'They stormed the US Capitol in 2021 - Now they want to serve there'

In an interview, Evans, now a real estate investor, described himself as a "political prisoner."

24 Apr 2024 10:22am
The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2024. - Photo by AFP
The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2024. - Photo by AFP

WASHINGTON - Three years ago, Derrick Evans was taking part in the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol, joining hundreds of other Donald Trump supporters who refused to accept his defeat in the presidential election.

Now he is campaigning to serve in the very legislative body he targeted that day.

And he's not alone: across the United States, around a dozen people involved in the siege of the Capitol -- an attack that shook confidence in the stability of American democracy -- have sought or are seeking to hold local or national office this year.

Evans is running in his state's Republican primary for a seat in the US Congress. Campaigning in a rural state known for its coal mines, conservatism and natural beauty, he now frames his January 6 experience as a positive -- a reason fellow West Virginians should vote for him.

In an interview with AFP, Evans, now a real estate investor, described himself as a "political prisoner."

The hundreds who invaded the Capitol, galvanized by Trump's insistence that the election had been "stolen" from him, had hoped to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the new president.

Evans, then a newly installed member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, live-streamed himself entering the building. Seen wearing a black motorcycle helmet, he yelled "Freedom!" and -- lest there be any doubt about his identity -- proclaimed "Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!"

His actions that day earned him a three-month prison sentence on a felony civil disorder charge. Evans had pleaded guilty but insisted he was in the Capitol only as an independent member of the media.

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"The Deep State came to my home and ripped me away from my wife and my four children," said Evans, referring to conspiracy theories about the existence of a shadowy, anti-Trump administrative body that secretly exerts power over American society.

Hunted or hunters?

The home page of his campaign website leaves no doubt about his past, proudly proclaiming: "J6 Prisoner running for US Congress."

Evans vows that "when I take my seat in Congress, we will turn the tables and the hunters will become the hunted" -- language that seemingly echoes Trump's threat of "retribution" against political enemies if reelected.

Evans is not the only January 6 veteran using the assault on the Capitol as an argument for election.

Jason Riddle, running for Congress in the Republican primary in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, describes himself as "a recently released January 6th political prisoner with a message of hope."

Others, like Kimberly Dragoo, have already lost their elections. Dragoo was running for a seat on a local board of education in Missouri, though she didn't receive her sentence -- two weeks in prison -- until last week.

Trump has embraced the January 6 crowd, promising amnesty if he returns to power.

Critics say he is trying to reshape the day's bloody events in the public eye, casting the Capitol's invaders as victims of the same "political persecution" that he claims targets him.

'Embrace it'

When Evans is asked why he chose to capitalize on his January 6 experience, he replies: "I didn't. The fake news media did this."

"And I had two options. I could either run from it or embrace it. I chose to embrace it."

Did he have any regrets about that day?

"My regret is believing that we had natural God-given rights of free speech, and that we still had a Constitution in this country," he said.

Evans says the West Virginia voters he has met could care less about his clash with the law.

"When they find out that I'm the elected guy who got arrested for January 6, they shake my hand and they thank me and tell me they're gonna vote for me," he said.

In West Virginia's May 14 Republican primary, Evans will face another Trump supporter, Congresswoman Carol Miller.

Evans has been endorsed by several conservative figures, including Miller's colleague Representative Bob Good and former Trump advisors Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

He says he has a hard time believing Trump could possibly be beaten in his November race against President Joe Biden.

If Biden is returned to office, he said, "I'm going to teach my family how to live like Amish people," who shun much of modern civilization, "and get ready for the collapse of this country." - AFP

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