Anniversary of ‘horrible moment’ at Capitol stokes pro-Trump and pro-democracy crowds in South Florida

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Outside former President Donald Trump’s home in Palm Beach, an hour-long shouting match illustrated the strife between those who believe his lies about the 2020 election being stolen and those who were celebrating democracy on the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Dozens of Trump supporters drove over the Southern Boulevard Bridge and passed by the service entrance at Mar-a-Lago, shouting and honking their horns at those who walked across the bridge in a pro-democracy march on Thursday night.

About 15 police officers stood nearby as the Trump supporters blared horns and waved flags at the group of about 50 people who gathered at the foot of the bridge as part of the march. Officers stopped traffic from flowing by on Southern Boulevard. It appeared there were no arrests.

Mark Offerman, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus Palm Beach County and organizer of the pro-democracy march, addressed the group before the march over the bridge.

“We all know why we’re here. Jan. 6 was a horrible moment in American history, a day that will probably go down in infamy. And I don’t want to see it happen again. That’s why I organized. That’s why we need people like you to come out and be strong in the face of what we just saw,” Offerman said to the group.

Half a dozen cars waving Trump flags, blaring horns and shouting profanities attempted to drown out the gathering.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather on Southern Blvd. in West Palm Beach for a rally in his support Thursday, January 6, 2022.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather on Southern Blvd. in West Palm Beach for a rally in his support Thursday, January 6, 2022. (Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Paula Dorhout, 67, of West Palm Beach, stood at the foot of the bridge holding a small LED candle, listening quietly to the cacophony of car horns.

Dorhout said she attended the march in an effort to “protect democracy.”

“I think it’s real important that we just protect our system of democracy for our children and for those generations that come after them. This scares me … that very few people are here and we see what we’re up against,” she said.

“Our country needs to find some kind of common ground … I think we need to get back to basics of civics 101 where we respect who is in office.”

Telene Thomas, 70, of Delray Beach, who co-organized the rally, said she gathered to honor the lives of the five who died that day and the law enforcement officers who were attacked.

“That’s what we’re remembering. That day is is so important in American history … We almost lost our democracy that day. We almost did. And we can’t forget we’re almost hanging by a thread,” Thomas said.

Earlier in the day, about 100 people gathered for a pro-Trump rally at the intersection of Southern Boulevard and Parker Avenue in West Palm Beach.

The former president and his allies continued to cling to false claims about the 2020 election and the violent riot.

Reacting to President Joe Biden, who blamed him for the deadly event, Trump issued statements repeating his assertions that the voting was rigged. Those claims have been thoroughly debunked.

From Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Trump accepted no responsibility for sending the thousands of supporters to the Capitol that day when he told them to “fight like hell.” By Thursday evening, he was sending out a fundraising appeal.

Trump’s supporters gathered at the rally on Southern Boulevard near Mar-a-Lago echoed the former president’s false claims of election fraud and declared their support for the men and women who were arrested in connection with the Capitol riot.

They waved Trump flags and American flags on the sidewalk behind barricades along the road as music blared. Their cheers and waves were met with honks of support from passing drivers.

Alan Mentser, who organized the rally, said he feels the prison time people who were arrested in connection with the riot received is “completely, completely uncalled for.”

At least 170 people have pleaded guilty and as of Jan. 2, 71 people have been sentenced for riot-related crimes.

The Justice Department reported that more than 220 people were charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement officers at the Capitol. Three of those people have been sentenced to terms ranging from over three years to just over five years.

“People are here to support our president, president Trump. … I believe the election was manipulated,” Mentser said.

Attendee Pat DeFalcon said she came to show support for the men and women arrested in connection with the Capitol riot. She said she believes they should not be in prison for what she considered “trespassing” and destroying property.

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“It started out as a good cause and it just got out of hand, and it’s a shame that it got to that point because I think it made the whole purpose of why we were there, it just smeared it,” DeFalcon said.

“What they did was wrong. Coming in and destroying our Capitol because that Capitol belongs to all of us. They didn’t have a right to do that,” she said. “It got out of hand. It made us all look bad.”

Enrico Marini, 72, of Boynton Beach, was another attendee who said he came to the rally in support of the men and women whose arrests stemmed from that day and to voice his opposition to the Biden administration.

“The Jan. 6 prisoners, I call them political prisoners … The ones that broke the windows , assaulted cops, they should be prosecuted, of course. But get them out of jail,” Marini said.

Separate events around South Florida were billed as pro-democracy rallies. At one near the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, about 30 people were gathered Thursday night.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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