For Leonard Guthrie Jr., Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., was meant to be about restoration and revival.
The Middle Township man joined thousands of others in the nation’s capital, many supporting President Donald Trump, to protest the results of the presidential election. The protest became a riot when a mob of Trump supporters, some armed, overran the Capitol and forced members of Congress to be escorted out of the House Chamber; 82 people have been charged so far, including Guthrie. Five people died as a result of the melee, including Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who grew up in New Jersey.
The rampage that shocked the world and left the country on edge forced the resignations of three top Capitol security officials, led lawmakers to demand a review of operations and an FBI briefing over what they called a “terrorist attack,” and prompted a broader reckoning over Trump’s tenure in office and what comes next for a torn nation.
Guthrie was charged with unlawful entry, according to a Thursday release from the United States Capitol Police. Guthrie said Friday he was charged and removed before the protest evolved into a riot.
When he later learned how far the demonstration had strayed from its original intent, Guthrie said he was heartbroken.
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“The moment that I heard that veteran (Ashli Babbitt) was shot,” said the 48-year-old Guthrie, “that broke my heart. I just have this thing with the veterans and people that swore an oath.
“I don’t know the details, but wherever she was, she felt it was her constitutional duty to continue to honor her oath. I’m not going to judge her for that.”
Thirteen other people were named in the release, and their charges included unlawful entry, assaulting a police officer, carrying a pistol without a license, resisting arrest and possessing unregistered ammunition.
Leonard Guthrie Sr., also of Middle Township, said the Leonard Guthrie charged Wednesday is his son.
According to Guthrie Jr., people wanted to have their voices heard at the Capitol as Congress was in the middle of certifying the Electoral College votes from the November presidential election. Before the building was compromised, he said the crowds were full of prayer to “bring God back to D.C.” He admitted he crossed the police line with others as a gesture of civil disobedience. He was promptly arrested and taken to a holding facility for four hours.
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Using an app on his phone to keep track of his movements, he determined he was at the Capitol steps at 1:22 p.m. Between 2:05 and 6:03 p.m., he was in a holding cell. While there, he heard on the radio that things had taken a turn for the worse.
“This wasn’t about going in and destroying the building,” Guthrie Jr. said. “It had nothing to do with that. I have nothing to say about that other than they shouldn’t have done that. That was wrong. That was stupid.”
As a result of the chaos that continued into the evening, many Republican members of Congress changed their minds and voted to approve the electoral votes. Had things remained peaceful, Guthrie Jr. believes the results could’ve been drastically different.
“There was a constitutional process taking place, and the actions stopped it,” he said. “Who knows what effect that had on the choices and the judgments that were made that day?
“Look at how many people were willing to object. (The riot) happened, and when (the congressmen) came in, they changed their minds. So it’s pretty obvious there would have been a much different outcome.”
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Guthrie Jr. said he got back home to South Jersey about 1 a.m. Thursday. He’s unsure what the unlawful entry charge will bring but hopes he will be treated differently from those who entered the Capitol.
“I know that my unlawful entry is different,” he said. “I didn’t breach the building or anything like that. I’m kind of in the dark with it. They can’t lump me in with those people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.