Montana political leaders are condemning pro-Trump protesters who have stormed the U.S. Capitol building, forcing Congress to delay its joint session Wednesday to certify the Electoral College’s vote confirming Joe Biden as the winner of November’s presidential election.

Montana’s congressional delegation and Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte disavowed those actions on social media. The comments come after Montana’s two Republican members of Congress, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale, said this week they planned to object to certifying the vote in some states and called for an audit of the vote based on false allegations of widespread election fraud.

Rosendale condemned the actions of protesters on Wednesday. 

“I am safe and so is my staff,” Rosendale said in a Tweet. “I condemn political violence of any kind. There is a peaceful process to resolve this which is what we were attempting to do. Thank you to the Capitol Police for keeping us safe.”

Likewise, Daines disavowed the protesters on Twitter.

“I condemn any kind of violence and intimidation,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

In a follow-up email, Daines spokeswoman Katie Schoettler said Daines and his staff were safe, but otherwise provided no other details.

Democratic Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester also took to Twitter to release a statement condemning “this despicable and dangerous attack on our democracy.”

Congress was meeting Wednesday to certify the vote of the Electoral College, which last month confirmed Joe Biden’s 306 to 232 vote victory in November’s election.

Over the weekend and on Tuesday, Daines and Rosendale said they would join numerous Republicans in rejecting the electoral count of several states, even as other congressional Republicans and party leaders discouraged the effort as divisive and likely to fail. Daines and Rosendale said allegations of election fraud had eroded public confidence in the election. No credible evidence of widespread fraud has been presented, and dozens of court cases, state election officials and Trump administration officials have affirmed the legitimacy of the election and of Biden’s victory.

Trump supporters gathered in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, where speakers, including Trump, repeated conspiracy theories and encouraged them to pressure Congress to not certify the Electoral College’s vote. Many of those protesters later moved to the Capitol building, storming the building, and forcing Congress to adjourn.

Former Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who lost November’s election for governor, blamed the chaos partly on Daines and Rosendale.

“Good job Steve Daines, Matt Rosendale and Donald Trump,” he said in a Tweet. “You are responsible for today’s chaos.”

Contacted for comment on the events in D.C., former Republican Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and member of George W. Bush’s legal team during the disputed election of 2000, described today’s violence as the predictable result of a void of presidential leadership. 

“This kind of incredibly self-centered, narcissistic and inane commentary and solicitation that [Trump] has been engaged with throughout his presidency, I think, is a vindication of the fact that he is, in fact, dangerous. The kind of license that he has provided as the president, as the only person occupying that office at a given moment in time, is reckless and incredibly destructive. What is going on today in Washington D.C. is fearsome, in my judgment. It threatens the life of the Republic. And frankly, he shares, if not bears, the entire burden of responsibility for inciting the kind of things that are going on presently back there.”

Racicot, who did not support Trump in 2016 and publicly announced that he would vote for Biden in 2020, also reserved a portion of blame for Daines and Rosendale, both of whom planned today to object to the Electoral College count. 

“To sign on to an effort to elongate this process is bad judgment,” Racicot said. “Even if you embrace the cause completely. I do understand the politics of Washington. There is a herd mentality in both parties. People can get caught up in subscribing or not noticing or recognizing when there is danger afoot. But I have a hard time excusing, and in fact can’t excuse, the efforts in view of the evidence available. Anyone signing on to this cause for additional study or audit serves only to serve the maniacal behavior of the president.”

At about 2:15 p.m., Trump posted a video on Twitter in which he encouraged peaceful protest and repeated personal grievances and claims that the election was stolen from him. Twitter affixed a label to the president’s Tweet reading “This claim of election fraud is disputed, and this Tweet can’t be replied to, Retweeted, or liked due to a risk of violence.”

“You have to go home now,” Trump said. “We have to have peace, we have to have law and order.”

Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Helena on Jan. 6, 2021. Credit: Eric Dietrich / MTFP

In Montana, several dozen protesters gathered outside the Montana Capitol early Wednesday afternoon, waving American and Trump flags while listening to protest songs as kids played on grass and some drivers honked horns while driving by. Similar scenes played out in Billings and Missoula. 

Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has previously acknowledged Biden’s victory, said on Twitter: “Violence has no place in our civil society, and I categorically condemn what’s happening in the U.S. Capitol.”

Republican and Democratic state legislative leaders also denounced the D.C. protests on Wednesday. 

