These Arizona residents were at the rally at the U.S. Capitol that turned into a mob scene
Al Carstens, 65, of Scottsdale, had stood at Washington D.C.’s Ellipse park, for hours of speeches, capped by one from President Donald Trump. Then, Carstens said, he did what everyone else in the crowd seemed to be doing: make a slow, steady march to the U.S. Capitol.
There, a joint session of Congress had gaveled in to certify the results of the Presidential election.
But on the way, Carsten said, the crowd started getting word on their mobile phones that Vice President Mike Pence had decided not to step in and refuse to count some of the states' electors, as some in the crowd had hoped.
“Everyone said (that) we’ve been denied by Pence,” said Carstens on Friday evening, minutes after his flight landed back in Phoenix. “People were chanting it. They were upset about that.”
Carstens returned to Phoenix aboard a non-stop flight Friday that made a stir on social media while it was in the air. A conservative activist posted a video and reported that the pilot had threatened to dump passengers off in Kansas, seeming punishment for chanting “U.S.A.” American Airlines, in a statement, did not directly address the claim.
The plane’s landing at Sky Harbor International Airport also provided one of the first chances for in-person accounts from Arizona residents who had been at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, a day that seems likely to be remembered in history.
Five people died as a mob of Trump supporters made their way into the U.S. Capitol. Among the dead was a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot by another Capitol Police officer. Some made their way down into the House and Senate chambers. Others ransacked legislative offices, making off with equipment and documents.
By Friday, federal authorities had announced dozens of arrests and charges and promised more would be forthcoming.
But among the sampling of passengers arriving at Sky Harbor International Airport, none felt as if they had been part of a violent crowd of insurgents or insurrectionists.
The first clue Carstens had that his presence wasn’t welcome was when a tear gas canister landed at his feet, he said. It was his first time being gassed and, he said, he hoped the last. His eyes stung and he had a pounding headache. His vision remained blurred through the next day, he said.
“There was no announcement, no warning, nothing,” he said.
He quickly left the area.
Cliff Mansley, 59, made it further, getting to the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Mansley is pastor of Grace Community Church in Surprise.
By the time he reached the area, the barricades were down, he said.
“I walked in,” he said. “There was a whole bunch of other people there.”
Mansley made it as far as the steps. He said he didn’t enter the building.
Mansley said the mood was celebratory. Attendees used the gathering as a way to blow off steam, he said.
“People were upset,” he said. “Conservatives have been mocked for so many years…We get sworn at and we get ridiculed.” But the time standing around the U.S. Capitol building proved a respite, he said.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “We were singing the National Anthem.”
Jeff Zink, a Phoenix resident who said he is is running for U.S. Congress in Arizona District 7, also stood on the steps of the Capitol, but did not go inside. He condemned those who stormed inside.
“We are a law-abiding country," he said. "We are governed by rule of law and without that, then we have sure anarchy."
Zink said he didn't encounter any resistance to being outside the Capitol. Police were opening gates, he said, and waving people in.
“We can protest and we can do this peacefully," Zink said, "but we don’t have to do this with intimidation and trying to make people see our way."
Zink said he suspected many of the troublemakers were not Trump supporters, but radical leftists.
Some people have suggested Antifa was somehow behind the event. Antifa is a political movement of far-left militants who oppose neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.
An FBI assistant director said on a conference call with reporters on Friday that there was "no indication” of the group’s involvement among the rioters who breached the Capitol.
So far, the highest-profile arrests announced by federal authorities, including a man pictured with his feet up at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, have been Trump supporters.
Nonetheless, Mansley, the pastor, also claimed he spotted interlopers.
“There were definitely people there who should not have been there,” he said.
Before his flight out of Washington D.C. on Friday, Mansley said he struck up a conversation in the gate area with Sen. Lindsay Graham. He said the two men had a cordial discussion about their worst fears of the coming Biden administration.
That was before a series of confrontations, captured on video, that had Graham being yelled at by Trump supporters, angry that he didn’t do more to stop Congress from certifying the election for Biden.
“People came and just trashed him,” Mansley said, “and I thought that was wrong.”
Then came the flight.
During the opening announcements, people aboard the plane started chanting, “U.S.A, U.S.A.” That led the pilot to use the intercom to chide passengers as a father might unruly children in the backseat, according to passengers who described it to The Republic. If they didn’t settle down, the pilot warned, according to several passengers, he would dump them off in Kansas.
Mindy Robinson, the activist whose Tweet about the incident went viral, said the pilot overreacted. "It was like (a) 10-second chant and he was so livid," she wrote in a message to The Republic.
American Airlines, in a statement released by a spokesperson, said the pilot made an announcement "emphasizing the importance of following crew member instructions and complying with mandatory face-covering policies." The statement did not address the threat to drop passengers off in Kansas.
Emotions cooled and the flight went along without incident, Carstens, of Scottsdale, said. But he wouldn’t forget.
“I’m never flying American Airlines again,” he said as he walked out of the gate area and toward baggage claim.
That sentiment was shared by Joe Baswari, 22, of Phoenix, who was also on the flight.
“It’s funny,” he said. “We were chanting USA and it’s American Airlines.”
Baswari did not have a dramatic story of his time in Washington, D.C., He said he attended the speeches at the Ellipse, but didn’t go on to the U.S. Capitol, instead heading to his hotel.
He later learned of the breach of the Capitol building and said that, though it was a small sliver of the peaceful crowd that was there to support Trump, he condemned their actions.
“The MAGA people, the Trump-icans, we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting for America, for the country.”
Mansley, the pastor, said that in the coming months, he would “pray for our politicians, on the right and on the left, and see where this all goes.”