Texans explain what animated their loved ones, neighbors to storm the Capitol

This week marks one year since the insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6. William Brangham reports from one part of the country that produced an outsized number of people charged in the capitol riots, and heard from others in that community who are still trying to understand the forces that propelled their neighbors to the siege.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week marks one year since the insurrection at the United States Capitol.

    Over the next few days, we are going to be examining what happened last January 6, as well as the misinformation, extremism and political divisions that contributed to the attack and continue to plague the nation to this day.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

    He recently traveled to one part of the country that produced an outsized number of people charged in the Capitol riots, and heard from others in that community who are still trying to understand the forces that propelled their neighbors to the siege.

    Hava Johnston, Resident of Frisco, Texas: "Any other patriots on the fence about joining us in D.C.? Don't think. Just do." It didn't really surprise me.

  • Man:

    They have reached up onto the terrace of the Capitol.

  • William Brangham:

    As TV screens showed the destruction and chaos at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, real estate agent Hava Johnston watched it all unfold on social media from her house in Frisco, Texas, as one Facebook friend after another posted from the Capitol.

  • Hava Johnston:

    Then, when I started not only just recognizing names, but faces, and people that I have known for a long time.

  • William Brangham:

    Johnston worked in the same circles as Jenna Ryan, the notorious realtor who went to D.C. on a private jet, and livestreamed on Facebook throughout the riot.

  • Jenna Ryan, Rioter (through translator):

    They said someone in there is, like, shot in the face. I don't care. Shoot me in the face.

  • Hava Johnston:

    There's wonderful Jenna Ryan. That's the Frisco realtor.

  • William Brangham:

    Johnston had also been friends since high school with another local realtor who flew to D.C. with Jenna Ryan.

  • Hava Johnston:

    These were neighbors, a lot of them from right here in and in North Texas. We hang out together. We would go to happy hours together.

    It was shocking. But then, when I took a step back and I started thinking a little bit more about who that person was, it was less surprising.

    I think that there is a certain section of these people that became emboldened, and they feel righteous. And I believe that he is one of those that got swept up in that.

  • William Brangham:

    This region was an epicenter for people who went to the Capitol on January 6.

    The Dallas FBI field office has arrested 35 people for their role in that day's events. That's among the highest numbers of any field office in the country.

    When you saw that a lot of people in this region were being nabbed by the authorities for January 6, did that surprise you?

    George Fuller, Mayor of McKinney, Texas: No, it didn't. It didn't really surprise me. We have seen a pretty dramatic change and shift over the last five years.

    I think that politicians somehow keyed into the idea that divisiveness and demonizing the other side created more of a frenzy.

  • William Brangham:

    George Fuller is the mayor of the North Texas city of McKinney. He's pushed back on the various lies and conspiracies that animated so many people here to go to the Capitol, the main one, the repeatedly debunked fantasy that Donald Trump won the election.

  • George Fuller:

    I'm here to tell you, as a Republican, the election wasn't stolen. Republicans lost the presidency and that election.

  • William Brangham:

    Is that a fraught thing for you to say aloud in front of a camera?

  • George Fuller:

    Oh, I will — yes, I will catch a tremendous amount of grief for that.

  • William Brangham:

    The mayor says, it's not just the election. He's had to push back on all kinds of conspiracies in his community and even within his own family.

  • George Fuller:

    I have one sister that the fact that I was engaged in setting up a mega-vaccination center, I was part of the deep state, I am injecting people with tracking chips.

    I said: "For you to be right, I have to be part of this conspiracy."

    And her response was: "Yes, you are. You must be."

    You know, I say it with a smile, but it's actually very sad. I was very close to my sister. But she finds — she spends her time in the deep black holes of the Internet and finds all kinds of things that convince her she's right and these things are real.

  • William Brangham:

    Those black holes and different realities are expanding as fast as these North Texas suburbs.

