Outspoken Central Valley supporters of Donald Trump were in — or near — the riot that resulted in the deadly breach of the U.S. Capitol building this week.
Clovis real estate agent Ben Martin told GV Wire℠ that he was actually inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday during the riots — although he didn’t intend to enter the building.
Jason Phillips of Fresno captured a video of people confronting Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) in the Washington National airport terminal on Friday.
On Wednesday, Phillips posted a photo on Facebook of himself at the Capitol building. The caption accompanying the photo said, “It’s time to take our country back!”
Watch: Trump Supporters Confront Sen. Graham
Video from Facebook/Jason Phillips
Group Confronts Graham
There are several video versions of a group confronting Graham, calling him a traitor. On Wednesday, the senior South Carolina senator — a Trump ally — said that Trump lost the election and he voted to affirm Joe Biden’s election as president.
Phillips had a running conversation with Graham, asking him about his loyalty. Police escorted Graham away.
Martin appears in the background of the video, chanting at Graham.
Watch: Another View of Protesters Confronting Sen. Graham
Video from Facebook/Oreo Express
Martin Explains Being in the Capitol During Riot
Martin hosts a Facebook podcast dubbed “The Real POV.” The Realtor was among about 50 people in northeast Fresno who on Saturday protested the requirement to wear a mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the protest, the Trader Joe’s on Friant Road closed early that day.
Martin’s description of Wednesday’s events in Washington, D.C. illustrates the Great American Divide and how the voicing of unsubstantiated facts and disinformation has shaped this divide.
Martin said that he was in Washington to support the president, that he tried to act as a peacemaker in the Capitol melee, and that Antifa was to blame for the building’s breach and vandalism. Some Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits have echoed that claim.
However, there is no evidence that anti-fascist activists were involved in the pro-Trump Capitol riots, FBI Assistant Director Steven D’Antuono said on a call with reporters Friday.
D’Antuono also said that the FBI would cast a wide net to arrest those who engaged in criminal activity. Martin has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
In addition to Trump supporters, others present included Q-Anon conspiracy theorists, the far-right Proud Boys, the anti-government Oath Keepers, whose members are former law enforcement officials and military veterans, and various white supremacist groups.
Still, Martin insisted that much of the protest was peaceful, ruined only by some “bad apples.”
Rioters break into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday (Ben Martin)
Acting as a Peacemaker
Martin says there were no barriers along the perimeter of the Capitol, on what he believed to be the north side. He went up toward the side of the building when he saw the unrest happening.
“There were people trying to break into the building and I was trying to calm everyone down and to get it to be a little bit peaceful and say, ‘Hey, guys, you know, we can be here and we don’t need to act out,’ ” Martin said. “There were some inciters who were throwing like — Trumpers don’t throw rocks at buildings. Trumpers don’t try to break windows or break doors.”
Martin says “other groups” were the ones breaking in. He attempted to put himself physically between the mob and the police.
“I was trying to negotiate with both sides to de-escalate the issue,” Martin said. “I was literally in the middle of the front door when the herd behind me — there were thousands of them. All this weight of people starts moving you in a direction, I couldn’t control the direction of anything at that point,” Martin said.
Once inside, Martin said that he continued to urge people to leave. He believed he was about 10 to 15 feet inside the building before peacefully walking out, avoiding the pepper spray.
“This is way too out of control. I’m one person and I can’t help anymore,” Martin said.
He remained on the outside watching and recording the events. Later, Martin posted a video in which he criticized D.C. police for enforcing a 6 p.m. curfew and not letting him and others exit the hotel.
“This is what communism gets you!” Martin said. “This is not OK. Do we live in communist China?”
‘A Healthy Exercise’
Martin said what happened at the Capitol may have been a good thing.
“To some degree, I think it was a healthy exercise because I think the government needs to know that the people who stood up, (are fed up about) the lack of representation,” Martin said.
When informed that this was the first breach of the Capitol since the War of 1812, Martin said “Wow! They made history, didn’t they?”
Doesn’t Agree with Anti-Semitic Protesters
Several videos and photographs captured rioters with anti-Semitic messages on t-shirts. Martin said that didn’t see any of that, but disagrees with such sentiment.
“My personal belief is that there’s only one race, the human race. So anyone who says anything racial I don’t side with or anything anti-Semitic,” Martin said.
Not Worried About Business
Martin’s business is The Benjamin Martin Real Estate Team.
He said that he’s not concerned about alienating customers or driving away potential customers.
“I have always advertised to conservatives. So left-leaning people have never worked with me. I’m not worried about it. I didn’t break any laws. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was there practicing my First Amendment right,” Martin said.
He says his company has been getting “a lot of hate mail” and phone calls.
“I’m OK with that because I don’t want to work with people who don’t think like I do. I really like the way that I set my business up. I get to work with like-minded people,” Martin said.