CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A West Virginia lawmaker who filmed himself and supporters of President Donald Trump storming into the U.S. Capitol is facing bipartisan calls for his resignation as federal prosecutors step up their pursuit of violent perpetrators.
State Del. Derrick Evans was among lawmakers from at least seven states who traveled to Washington, D.C., for demonstrations rooted in the baseless conspiracy theory that Democrat Joe Biden stole the presidential election. Wearing a helmet, Evans ultimately joined a screaming mob as it pushed its way into the Capitol building, and livestreamed himself joyfully strolling inside.
It’s unclear if Evans was the only elected official to participate in what Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many others called a “failed insurrection.” It's also not known if any of them will be prosecuted.
Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano said he helped organize a bus ride to the demonstrations but left the U.S. Capitol area after the eruption of violence, which he called “unacceptable.” The top Democrat in the Pennsylvania Senate, and eight of his colleagues, want him to resign, saying his actions and words disputing the election's integrity encouraged a coup attempt and inspired the people behind it.
Tennessee state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver said Wednesday night that it had been an “epic and historic day.” The Republican lawmaker told The Tennessean she was “in the thick of it” but hadn’t seen any violence. Weaver did not respond to emailed questions from The Associated Press about whether she entered the Capitol.
Incoming Nevada state Assemblywoman Annie Black, a Republican, said she marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, where she saw men on megaphones revving the crowd to storm the security barrier. She said she retreated to avoid being associated with the mob.
“We all had a choice when that fence came down,” she said. “Whether it was our group that incited that to happen or another group, every single person had the choice to make.”
Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem posted photos of himself attending the protest outside the Capitol, but his office said he observed from afar. Liberal groups in the state want him expelled for backing the effort to overturn the election.
Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, an outspoken Trump supporter who is running for governor, attended the president's rally Wednesday in which Trump urged supporters to march to the Capitol. Chase said in a Facebook video that she left near the end of the rally on the advice of her security team, and there is no indication she was part of the group that stormed the Capitol.
Republican state Reps. David Eastman of Alaska and Justin Hill of Missouri both said they went to Washington to object to the Electoral College votes of several states confirming Biden's election, but didn't participate in the demonstrations.
Hill described the Trump rally as “very peaceful.”
“But what I saw at the Capitol was not the same people," he said. “I wasn’t there rallying troops to overthrow the government.”
The president of the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Jessica Post, said "any Republican legislator who took part in yesterday’s insurrection, in Washington, D.C., or anywhere else in the country, should resign immediately.”
“Yesterday was a stain on our country’s history and a dangerous affront to democracy — all those involved have no place making laws,” Post said in a news release.
Washington, D.C., officials said the FBI and the local Metropolitan Police Department were leading the investigation into identifying the participants in Wednesday’s violence. D.C. police have arrested 68 people so far. The top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, said 40 cases have already been presented in superior court and prosecutors plan to file 15 federal cases Thursday. Sherwin said “all options are on the table,” including sedition charges.
John Bryan, a West Virginia attorney representing Evans, was defiant that the delegate will not resign despite lawmakers from both parties seeking to expel him. The Republican speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, Roger Hanshaw, said Wednesday night that Evans will need to “answer to his constituents and colleagues” for his actions. Democratic leadership called for his prosecution. About 40,000 people signed a petition on change.org asking for Evans' removal.
“He committed no criminal act that day,” Bryan said in a statement late Thursday.
The two U.S. Attorneys in West Virginia said in a statement that they are in touch with counterparts in other states and “prepared to enforce the Rule of Law and the laws of these United States.”
Evans, a vocal conservative activist with more than 30,000 followers on Facebook, has not publicly posted on social media since issuing a statement Wednesday that he attended the events as an “independent member of the media to film history.” He took his Twitter account private late Wednesday and didn't respond to emailed questions.
“At no point was Mr. Evans located in the crowd on the West side of the (Capitol) building, nor anywhere else on the Capitol grounds, where violence and destruction of property was, or had been, occurring,” Bryan said.
In his now-deleted video, widely shared online, Evans is clamoring inside a jampacked Capitol building doorway, trying with others to push his way inside. He hollers along with other Trump loyalists and thanks a law enforcement officer for letting them in.
Strolling the grand Capitol Rotunda, where historic paintings depict the republic's founding, Evans implores others to not vandalize artwork and busts, some of which would indeed be vandalized.
“Our house!” Evans yells inside Capitol halls. “I don't know where we're going. I'm following the crowd.”
Like several other political first-time winners in November’s West Virginia elections, Evans swept aside a Democratic rival to win his seat representing Wayne County. High GOP turnout credited to Trump elevated down-ballot Republicans in the state and gave the party a statehouse supermajority.
The chairwoman of the state GOP, Melody Potter, declined to answer questions about Evans.
Associated Press journalists John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee; Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska; Mark Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Sam Metz in Carson City, Nevada; David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri; and Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.
Follow Cuneyt Dil on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cuneytdil.