HELENA — More than 100 supporters of the outgoing president gathered peacefully outside of the Montana state capitol Wednesday as mobs of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol and clashed with police 2,100 miles away in an attempt to prevent the transition of presidential power.
Setting the tone in Montana on Wednesday was Dave Von Kleist, a 68-year old musician and filmmaker from Whitefish perhaps best known for producing a 9/11 conspiracy theory documentary entitled “911: In Plane Site.”
Von Kleist said he came to Helena to protest what he sees as “obscene corruption” and “treason” plaguing the nation. He spent the day playing “politically incorrect, in-your-face, lying-son-of-a-bitch government music” on his guitar about the media, America, the military and other President Donald Trump-adjacent themes broadcast on a PA system facing the capitol lawn.
The crowd spent an unseasonably warm January afternoon waving “Stop the Steal” signs and listening to the live music while lawmakers conducted a brief floor session inside.
In Washington, D.C., Congress was slated Wednesday to certify results of the Electoral College, which put Democrat and former Vice President Joe Biden in office and unseated Republican Trump. As violence broke out and locked down the U.S. Capitol, many demonstrators in Helena said they weren’t aware of that mayhem or said they had heard agitators had infiltrated the Trump supporters to instigate violence.
A Montana Highway Patrol officer inside the capitol said it’s department policy not to comment on security procedures, but he confirmed the crowd was peaceful and none had tried to breach any state or legislative offices. No masks were visible outside.
Rep. Braxton Mitchell, a first-term Republican from Columbia Falls, stood on the capitol steps Wednesday before he took to the floor to take in the scene.
“I just came out to observe, see what’s going on and make sure things are staying good and calm,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that he is against political violence, but that he believes there were irregularities with the election —though not necessarily enough to change the results. In Montana, he said he has issues with the practice of absentee ballot gathering — though he said that his campaign certainly took advantage of what’s known as “ballot harvesting.”
He said he was surprised by the crowd of people, “especially on a weekday because most Republicans have jobs.”
One of those Republicans, Ladawna Nelson, said this: “We want a fair election. A lot of people testified (to election fraud).”
Nelson, who said she came out with friends and family, is one of many Trump supporters who have bought into unfounded allegations of a “stolen” election.
Several of Montana’s statewide elected officials have furthered those claims, either directly or through their stated refusal to vote to certify the results of the November presidential election.
Federal and state courts across the country have widely dismissed legal challenges to the results of the election.
U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale and Sen. Steve Daines, both Republicans, announced earlier in the week that they would not certify election results and seek a 10-day audit of the outcomes. After the mob stormed the Capitol, Daines reversed course and announced he would certify election results.
In a tweet earlier Wednesday, he also said he condemns “any kind of violence and intimidation.”
In Helena, however, Mayor Wilmot Collins placed responsibility for the chaos in Washington, D.C., on Daines, and he decried unfounded allegations of election fraud.
“You’ve enabled and emboldened this violence by helping push conspiracies and falsehoods that you couldn’t even pretend to support with evidence,” tweeted Collins, himself a one-time U.S. Senate hopeful, in response to Daines’ tweet.
The Washington Post reported that one woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol by Capitol Police; additional details were not available about the incident Wednesday afternoon.
Both Daines and Rosendale have said they are safe and sheltered in D.C. Staff from the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, have said they and the lawmaker also are safe.
In statements, state legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte condemned the violence in Washington.
“We are blessed in Montana to have a long tradition of respectful and spirited dialogue and peaceful expression of diverse viewpoints through our First Amendment rights,” said Senate President Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, and House Speaker Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale, in a statement. “Violence is not an acceptable response to political differences.”
Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, wrote in a statement that she’s “disturbed by the violence that has taken place in our nation’s Capital” and that the country deserves “leaders that will do more than condemn the violence attempting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and immediately put an end to the baseless claims and dangerous rhetoric that got us here today.”
Said Gianforte in a tweet: “Violence has no place in our civil society, and I categorically condemn what’s happening in the U.S. Capitol.”
This story was updated to reflect Sen. Daines’ new position on certifying election results.