“Hippies for Trump”: Asheville man among nine North Carolinians arrested for right-wing insurrection at U.S. Capitol

On Monday, as thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump prepared to travel to Washington, D.C., to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election, 46-year-old Thomas Gronek of Asheville was ready.

A friend of Gronek posted photos and a video to Facebook showing off Gronek’s ride — an old school bus spray-painted with a psychedelic color scheme, Grateful Dead iconography, pro-Trump graffiti and “Stop The Steal” messages.

Image: Facebook

The next day. the bus was stopped by the D.C. Metropolitan police in the 700 block of Constitution Avenue, minutes from the United States Capitol. Police said they found fireworks, a pistol, a rifle, a large-capacity ammunition feeding device and more than 300 rounds of ammunition aboard. Gronek was arrested on weapons charges. The driver of the bus,  34-year-old Timothy Keller, 34, of Asheville, was charged with “no permit” for the bus, according to police reports.

Fox46 of Charlotte reported the identities of other North Carolinians arrested at or near the Capitol yesterday, bringing the total to nine:

  • Jere Brower, 45, for curfew violation and unlawful entry.
  • Earl Glosser, 40, for curfew violation and unlawful entry.
  • Lance Grames, 42 for curfew violation and unlawful entry.
  • Tim Scarboro, 33, for curfew violation.
  • James Smawley, 27, for curfew violation.
  • Jay Thaxton, 46, curfew violation.
  • Michael Jones, 23, for curfew violation.

The arrest of the two Asheville men was one of many obvious red flags before an armed mob violently stormed the Capitol Wednesday, clashing with police and forcing their way onto the House and Senate floors, as lawmakers were evacuated or had to shelter in place until order was restored. One woman, who was trying to break down a door inside the Capitol, was shot by law enforcement, and three other people died in medical emergencies. More than a dozen police officers were injured; the FBI found and disarmed two improvised explosive devices. The National Guard had to be called in to help remove rioters from the Capitol and restore order as a city-wide curfew went into place at 6 p.m.

Thomas Gronek, from a video posted to Facebook shortly before his arrest on weapons charges in Washington D.C.

Though lawmakers and law enforcement have denounced the violent riot as unimaginable, right-wing groups and individuals had been laying out just this sort of scenario for months in increasingly erratic and violent social media posts.

On Oct. 30, as Trump was already suggesting his loss would be defacto proof of election fraud and a conspiracy to end his presidency, Gronek himself took to Facebook to post a long screed praising the president and denouncing his opponents and “the evil govt.” In the post Gronek warned of a “mass takeover of the country” in which he feared the constitution would be changed and suggested people opposing Trump and brainwashing the American public may actually be aliens.

“They think we aren’t smart enough to see the reality of this tarded ass mass takeover of our country,” Gronek wrote. ” ENOUGH IS EHOUGH![sic]”

“I will not stand and watch these people or aliens or what ever they are manipulate and screw with your minds into believing that you need them back in power,” Gronek wrote.

By the time he boarded his bus for D.C. this week, Gronek’s confusing but confrontational sentiments had not softened.

In the video in which he showed off his bus, Gronek smiles and lifts a fist on which he appears to be wearing a gauntlet covered in sharp spikes.

“I’ve got this for antifa,” he said, bragging about other weapons he had and ranting against “Asheville antifa.”

“I like my guns,” Gronek said in the video as he pointed out a skull emblem affixed to the front of the bus framed by two pistols, not far from the message “love is the answer.”

Right-wing insurrectionists enter the U.S. Capitol Building On Jan. 6. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Parler, a social media site embraced by conservatives as an alternative to Twitter and its policies against posts encouraging violence or spreading information, saw a wave of similar rhetoric in the run-up to the siege of the capitol.

A week ago a Parler user with the handle “QanonLV” posted “To all the Patriots descending on Washington DC on #jan6….come armed….”

The post has so far been up-voted by other users 870 times and “echoed” (Parler’s version of a re-tweet) by 251 people.

On Thursday, in the wake of the insurrection, the same user was one of many falsely claiming that left-wing activists posing as pro-Trump had actually instigated the violence.