    As you see around me, this area is going through a housing boom. According to the U.S. census, the city of Frisco, Texas was the fastest growing city in all of America over the last 10 years. And as this region grows, the demographics are shifting as well. This local county dropped from 63 percent white population down to 51 percent in that same time period.

    Debbie teaches at a local public school. She asked that we use only her first name. She says, given the current atmosphere, she doesn't want to trigger any more anger. She's lived in the area for over 40 years, and she's seen some backlash to its rapid transformation.

    Debbie, Resident of Plano, Texas: We saw language about keep Plano suburban and keep away the apartments. I mean, that's a dog whistle, right? It's against diversity of people, of socioeconomics. It's just another culture war.

  • William Brangham:

    Others point out that nativist and, at times, violent rhetoric is also coming from the pulpits of some of the Christian evangelical churches in this area, like Brandon Burden, pastor of KingdomLife Church, who told his congregants on January 10 it was God's will for Trump to stay in office, and told them to keep their guns loaded.

    Debbie saw similar inflamed talk in the schools in increasingly heated fights over mask mandates, so-called Critical Race Theory, and growing calls for banning books.

  • Debbie:

    We started the school year with tons of people showing up with signs and screaming with horrible things on their T-shirts and on these signs. And it's terrifying. They harass people.

  • William Brangham:

    Last year, Sadaf Haq was the target of that kind of harassment. Her family is one of the many who moved to Frisco for the growing economic opportunities. But when she ran for City Council in 2020, she saw an ugliness laying below Frisco's shining surface.

    Sadaf Haq, Resident of Frisco, Texas: During my campaign, I started to face a lot of hate, misinformation, just brainwashing.

    The attacks that I got from different extremist groups trying to paint me as anti-Semitic, trying to paint me as just anti-police, anti-American. Even at the polls, I was yelled at. I was spit at.

  • William Brangham:

    Haq lost her race, and now says, if she knew the extent of the xenophobia that would bubble out of some of her neighbors, she'd have thought twice before running.

  • Sadaf Haq:

    I think if I had seen what went down on January 6, if I had forecasted everything that happened leading up to November, I wouldn't have.

  • William Brangham:


  • Sadaf Haq:

    I wouldn't have.

  • William Brangham:

    It's a paradox. This region's booming development is quite literally built from the ground up and maintained by an influx of non-white residents and immigrants.

    Alex Camacho, Resident of McKinney, Texas: They do construction work. They do cleaning houses and roofing, electricians, everything to do with the building of a house.

  • William Brangham:

    Alex Camacho is a longtime pastor in McKinney, and also a lawyer who helps immigrants work through the legal process.

    He says what he saw on January 6 turned his stomach.

  • Alex Camacho:

    For us, the American flag is a symbol of respect. When we become citizens, we pledge allegiance to the flag.

    But now that we see these rioters using the flag as a symbol, and screaming, and attacking people, and destroy property of the government in Washington, is we kind of — is that the purpose of the flag?

  • William Brangham:

    Meanwhile, rioters like Jenna Ryan seemed to revel in their white privilege.

    She said: "Sorry I have blonde hair, white skin, a great job, a great future, and I'm not going to jail." In fact, Ryan reported to prison right before Christmas for a 60-day sentence.

    Another January 6 rioter from North Texas, Mark Middleton, charged with assaulting D.C. police officers, is now running for a seat in the Texas legislature on a platform of building Trump's border wall, gun rights, and possible secession from the union.

    And the big lie conspiracies continue. This county is one of four in Texas where officials have launched more audits of the 2020 election. Initial results, released on New Year's Eve, found what all other audits found, no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

    For those who've borne the brunt of lies and conspiracies, this new year could not come soon enough.

  • Sadaf Haq:

    There was a while where I couldn't even walk in my neighborhood, because I just wasn't — I wasn't ready to face the world.

    I mean, I'm raising three daughters here. What kind of a world are we living in? How do we get out of it?

  • William Brangham:

    A year since the January 6 attacks, and the gulf between families, neighbors, and political parties seems wider and more unbridgeable than ever.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham in Collin County, Texas.

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