The insurrection in the U.S. Capitol on January 6 stunned the nation and the world. Many lawmakers in the Mountain West played a role in this unprecedented moment in history – whether they have decried President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn a free and fair election or supported his baseless claims.
Prominent Republicans in the region including Sen. Mitt Romney from Utah and Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming have condemned the president's conspiracy theories.
"President Trump has disrespected the American voters, has dishonored the election system and has disgraced the office of the presidency," Romney said Wednesday. It was just hours before insurrectionists stormed the Capitol Building. The day prior Romney, one of the president’s vocal critics, faced harassment at an airport where Trump supporters called him "a traitor" and "a joke."
For her part, Cheney wrote in a Facebook post on Monday that rejecting Electoral College votes would "establish a tyranny of Congress." She wrote that such a move would steal power from the states and the people in those states.
Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis also vowed to oppose GOP efforts to reject electoral votes citing states' rights. "I plan to respect each state's decision, certify the election, and continue to work with my colleagues on solutions for Utah," Curtis tweeted on Tuesday.
The following day, the congressman was also tweeting – this time to post a video to Twitter while he was locked down. A violent mob of Trump supporters had just invaded the Capitol.
"It's not who we are," he said. "We're better than this and please let's use all of our influence to tone this down and get back to reasonable debate."
Other Republican lawmakers also took to social media to denounce the violence including Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana.
But those lawmakers have been amplifying Trump's baseless claims, supporting his efforts to overturn the election.
Their messaging – and the president's – is what got us here, said Thomas Zeitzoff, a scholar of political violence and political psychology at American University.
GOP lawmakers like Lummis, Boebert, Daines and others acted as Trump's "coordinators," Zeitzoff said.
By buoying Trump's false claims of election fraud, they essentially told their supporters: "Here are the enemies who did it and here are the actions that should be taken," he said.
Zeitzoff said they created this narrative anchored by a shared set of grievances and Wednesday was the culmination of that.
The political scientist just signed onto an open letter with hundreds of his contemporaries demanding Trump be removed from office.
"Our profession seeks to understand politics, not engage in it, but we share a commitment to democratic values," the letter reads. "The president's actions show he is unwilling or unable to fulfill his oath to protect and defend the Constitution. He should be removed from office immediately before further violence takes place or further damage is done to our democracy."
Zeitzoff says Trump and the lawmakers that support him are among the architects of the greatest threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War.
"You have to hearken back to the 19th century to see something like this," he said.
On the heels of the bedlam in the Capitol, some lawmakers had a change of heart including Daines. Lummis, meanwhile, rejected electoral votes for the state of Pennsylvania. She submitted a statement for the record citing "unprecedented" allegations of fraud, though there is zero evidence of this.
Boebert, who drew headlines this week for releasing an ad declaring her right to carry a firearm in the nation's capital, also objected to certifying electoral votes. The freshman lawmaker gave a speech on the House floor before the Capitol was locked down calling some of the rioters outside her "constituents."
Even before the vote, a message was already sent to Trump supporters: They can't win at the ballot box or elections are rigged – and that's compelling them to take other actions, Zeitzoff said.
Zeitzoff stressed that two-thirds of House Republicans openly supported overturning a free and fair election. And that, he says, puts our democracy in a fragile place.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.