‘Hope and horror’: Juneau residents respond to the riot in Washington D.C.

Protestors on the steps of the on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Brett Davis via Flickr)
Protestors on the steps of the on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Brett Davis via Flickr)

A handful of protesters showed up at the Alaska State Capitol building on Wednesday morning, but they didn’t stay for long. 

Juneau Police Department officers were also briefly there — but Legislative Affairs Director Jessica Geary said it was a misunderstanding as state capitol security had just called to ask to be added to their daily patrol route.  

And even though it was quieter here than in the nation’s capital, a lot of Juneau residents said they were anxious and scared as they watched rioters disrupt a joint session of Congress that was working to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.  

Juneau Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Democrat,  was working from his office on Wednesday in the state’s capitol building. He spent the day working on the rollout of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine page for senior citizens. 

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, in 2018. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

He said he isn’t concerned about escalating violence locally, even with the small group of protesters on the front steps.  

“Alaska’s capitol is secure and safe,” he said. “They all executed their constitutional right to protest on the capitol steps. They did so forcefully and peacefully and I disagree with them but they were well within their rights. It was a totally different situation than the people in D.C. who are trying to overthrow a free and fair election… you know, night and day.”

Kiehl said he was sickened by what happened in D.C. and frightened to see the U.S. Capitol overrun, both for the people who are getting hurt and for the future of the country’s government. 

“But we will get through this,” he said. “Those trying to overthrow America’s free and fair election will not succeed and we will have a system of government where the voters decide who works for our country when this is over.”

Some people who watched as the mob stormed in and destroyed parts of the Capitol saw white privilege in action. Security forces shot and killed one rioter but they have reported arresting just a few dozen people during the Capitol invasion — and videos appear to show Capitol police moving barriers for the mob of mostly white people and standing aside as they breached the building, which led lots of people to wonder aloud on social media how the scene would have been different if it had been a mob of Black people.

Juneau entrepreneur and artist Christy NaMee Eriksen wrote on social media that she was struck by how far the people got with their violence.  

“It hurts to see what white people are truly capable of, that is, that they can respect even the most outrageous among us, have patience and compassion, withhold violence. Under our outrage is envy — the wish that America loved black people, or indigenous people, or asian, latinx and arab people, or immigrants or muslims or queer or trans or female-bodied people as much as it loves a white armed terrorist mob staging a coupe,” she wrote. 

What strikes me the most is that white nationalists do not fear death the way so many of my friends in america fear…

Posted by Christy NaMee Eriksen on Wednesday, January 6, 2021


Juneau resident Joshua Hunnel also noticed how differently the extremists in D.C. were treated from the protesters for Black racial justice who demonstrated across the country last year. 

“If that was a bunch of Democrats out there, Black Lives Matter, there’s no way they would have gotten into that building,” Hunnel said. “The cops would have been ready for a riot and they would have used their riot stuff.” 

Hunnel hesitated to find a race-based motive in that disparate treatment, but he said he had a hard time believing that anyone could have gotten into such a heavily guarded building if law enforcement didn’t want them to. 

“I feel like it was almost staged,” he said. “I know how protected these buildings are — there could be 100,000 people outside and not one of them will get in,” he said. “And then that’s the part of my mind that says ‘you know, the Democrats are out to cause a scene, but there’s another part of my mind that’s like ‘Yeah how did they get in there?’ knowing how protected it is.” 

Hunnel and his wife are supporters of President Donald Trump — that makes him something of an outlier in his family. 

“You know, I got Trump banners that I don’t hang outside. Not for fear of reprisal, just because there’s no point in it for me,” he said. “I guess I don’t want to stand out because of that.” 

What he saw on Wednesday made him uncomfortable. But, he said, he’s not afraid of it. 

“I don’t think it would happen here,” he said. 

He thinks the community has shown repeatedly that there can be civil unrest and demonstration without violence. 

“I don’t really like the cops too much, but the ones in Juneau are fantastic as far as handling things,” he said. 

But, he also doesn’t think that Juneau residents can get a clear picture of what’s going on thousands of miles away. That the extreme actions of the few tend to be amplified and can overshadow the message of the whole of Trump’s base. 

“The majority of them are just law-abiding citizens who work their 9-to-5, or they’re retirees or they don’t really know any better and they’re just going off what they’re told,” Hunnel said. “As far as the violence goes, like I said, I’m a huge Trump supporter and I’ve probably been around more violence than most because of my history — but I won’t engage in any of that. You’re not going to gain anything by storming the Capitol.”

Local resident Christie Hendrich watched the angry mob forced the Capitol to lock down and said she was frightened. 

“This is the moment where I’m feeling my worst. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this but I was afraid it would,” she said. “I was afraid we were going to have violence just because there’s so much incitement going on.”

She was watching the coverage with her 14- and 10-year-old daughters. 

“Yeah, and I actually feel like I’ve not done a very good job of reassuring them,” she said. “So that’s kind of like my next step… is to take a deep breath and kind of talk about ‘this is what we can control and this is what we can’t control,” she said. “I’d like to figure out how to tell them how to be resilient in this scary, unpredictable world.”

Hendrich said she’s fairly politically active, but wishes she could tune it all out for a time — there doesn’t seem to be any space to do that. She also said she’s not sure how to respond because she doesn’t want to inflame her neighbors or put her anger on them in a way that makes it difficult to move forward together. 

“There’s ‘hope and horror,” she said. “But I do feel like we’re in a particular time where it’s so volatile and so uncertain just because so many of the norms have — you know everybody is treated equally,” she said. “But, to just blow it up completely so there’s no room for discourse and discussion and all that — which feels like kind of where we’re all at right now — it’s really disturbing.”

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