“They set us up,” the user posted.

With Republican lawmakers and media personalities themselves divided on how to best react to the violence and who to blame, right-wing social media also seems to have splintered into factions.

A large number of Parler posts Wednesday and Thursday immediately began blaming left-wing protesters, “antifa” and even the D.C. Metro police for the violence. A number of these centered on internet memes that claim to identify specific rioters photographed at the Capitol as left-wing activists. Those memes misidentify a number of those in the photographs, as has been widely reported.

Even prominent right-wing personalities like Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, took to Parler to discredit those posts. McInnes pointed out that some of the most prominent rioters identifiable by photographs, such as a bare-chested man in faux-Norseman costume people have called “Horns,” are Trump supporters and Q-Anon conspiracy theorists well known on the internet. Read more

Open letter: Political scientists call for Trump’s removal under the 25th Amendment

A growing list of more than 1,000 political scientists asked Congress, Vice President Mike Pence and cabinet members to remove President Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, amplifying voices of some lawmakers from both parties and industry groups demanding the same.

“The President’s actions show he is unwilling or unable to fulfill his oath to protect and defend the Constitution,” wrote signatories of the letter after rioting Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.

The 25th Amendment has never been invoked, and is viewed as a last resort or safety net when a sitting president cannot fulfill their job duties.

A mob broke into the Senate chamber during certification of the Electoral College votes, forcing members of Congress to evacuate. Many lawmakers, including the North Carolina delegation condemned their violence.

Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawaba College, courtesy photo

“The protesters yesterday, until they climbed the steps, went past the barricades were also exercising their first amendment rights,” said Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawaba College. “They gave up those rights when they started breaking glass and busting down doors and climbing over walls and entering the chambers, as they did.”

Bitzer noted it was the first time he has ever signed an open letter, which symbolizes many political scientists “speaking with one voice and saying that enough is enough”.

President Trump spoke to his supporters earlier in front of the White House and tweeted voter fraud claims throughout Wednesday morning. After the Capitol breach, he then urged them to remain peaceful in a video he posted on Twitter, “We have to have peace; We have to have law and order.” But in the same video, he still said “we have an election that was stolen from us”. Twitter later disabled the viewing of the content.

Bob Orr, former North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice called Trump’s gesture “too late and insincere”.

“We have never had a chief executive call for and instigate an insurrection or seditious activity like what we saw yesterday,” Bitzer added that Trump also took no initiative to protect the duly-elected members of Congress. “When one branch is under attack physically it is the duty of the commander in chief to ensure that that violence is put down that commander in chief failed yesterday.”

A Republican himself, Orr said the GOP has continued to enable Trump and his supporters to engage in conspiracy theories, spread hatred and instigate violence ever since he started to run for office. Orr explained what angered him the most was that many Republicans continued to contest the election results as if nothing had happened Wednesday night.

“Any elected official for sure needs to be held accountable to the laws of the country and the constitutional limitations on them, and when they violate them they need to pay the consequences,” Orr said. “For four years, Donald Trump … has gotten away with all sorts of violations of the law and breaches of the Constitution in my opinion, and we will see what happens next.”

Congressman Mark Walker running for U.S. Senate in 2022

On Tuesday U.S. Rep Mark Walker (R) became the first Republican to declare a run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Richard Burr (R).

Walker, a former Baptist pastor from Greensboro, has been talking about a run for senate since last year, when his congressional district was redrawn and ultimately went to Democrat Kathy Manning. Last year he met with President Donald Trump, who he said would back him in a run in 2022.

That was before Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, began talking about a run for the seat. If she decides to run, it’s unclear where the outgoing president’s endorsement would go.

In declining to run again, Burr has created a rare open seat for which many North Carolina Republicans may scrum.

Walker won his congressional seat in a similar way, when the retirement of the late Howard Coble led Republicans from the prominent to the unknown into a tough GOP primary in 2014. Walker ended up in a run-off with Phil Berger Jr., the son of N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Berger Jr. had much wider name recognition, experience as District Attorney in Rockingham County and dramatically outspent Walker, who had never before run for elected office. But Walker, a tireless campaigner, beat Berger Jr. handily even in his home county.

