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Hawley, who became a central figure of Jan. 6, says most protesters at Capitol were peaceful

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley said on the anniversary of supporters of former president Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol that most people there that day were peaceful, but rioters should be prosecuted.

Hawley became a central figure in the violence in the minds of many after his vote objecting to Pennsylvania's presidential count and an infamous photo circulated showing him raising a fist into the air toward Trump supporters outside the Capitol.

"I would say for the tens of thousands of folks who were who are gathered in Washington on that day, the overwhelming majority of them are peaceful. And there's no doubt about that," Hawley said in an interview Thursday morning.

Hawley said he supports the right to peaceful protest, including Black Lives Matter movement protesters. But violence is never called for, he said.

"And so for those folks on Jan. 6, in Washington, who rioted ... that's a crime and they should be prosecuted for that," Hawley said. "But for those who were there peacefully, I think that they did nothing wrong and they shouldn't be harassed, and they shouldn't be castigated. And they shouldn't be called names. You know, they were exercising their constitutional right, peacefully."

Hawley said he was not taking part in any events at the Capitol to commemorate Jan. 6, saying they were partisan in nature and that a scheduled candlelight vigil was organized by a leftist political group. He wrote a letter to Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on Thursday linking some organizers to the group Shut Down DC and a trespassing incident at his home.

President Biden in remarks Thursday morning placed much of the blame for the riot on Trump.

Meanwhile, GOP firebrands U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, plan to hold a news conference to give a "Republican response" Thursday to the president's speech. Trump canceled his own planned news conference.

Jay Sexton, a professor with the University of Missouri’s Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy, said the view of an entirely peaceful, justified protest is the minority, but most Republicans are trying to avoid a closer examination of what happened.

“The trend line is how your rank-and-file your majority Republicans just don't want to talk about it. They don't want to deal with it, they don't want to confront what happened," Sexton said.

In Missouri, dozens gathered at the State Capitol for a morning rally on "election integrity" after the legislature was dismissed. The Jan. 6 riot centered on claims of widespread fraud perpetrated by Trump and his supporters. Those claims are being carried by some Republican politicians in Missouri. The Missouri rally featured Douglas Frank, a high school math teacher and Trump ally.

Republican members of Missouri's congressional delegation other than Hawley did not respond to a request for comments.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, whose Fourth District represents Columbia and much of Mid-Missouri, was among the House members who objected to some states' votes on Jan. 6. She also condemned the violence but has said the House's select committee should not be investigating the riot. Hartzler is running in the Republican primary to replace U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, whose Third District includes Jefferson City and other parts of Mid-Missouri, condemned the violence on Twitter that day after joining Hartzler to object to the certification of some states' results. He called the rioters "opportunists committed to creating chaos" in another tweet that day.

And U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, whose Sixth District includes Chariton County, said in the days after the riot that the violence was wrong. He also voted against some states' certification.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, was the only House member to respond to ABC 17 News. He said the danger of last Jan. 6 still lingers today.

“As I sat in lockdown on that tragic day, I had hoped that such a frightening experience would shock the national conscience and allow us to excise the cancerous Big Lie that led to it," Cleaver said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, as we have seen over the last year, that lie has only metastasized around the country, leading to more anger, resentment, and polarization at a time when we are already devilishly divided as a nation."

Sexton said this is a pivotal moment for Democracy with a sharply divided electorate and all the suspicion surrounding the 2020 election, in which no evidence of widespread fraud on behalf of Biden has emerged. But it's not too late to right the ship, he said.

“And I would just say that the legacy of January 6 hasn't been determined or written yet," Sexton said. "That's for us to decide. You know, was this a warning sign that we ignored, and that we kicked into the tall grass? Or is this one that led us to confront uncomfortable truths to find ways of working together and to try to shore up our constitutional system? That's for us to decide.”

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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