A local assistant district attorney general who went to the Jan. 6 pro-Donald Trump rally in Washington said he was shocked at the outcome of the event, which ended with a violent mob storming the U.S. Capitol Building.
David Baker, a Greene County prosecutor, said he attended the rally as a private citizen and not as a representative of the district attorney general’s office or any other official entity. Baker said he was not among those who entered the Capitol Building.
Baker wrote Jan. 9 on his Facebook page about what he saw, and added a few comments in a brief telephone conversation on Jan. 11. He also released a statement on Saturday to The Greeneville Sun answering questions posed by a reporter earlier in the week.Baker took vacation time from his job to attend the rally with others from Greene County. Baker said he kept his distance from the Capitol Building and was not among members of the mob that forced their way into the building.
Those who breached the building, including people identified by the FBI as members of far right-wing groups, caused extensive damage. Some assaulted law enforcement officers trying to hold them back. Five people, including one U.S. Capitol Police officer, died in the violence.
Baker condemned the actions of those who invaded the Capitol building.
“I don’t think those were Trump supporters. It was a coordinated effort, I think,” he said Jan. 11. “They were not there to protest the (presidential) election.”
Baker said he and others were looking to peacefully protest the results of the election, which have been repeatedly characterized as fraudulent by Trump. They became caught up in events they didn’t anticipate or sanction.
“I got played like a fiddle,” he said.
In the Jan. 9 social media message and subsequent statement on Saturday, Baker described the events of Jan. 6 in Washington.
“I was at Washington Monument from 7 a.m. and stayed there throughout Trump’s entire speech, but apparently there were already massive crowds forming at the Capitol Building before his speech ended,” he wrote.
“We marched from the Washington Monument toward the Capitol Building down Constitution Avenue. We decided to go to our hotel, which was maybe not quite a mile from the Capitol Building, before going on to the Capitol Building, because we were hungry and freezing,” Baker wrote.
Baker estimated it was “at least two hours between Trump’s speech and us arriving at the Capitol grounds, so I couldn’t tell you anything firsthand what was going on at the Capitol when the chaos erupted.”
Baker and his companions went to the Capitol Building “and joined a huge crowd that was chanting and singing,” he wrote.“I, nor anyone I know, even thought about or discussed going inside.”
Baker “observed the largest gathering of people I’ve ever seen in my life. It was a family-friendly environment that was full of positive energy.”
“We left our hotel before 7 a.m. hoping to enter the White House Ellipse, but the line to get onto the White House grounds seemed to be over a mile long, thus we ended up standing near the Washington Monument until the President’s speech ended and we began the march toward the Capitol Building, where we thought we would be for many hours since there was supposed to be two hours of debate for each contested state.”
Cold temperatures prompted Baker and those he was with to return to the hotel they were staying at where they ate, rested briefly, called home “and put on warmer clothing for the long afternoon and evening ahead.”
Baker said he arrived on the Capitol Building grounds sometime after 4 p.m. on Jan. 6.
“Similar to the rally earlier in the day, there was a sea of people and flags that seemed to stretch all the way around the Capitol Building. I could hear random bursts of crowd cheering in the distance, as I joined the crowd at the west lawn section of the Capitol Building grounds where everyone was energized and peaceful,” he said.
Baker said many people where he was were distracted “by what appeared to be pushing and shoving near an archway outside of a passage way to the ‘Crypt,’ but I couldn’t tell what was actually happening from my vantage point.”
The Crypt, as is it known, is a brightly lit circular room below the Capitol Building Rotunda.
“The crowd where I was, which included many women and children, remained entirely peaceful, sang, chanted and conversed with everyone around them,” Baker said.
Baker said he removed a Dec. 21 post from his Facebook page after the Capitol riot about notification he received announcing the rally would take place. It stated, “East Tennessee Patriots are on the road to fight back #MAGA,” which stands for Make America Great Again.
Baker said others he was with at the rally, including some local business owners, also decided to take down posts, which removed them from his Facebook page.
“I did not remove anything from my social media that I posted from that day. In fact, I posted a statement acknowledging my attendance and condemning the violence,” Baker said in the statement released to The Greeneville Sun.
Baker has been a 3rd Judicial District prosecutor since 2008. He was previously twice an intern for former U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins and very familiar with the Capitol Building layout.
“That being said, I have no idea where people were able to gain entry, but on a normal day it is impossible to just walk in, so I’m shocked that anyone was able to get in on a day when every congressman and the vice president were inside all while hundreds of thousands (I estimate well over a million) were there to protest the certification of the electoral college,” Baker wrote.
After rioters were cleared out of the Capitol Building on Jan. 6 and order restored, Congress reconvened and confirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s November 2020 electoral college victory.
National Guard troops and other law enforcement agencies now in Washington will provide a heavy security presence around the Capitol Building on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, when Biden will formally be sworn in as president.
Baker acknowledged in the Jan. 9 social media post that repeated allegations of election fraud by Trump that helped spur the violent events of Jan. 6 remain a politically contentious issue.
“I’m hearing people are getting fired for just going to the rally,” Baker wrote.
Dan E. Armstrong, 3rd Judicial District attorney general and Baker’s boss, confirmed Saturday in an email that Baker was in Washington on his own time and not as a representative of the district attorney’s office.
“Mr. Baker did take personal leave on Jan. 6th. I remember signing the leave authorization,” Armstrong wrote.
“Many people were in Washington, D.C., on the 6th of January exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. It is unfortunate that a few took it upon themselves to go further and engage in violent and illegal activity which we all condemn,” Armstrong said in the email.
“The actions of a few should not be used to paint the whole as engaging in unlawful activity. Our country is founded on fundamental principles of freedom, not the least of which is freedom of speech and assembly,” Armstrong said.
In his statement, Baker emphasized that he does “strongly condemn the violent and threatening behavior that occurred at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. I was in no way a part of it nor would I ever condone it.”
Baker said that in the short amount of time he was on the Capitol grounds, “I met dozens of people from all over the U.S. Our conversations consisted mostly of what a historic day we seemed to be part of, but we were largely unaware of the tragic loss of life and the degree to which the Capitol Building was breached until we returned to our hotel around 6 p.m.
“I went to Washington, D.C. alongside hundreds of thousands of others to show support for a fair democratic process. It’s shameful that the actions of a small group defined the spirit of the day,” Baker said. “While I condemn the actions of those who acted unlawfully, I do not apologize for exercising my First Amendment right to show support for my political beliefs through peaceful and lawful demonstration.”