, | Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau
US Capitol Police violently attacked by pro-Trump supporters
A violent mob charges and attacks U.S. Capitol police officers during the pro-Trump riots in Washington, D.C.
USA TODAY, Storyful
Pennsylvania was the most-watched state in the election, and it is becoming the most-watched state after the insurrection.
Nearly two dozen Pennsylvanians have been arrested or charged in connection with the Jan. 6 mob attack at the U.S. Capitol.
With 23 arrests as of Sunday, Pennsylvania has more than any other state, according to a USA TODAY analysis.
Why and how the commonwealth ended up with so many arrests is being questioned and analyzed by political scientists and politicians alike.
Pennsylvania Democrats are blaming Republicans for spreading former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen.
Pennsylvania Republicans are condemning the violence of Jan. 6 and responding to criticisms from Democrats — sometimes with introspection, sometimes unapologetically.
And analysts are split on how much influence state messaging had on the Pennsylvanians who stormed the U.S. Capitol last month.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman describes the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania as “the smoothest election in 30 years.”
He has regularly appeared on national news interviews to refute Republican claims that the Pennsylvania election was fraudulent.
President Joe Biden defeated Trump by 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, reverting to a decades-long pattern of electing a Democrat for president before Trump won in 2016 by about 44,000 votes.
Trump claimed the 2016 election would be rigged — until he won. He claimed he would only lose the 2020 election if it was rigged.
When he lost in November, the former president refused to concede and filed more than 60 lawsuits across the country, including in Pennsylvania. He lost all of them.
Conservative and liberal judges alike frequently pointed out that the Trump campaign failed to provide evidence of widespread fraud that would have overturned the election.
“The fraud was four Trump supporters voting as their dead relatives,” Fetterman said.
He and other Pennsylvania Democrats say Republicans bear some responsibility for election lies that led to sedition.
“With Republicans, it’s democracy for me, but not for thee,” Fetterman said. “If Biden wins or it’s an outcome they don’t like, they smear, lie and rewrite the Constitution.”
‘Lies that sowed the division’
Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery County, said state Republicans told lies that led to the mob attack.
“There’s no other way to say it. They were spreading lies. Lies that sowed the division that literally became the base of what Donald Trump used for inciting that mob,” he said.
Repeating a claim first shared by state Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon County, Trump at his rally on Jan. 6 said there were 205,000 more votes than voters in the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of State refuted that claim, saying it was based on incomplete data.
“Where did they come from?” Trump said to his supporters before they stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent mob attack. “You know where they came from? Somebody’s imagination.”
Though the president’s words weren’t true, they were believed by the busloads of Pennsylvanians who traveled to the D.C. rally.
House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said Republicans spread “blatant lies and misinformation about voter fraud despite the fact that there was no evidence of such.”
State Democrats have called for the resignation of Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin County, because he organized a bus trip to the Stop the Steal rally with Trump on Jan. 6, which preceded the Capitol attack.
Mastriano said he did not participate in the Capitol attack, and he condemned the violence.
Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, has repeatedly called for Mastriano to step down.
“The right thing for him to do would be for him to resign, alright? He should be expelled,” Hughes said during a call earlier this month.
But Republicans have said that will not happen.
“He’s not fit to hold any elective office but Senate Republican leadership sees no problem in his despicable behavior,” said Sen. Tim Kearney, D-Chester. “In fact, (Senate President Pro Tempore Jake) Corman has said he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Kearney is calling for a federal investigation.
Reps. Ryan and Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon County, admit no fault in what happened on Jan. 6.
Earlier this week, Ryan went on right-wing network OAN to say Trump was right to call out irregularities in the Pennsylvania election.
Diamond, who has been a vocal critic of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his handling of the pandemic, was one of several legislators to claim there were “irregularities” in Pennsylvania’s election.
Diamond also signed a letter with other GOP lawmakers asking then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject their own state’s election results on Jan. 6.
“I have no regrets whatsoever about anything I did,” Diamond said.
Diamond said he never claimed voter fraud occurred, but focused on actions by the Wolf administration, courts and certain counties as well as voting results he insists did not match voter rolls.
“There were serious irregularities in this election,” he said this week.
Diamond called the Jan. 6 attack “a crying shame” and said anyone involved should be prosecuted.
Nevertheless, Diamond said he won’t stop asking questions and hopes the House State Government Committee, of which he is a member, can provide answers through a series of election hearings.
Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin County, was among dozens of state lawmakers who sent a letter Dec. 4 to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, asking U.S. House members not to certify the state’s election.
The eight Republican congressmen who voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes did not respond to requests for comment from the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau.
Schemel said he signed the letter because “a number of court cases had yet to be resolved.”
“The secretary of state prematurely certified election results. They couldn’t be fully vetted,” he said.
But looking back on the election, he said the Pennsylvania election results were not fraudulent.
Schemel said he still believes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstepped its authority and changed state election law, which it does not have authority to do.
He said he felt the state Supreme Court had no check on its exercise of power, and sending the letter on Dec. 4 “was a no harm, no foul way to address it.”
Since Jan. 6, he’s been “introspective.”
“What are things I’ve said and done to promote the idea of fraud or stolen elections? If I had a do-over, would I have done things differently? I’m not sure,” he said.
“I don’t think what I said was incorrect. I didn’t preach that the election was stolen. I don’t think the evidence was offered to prove a stolen election,” Schemel said.