In a video announcing his candidacy, Walker calls himself  “a conservative warrior and a bridge builder for all of our communities.”

The video emphasizes this with appearances from civil rights figure Clarence Henderson in front of the site of the Woolworth’s sit-in in downtown Greensboro and a remote endorsement from former Alabama Gov. Mike Huckabee, who calls Walker “a conservative champion.”

In the video Walker leans heavily on his appeal to conservatives, railing against the Green New Deal and calls to “defund the police” and decrease military spending.

During his time in Washington Walker has been a staunch Trump supporter, leaving some question as to what his crossover appeal may be in the wake of Trump’s failed reelection bid.

State senator Erica Smith, who lost the Democratic  Senate primary to Cal Cunningham this year, has said she will run for the Senate seat in 2022.

Newby retakes lead in NC Supreme Court Chief Justice race as counties finalize vote totals this week

Justice Paul Newby again took the lead in the much-watched North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice race over the weekend, leading Chief Justice Cheri Beasley by 230 votes early Monday.

Beasley, the Democratic incumbent, had a lead of 35 votes late Friday. She and Newby, her Republican challenger, have been swapping the lead in this very close race as mail-in and provisional ballots have continued to be tallied and submitted.

North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Justice Paul Newby.

Nine counties still have to meet for their final canvass  or hold re-canvas meetings early this week, correcting discrepancies and finalizing vote totals.

Craven, Duplin, New Hanover, Robeson, Rockingham, Sampson and Washington counties are all meeting early this week.

Robeson County still has about 700 provisional ballots and 30 absentee ballots to add to its totals.

Due to an older tabulation system, Washington County duplicated its absentee by mail data on election night and will need to correct that error, according to the state board of elections.

Two counties — Durham and Stanly — are meeting again this week to e-canvas and make minor modifications.

State board of elections officials stressed that the canvass period following elections exists for just this reason — to make sure any errors are caught, discrepancies corrected and challenges allowed.

“The canvass process exists to ensure votes are counted accurately,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, in a statement Sunday. “This is the process working as it is supposed to work. This election will not be certified until we are certain the results are accurate.”

Requests for recounts are due in most single-county elections by 5 p.m. Monday and by noon on Tuesday for statewide and multi-county races. In statewide races the margin must be 10,000 votes or fewer and 1 percent or less of the total votes in single-county races.

The state canvass is scheduled for Nov. 24, after a series of audits.

With all eyes on NC Supreme Court Chief Justice race, margin shrinks to 35 votes

North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Justice Paul Newby.

All eyes were on the North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice race Friday as most of the state’s 100 counties completed their canvas and reported final vote totals.

The race went narrowly back and forth between Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, and her Republican challenger, Justice Paul Newby for most of the day and into the evening.

When Guilford County, the state’s third largest, submitted its final totals Beasley was ahead by exactly 100 votes – 2,694,874 to 2,694,774.

That lead shrank as the night wore on and final canvas results were uploaded, ending the evening with Beasley just 35 votes ahead of Newby.

A half dozen smaller counties have yet to officially complete their canvases — Craven, Duplin, Perquimans, Robeson, Rockingham and Sampson. They will not do so until next week.

Throughout the day Democrats held onto the hope that Beasley’s totals in the more left-leaning Guilford County would give her a substantial edge in the race. With mail-in and provisional ballots still to be totaled in the smaller but more conservative counties, Beasley’s slim lead looks fragile.

The race looks likely to be headed for a recount, whoever ends it on top. State law allows for a recount request if a statewide race’s margin is less than half a percent or fewer than 10,000 votes, whichever is less.

The Republican party has already announced it intends to ask for a recount and Newby’s campaign filed a protest late Thursday in New Hanover County, asserting that certain mail-in ballots there should not be counted. The protest is one of several filed by Newby

Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, maintained his lead over Republican challenger Jim O’Neill by 14,336 votes late Friday.