CHEYENNE — A nonviolent protest against the results of the 2020 presidential election was held Wednesday at the Wyoming State Capitol, eventually leading to the Wyoming Highway Patrol placing the building on lockdown as a precautionary measure.
At the same time the protest of around 300 people was occurring in Cheyenne, thousands of pro-Trump supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., with some of them storming inside the nation’s Capitol, causing the building to be placed on lockdown and lawmakers to shelter in place.
At the state Capitol, the protest organized by the Cheyenne Tea Party occurred just two days after many residents gathered in opposition to the state’s public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of this protest, however, was largely on the results of the 2020 presidential election, with Congress scheduled to meet Wednesday to count the Electoral College’s certified voting results.
“Congress must reject the Electoral College count ... and if they don’t, and if our representatives don’t, we will, and that’s a promise,” rally organizer Moses Hasenauer said to cheers from the crowd. “We must protect the integrity of the vote.”
Protesters came from across the state for the rally, which Hasenauer said could be one of many that will be held in the coming weeks. Throughout the protest, the crowd frequently erupted into chants of “Stop the steal!” and “Drain the swamp!” People in the crowd also took verbal shots at U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., both of whom said they had no plans to object to the vote count that was planned in Congress.
New U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., had joined with a coalition of about a dozen senators earlier this week in stating their intention to contest the results in several key swing states. A challenge of Arizona’s results was being debated in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate when protesters overwhelmed Capitol Police and stormed the building.
Lummis’ backing of the effort was cheered by several members of the crowd. Among them was Lori Gupton, who drove down from Sheridan Wednesday morning with her friend to protest the election and what she viewed as inaction from Wyoming’s elected leaders.
“I think we are not getting represented as Wyoming citizens – our governor isn’t listening to us, and Cheney and Barrasso are not listening to us,” Gupton said. “(Lummis) gave me some hope. Honestly, I don’t really care what else she does. I will vote for her again, and I will do everything I can in my power to get the other two primaried.”
Gupton said she wanted to protest out of a sense of urgency to make her voice heard now before the election fully comes to a close.
“We’re going to lose our country if we don’t stand up now, in my opinion,” Gupton said as several cars honked at her and others holding signs at the rally.
During the local rally, a few far-right lawmakers, including Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, also spoke to the crowd. Gray, who was on hand for Monday’s rally against the health orders, said he was thankful for Lummis joining the effort to object to the results, and upon mentioning Cheney, the crowd erupted into chants of “Cheney’s gotta go!”
“I was just talking with a constituent from the district I represent up in Casper, and they said, ‘You know what, we need to bring Congresswoman Cheney and Senator Barrasso to the (state) Legislature to explain their actions,’ and I agree,” Gray said, with the crowd responding with cheers.
The crowd offered a mixed response upon learning of the protesters storming into the U.S. Capitol. Initially, Hasenauer announced the invasion into the Capitol to cheers from many in the crowd. However, slightly later during the protest, Hasenauer walked back some of his enthusiasm, stating “we have to operate in a peaceful demonstration.”
“There’s people’s lives at threat right now with whatever’s going on in Washington, and I don’t know that we planned this,” Hasenauer said.
The crowd then joined together in a prayer, asking for the protection and safety of everyone in Washington.
While the protest in Cheyenne never turned violent nor included an effort to enter the state Capitol, the Wyoming Highway Patrol decided to lock down the building about 30 minutes after the protest began. Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon, said the decision was made by WHP “out of an abundance of caution.”
“It was just a conservative decision that (Highway Patrol) made,” Pearlman said. “There were protests occurring outside of the building, and they were monitoring them and decided that it would just be better to be safe.”
Gordon was not in the building during the lockdown, which had yet to be lifted as of around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Pearlman said. Later in the afternoon, Gordon issued a statement on the events in Washington, stating he was “heartbroken” by what had unfolded.
“Interfering with the peaceful transfer of power is an affront to the very Constitution that has made our country what it is,” Gordon said in the statement. “I believe America will not – cannot – stand for this assault on our democracy.
“I encourage the entire country to follow the example that we have demonstrated here in Wyoming, a proper and peaceful expression of dissent – the cornerstone of free speech,” Gordon continued.
Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto also issued a statement condemning the violence in Washington.
“These people are not protestors or patriots – they are domestic terrorists who were beckoned by the dog whistle of Donald Trump,” Barbuto said in a statement. “The President of the United States is complicit in this violence, as are those who have enabled and defended his actions, conspiracy theories and words over the last four years. That, unfortunately, includes our own federal delegation to D.C.”
Barbuto also criticized Lummis and called on her to publicly withdraw her involvement in the Republican senators’ effort to object to the vote count.
“Her embrace of that rhetoric has only escalated this situation,” Barbuto said. “It is a disgrace to democracy, it is a disgrace to our nation, and it is a disgrace to Wyoming.
The Wyoming Republican Party, meanwhile, planned to issue a statement on the events Wednesday evening, according to party chairman Frank Eathorne.
D.C. delegation condemns violence, Cheney says Trump “lit the flame”
Meanwhile, in Washington, the three federal delegates from Wyoming and their staffs were safe, according to their spokespeople. By Wednesday afternoon, Barrasso and Lummis had issued statements on Twitter calling for the violence from Trump supporters to stop.
“This violence and destruction have no place in our republic,” Barrasso said in a tweet. “It must end now.”
In her statement, Lummis said violent protests “were unacceptable this summer and are unacceptable now.”
“Call it what it is: An attack on the Capitol is an attack on democracy,” Lummis said in a tweet. “Today we are trying to use the democratic process to address grievances. This violence inhibits our ability to do that.”
Asked whether the events Wednesday would lead to Lummis no longer objecting to the vote count in Congress, a spokesman for the senator had not responded to a request for comment by press time Wednesday.
The events unfolding in Washington drew a stronger response from Cheney, who said in an NBC News interview that President Trump’s response to the mob invasion – which was posted in a minute-long video in which the president maintained his unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud while calling for peace – was “completely inadequate.”
“It has been 245 years, and no president has ever failed to concede or agree to leave office after the Electoral College has voted,” Cheney said in the interview. “I think what we’re seeing today is a result of that – a result of convincing people that somehow Congress was going to overturn the results of this election, a result of suggesting he wouldn’t leave office. Those are very, very dangerous things.
“This will be remembered, and this will be part of his legacy, and it is a dangerous moment for our country,” Cheney continued.
Later in the afternoon, Cheney doubled down in a second TV interview on Fox News, placing the blame for the mob’s invasion Wednesday squarely on Trump.
“There is no question that the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob (and) the president addressed the mob,” Cheney said. “He lit the flame.”
After the Capitol was cleared by security officials, Congress reconvened Wednesday night to continue the vote count, according to national reports.