He also doesn’t think asking Congress not to certify Pennsylvania’s election results had anything to do with the volume of Capitol arrests in Pennsylvania.
Schemel thinks Pennsylvania has a lot of arrests because “it’s a large state with a lot of Trump support. Trump lost by a small margin, and Pennsylvania is close to D.C.”
He’s on the House State Government Committee with Diamond and said the election hearings are an important step to moving forward.
“We definitely need to remove doubt and mistrust. It’s not about investigating the last election. It’s a review of our system from top to bottom, similar to what Florida did after Bush vs. Gore in 2000.”
House Speaker Cutler responds
House Speaker Bryan Cutler said the violence regarding societal concerns and unrest “didn’t just happen on the 6th.” He condemned “violent riots” during the summer and last month at the U.S. Capitol.
“I think they were in large part born out of frustration that nobody was listening,” he said.
Cutler believes there was frustration about racial justice, COVID-19 lockdowns and a general mistrust about the election.
The speaker condemned the attack on the Capitol when it happened on Jan. 6 and still does.
He does not see a clear connection between state lawmakers asking Congress not to certify Pennsylvania’s election and a mob that tried to stop the certification.
Though he received calls and pressure from Trump to stop the certification in Pennsylvania, Cutler said he followed the law.
“Our laws are pretty clear on what could and couldn’t be done,” he said.
Cutler said he signed a Dec. 4 letter with other state Republicans because there were more than a dozen pending lawsuits at the time. The litigation included late received ballots, ballot drop boxes, counties counting mail-in ballots differently and more.
“(The Pennsylvania Department of State) mismanaged a variety of issues. It’s important to get it right,” he said.
Democrats and political scientists have suggested that Republicans are in a tough spot, where they have to align themselves with Trump’s fraud claims to win primaries. But allegiance to Trump costs them general elections.
For example, the 2018 midterms and gubernatorial election became a referendum on Trump. A record number of women were elected in Pennsylvania to help flip the U.S. House to Democratic control, and Wolf defeated Republican challenger Scott Wagner by more than 850,000 votes, or 17 percent.
In the last months of that campaign, Wagner had taken on a Trump persona and also put out an ad in which he said he was going to stomp all over Wolf’s face with golf spikes.
But while Trump lost Pennsylvania in 2020, Republicans did not. They picked up a few House seats and won two statewide offices for the first time since 1956.
Cutler credited those wins to having good candidates with a good message. That message focused on the COVID crisis and reopening businesses and schools.
But the speaker rejected the idea that his party has to choose between far-right Trump supporters and moderate conservatives.
“The Republican brand is a big tent. There’s room for everybody.”
Lara Putnam, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh whose area of expertise includes social and political movements, said Republicans “are increasingly dependent on support from voters who are more than likely to see themselves as supporters of Donald Trump” rather than the Grand Old Party.
Consequently, she said, Republican politicians must cater to those voters if they want to get re-elected. “Many, many Republican officials in Pennsylvania really want to get the 2020 Trump-inspired electorate, which worked pretty well for all of them,” she said.
Putnam said some Republican officials were more than willing to drive a “wedge” between those voters and traditional media to foment the feelings of disenfranchisement that drives Trump voters.
Jennie Sweet-Cushman, an associate professor of political science at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, echoed those sentiments, saying that elected leaders, who voters trust because of their positions, repeatedly made untrue statements about the election “thus delegitimizing our electoral system and further eroding trust in our political system.”
Sweet-Cushman said Trump cast doubt on the election results for months leading up to November and kept it up after he lost. The result was an angry mob storming the Capitol thinking they could overturn the election results.
“There was no scenario where it didn’t play out like this,” Sweet-Cushman said.
Increasing polarization between Pennsylvania’s rural and urban areas is a significant factor in the state’s political landscape, Putnam said.
The decline of trusted local newspapers has steered many people toward conservative national media that buttresses partisan beliefs, Putnam said.
Some of those conservative voices spent months telling listeners and viewers that President Joe Biden was everything from a senile puppet to a radical socialist to a pedophile, she said.
“The first version, where Joe Biden is a senile front man for a conspiracy of anarchists and socialists who want to ruin America, if that’s the less dangerous version then maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that people took up arms,” Putnam said.
“If that’s what people who you trust are telling you and you’re stuck in your house experiencing the world through screens because there’s a pandemic going on,” she said, “we shouldn’t be surprised that people ended up taking action that maybe they wouldn’t have taken otherwise.”
Other states are solidly blue or red, but Pennsylvania is constantly up for grabs, Sweet-Cushman said, which leads to perpetually frayed political nerves and, in this case, turmoil. “We’re kind of ground zero for this divisive purple state syndrome,” she said.
Terry Madonna, senior fellow for political affairs at Millersville University, doesn’t see a clear connection from Pennsylvania Republicans’ words to U.S. Capitol violence.
“I don’t know whether a rally over whether an election is fair leads to an insurrection at the Capitol. That seems like a big leap to me,” he said.
What is clear, Madonna said, is that 3 out of 4 Democrats used mail-in voting to cast their 2020 ballots. And Republicans voted mostly in person. That’s why early returns from in-person voting favored Trump and late results from mail-in voting favored Biden.
But that caused hypersensitivity to the election, which already had a high degree of emotions caught up in it, he said.
“There were vivid rallies and protests about the election results, but I don’t remember any Pennsylvania Republicans encouraging violence,” Madonna said. “I don’t see a connection between what state Republicans said and the riots in D.C.”
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.