elected.”
The recall election that ensnared Morse and Giron was overseen by Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz. The Pueblo native said he just did his job making sure there would be no questions about the election outcome. But, he said, there were distractions. One, in particular, came from one of the loudest voices in the right wing.
It was Tom Tancredo, a former congressman and fierce anti-immigrant firebrand. “When Tancredo created the ACP (American Constitutional Party) I saw a lot of these tricks being played.” Ortiz said Tancredo’s group “tried to take over the canvas and not certify the election here in Pueblo.” Tancredo has made a career out of being insulting, most especially in his attacks on minorities and immigrants.
As a result, said Ortiz, he has worked scrupulously to make sure Pueblo County’s elections are conducted as close to perfect as they can be. Ortiz says he is confident that his office conducts its work in a way that there are no questions about the final numbers nor the integrity of his office.
The insurrection at the Capitol was purely misplaced vengeance, said Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar. “I was outraged by what I saw,” said the city’s first Mayor. The President incited it and encouraged it…it was incredulous that this would be happening two weeks before he was to leave office.”
Trump, said Gradisar, must take responsibility for the insurrection. ”It was sparked by a candidate simply unable to accept the reality of a loss,” he said. “I’ve watched elections. When you lose, that’s hard,” especially a close election. But it’s math. The other person, he said, just got more votes. “Donald Trump cannot stand to be a loser, even though he is.”
Despite the mob violence at the Capitol, Morse is optimistic that the insurrection was an aberration. But, because there seemed to be no plan and no leadership, it could have been dramatically worse, especially with some in the mob who were actually targeting leadership.
A number of those storming the Capitol brought with them zip ties, possibly to actually find and detain Democratic leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker is eighty-years-old, said Morse. Had Pelosi actually been found and detained and “forced to look into the camera, she could have literally been scared to death, had a heart attack or a stroke.”
Morse, an El Paso County Democrat, believes President-elect Joe Biden and his team will find a way to work through this. But one thing he hopes will be part of the solution is dealing pragmatically with the force behind the insurrection. “Donald Trump needs to be held accountable.”