In a joint statement, Senate President Mark Blasdel and Speaker of the House Wylie Galt encouraged protesters to remain peaceful. 

“We are blessed in Montana to have a long tradition of respectful and spirited dialogue and peaceful expression of diverse viewpoints through our First Amendment rights. Violence is not an acceptable response to political differences,” their statement said. “Already this week, we’ve had multiple peaceful demonstrations here at the State Capitol in Helena. We encourage Montanans to continue serving as an example for the nation during these times of intense division.” 

Reached by phone, state Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, said of the day’s events in D.C., “I support the peaceful protest and we’ll have to wait to see how the details shake out as far as the reported and alleged violence.” Manzella, whose Facebook page on Wednesday featured photos of “Stop the Steal” rallies in Missoula and Hamilton, followed up with a text saying, “We have at least 3 car loads from Ravalli County in DC currently; representing themselves, peacefully. I applaud their commitment and support their decision to do so. It’s unfortunate that the process to evaluate and debate the electors votes, provided by the 12th Amendment has now been disrupted. I’ll look forward to the process resuming. I’ll will [sic] wait for the allegations of violence to be investigated further.”

Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour said it was up to leaders to go beyond condemning the protests and to stop repeating false claims that November’s election was fraudulent.

“This is a dark day for our country. I am deeply disturbed by the violence that has taken place in our nation’s Capital and my heart aches for our country and everyone impacted,” she said in a statement. “Our country deserves leaders that will do more than condemn the violence attempting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and immediately put an end to the baseless claims and dangerous rhetoric that got us here today.”

The New York Times reported Wednesday evening that Congress planned to reconvene sometime Wednesday night. In addition, some Republican leaders were trying to convince GOP colleagues who have said they would object to certifying the Electoral College vote to abandon those plans, according to CNN.

Daines’ office released a short statement at 6:30 p.m. saying Daines would change course and not object to certifying Electoral College votes, saying it is important to have a “peaceful and orderly transition of power,” while continuing to say that confidence in U.S. elections needs to be restored. 

“Today is a sad day for our country. The destruction and violence we saw at our Capitol today is an assault on our democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law, and must not be tolerated,” the statement said. “We must rise above the violence. We must stand together. We will not let today’s violence deter Congress from certifying the election.”

Spokespeople for Rosendale did not respond to MTFP questions on Wednesday afternoon about whether he still planned to object to certification of the vote. Neither Daines’ nor Rosendale’s office responded to requests seeking comment on claims that their amplification of false allegations is partly responsible for the violence, and how they would characterize the people who stormed the Capitol and disrupted Congress. 

The insurrectionists broke through barriers surrounding the Capitol at about 11 a.m. Mountain Time, shortly after Congress began meeting. About 90 minutes later they breached the building itself, breaking windows and leading to Vice President Mike Pence being evacuated from the Capitol and the joint session being paused. The building was declared clear at about 3:40 p.m. Officers used tear gas and smoke grenades to clear the building. 

The District of Columbia National Guard has been deployed after Pence, not Trump, approved the action, the New York Times reported. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Wednesday afternoon that she had declared a 6 p.m to 6 a.m. curfew in the nation’s capital. 

According to CNN, multiple police officers were injured, and police have said that a woman died from a gunshot wound after the mob stormed the building. 


UPDATE JANUARY 7: Early Thursday morning, Congress ratified the results of the Electoral College vote, confirming Biden as the next president. 

While Daines did not object to certification of any state’s result, Rosendale on Wednesday night joined 147 Republican members of Congress in objecting to certification of the results of at least one state, as he had announced on Tuesday he would.

“I will not be intimidated by mob violence from the left or right,” Rosendale said in a Tweet Wednesday night. 

Soon after Congress’ action on Thursday morning, Trump, while continuing to maintain that he’d won the election, said there would be an “orderly transition” of the presidency to Biden. 

As of 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, spokespeople for Daines and Rosendale have not responded to questions about whether they now affirm Biden as the legitimately elected president. 

Reporting contributed by Mara Silvers, Eric Dietrich, John Adams, Alex Sakariassen, Amanda Eggert, and Brad Tyer.

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Chris covers Native American issues as a Report for America Corps member based in Billings. He also monitors the Montana Supreme Court, federal courts and criminal justice issues. Before joining MTFP in 2020, Chris most recently covered tribal affairs and Wyoming's Wind River Reservation for the Casper Star-Tribune, and has also reported for the Wisconsin State Journal. Contact Chris at caadland@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 4, and follow @cjaadland on Twitter.