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’It was ugly.’ A Baltimore photographer went to the Capitol to record one of the worst days in American history | COMMENTARY

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, America’s latest day of infamy, Randall Gornowich wanted to be a witness to history. When he heard that supporters of President Donald Trump were storming the Capitol, he grabbed his camera bag and went to Washington. What he saw there left him stunned and angry, emotions he’s still feeling more than two weeks after the insurrection.

Gornowich is 56, a veteran of the Air Force and a fun-loving Baltimore-based artist probably best known for the giant pink flamingo — later transformed into a “flamingosaurus” — perched above Cafe Hon in Hampden. He teaches high school art and photography at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County. Gornowich, a skilled photographer, has taken pictures at protests and parades before, so, after finishing his work for the day, he drove to Washington, arriving about 90 minutes into the siege of the Capitol.

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“I felt it was important to bear witness,” Gornowich says. “I figured I could get as close as any other white guy. … As I walked, there were a lot of people meandering around who, when [Trump] sent them to the Capitol, chose not to go. I made my way … toward the crowd.”

He reached the breached security perimeter, with toppled metal barricades, and walked right into the mob of flag-waving, flag-wearing, MAGA-capped Trump supporters angry that Congress was in session to confirm Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

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“As I went toward the crowd, I thought, ‘Boy, there’s a lot of smokers here.’ That struck me as odd,” Gornowich says. “I saw about 10 different children at random intervals, between the ages of 5 and 10, which was also weird for me. No one, or very few, were wearing masks.

“In every Black Lives Matter protest, you feel the anger and you feel the frustration. But this felt ugly. I’m a veteran and it seems like a big insult [to see someone] wear an American flag like that. I’m walking through the crowd and people, if they saw a Capitol police officer, started screaming, ‘Traitor!’ It just wasn’t what I would consider to be normal people.

“I went all the way up the steps, within about 20 feet of the door, and that’s where it started getting scary for me. All of a sudden it was so crowded that my elbows were pushed against my side.”

He managed to photograph men pushing a section of metal barricade up the stairs toward a door, trying to get in.

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“People were chanting, ‘USA! USA!’ like the hockey team had just won a gold medal,” Gornowich says. “That’s when I saw a Capitol police officer bring out a fire extinguisher and start squirting it into the crowd. And then I saw a Capitol policeman grabbed from the steps and pulled into the crowd, and that’s where I felt scared, helpless, angry and confused. I thought the Trump supporters had been embracing the police, and all of a sudden they pull one into the crowd? I couldn’t see what they were doing to him, but it was scary. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t get anywhere close to him.

“I went down the steps and went around the side of the building, and police in riot gear and with batons were letting off flash grenades and tear gas. I got a little taste of it, but it wasn’t as bad as other protests I’d been to. Then [police] made a line and started pushing the people back a couple feet at a time. Not 10 feet from the line, there were protesters updating their status or something, looking at their phones nonchalantly, like nothing was happening.”

An hour or so later, police managed to get the Trump mob off the steps and away from the Capitol

“All the people were meandering around where they had first breached the perimeter, high-fiving each other, talking, doing their selfies. I was standing next to a news crew that had made a small barrier around themselves with the [metal barricade] that had been knocked over. And then this older guy starts yelling, ‘Fake news! Fake news!’ and then another person started rattling the barrier around this news crew of four or five people, and one of [the Trump supporters] shoves it down, and then they’re smashing the equipment and pepper spraying the news crew, yelling, ‘Fake news! Fake news!’ and pieces of their equipment were sliding at my feet.

“I mean, it was dark. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that kind of mob mentality. For two days afterward I’m looking at these photos I took, wondering, ‘How could people do this?’ ”

Gornowich’s record of one of the worst days in American history encompasses nearly 200 photos, available on his Flickr page, the link for which can be found on his website, randallart.com.

“I love photographing people, I love photographing color,” Gornowich says. “I’m a die-hard people watcher. I love street photography. I love photographing people at weddings, festivals, parades, gay pride events, people who are outgoing. And [Jan. 6] was like that — everyone was flying their freak flag. And you can see the way they are dressed, wearing flags as a cape, and their red, white and blue coats, and their hats — but it’s not the same. It was ugly.”

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