Ex-US Capitol cop, Jan. 6 rioter's runs for Congress illustrate a divided America

By Richard Cowan

ELLICOTT CITY, Maryland (Reuters) - A former U.S. Capitol police officer who defended lawmakers during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack and a man who served time in prison for joining the mob, could both be headed to Congress next year if they succeed in primaries later this month.

Their campaigns for respective Democratic and Republican nominations present a split-screen look into a divided nation more than three years after the siege by Donald Trump supporters trying to overturn his election defeat.

The pair -- Democrat Harry Dunn in Maryland and Republican Derrick Evans in West Virginia -- are seeking their parties' nominations in strongly partisan districts, meaning both could serve together in the House of Representatives next year if they prevail in their separate May 14 contests.

Dunn, 40, said he was thrust into politics by what he experienced on Jan. 6, which he said stoked his concerns about the stability of U.S. democracy.

When he was called to testify to the probe into the attack, Dunn, who is Black, described the way that rioters taunted him with racial slurs as they tried to overturn Democratic President Joe Biden's election.

"Going forward, it is imperative on us that believe in democracy, that believe in the Constitution, to fight for it," Dunn told Reuters in a Thursday interview near his campaign headquarters in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Some 300 miles (480 km) to the west in West Virginia, Evans, 36, is trying to unseat third-term Republican U.S. Representative Carol Miller, who was among 139 House Republicans who supported Trump's bid to overturn the 2020 election result.

Evans, a former teacher who served briefly in the state legislature, was among the throng that illegally entered the Capitol on Jan. 6.

He served three months in prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of "impeding, obstructing or interfering with law enforcement during a civil disorder."

Dunn and Evans both cite the need to defend the U.S. Constitution at a moment they say presents great peril for the U.S.

That is where their similarities end.


Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, called Jan. 6 "a dividing line that has made our polarization much worse."

"It’s no surprise that candidates who have a direct connection to such a signal event would be able to parlay their involvement into something else on the public stage," Sabato said.

If elected, Dunn said, he would want to pass legislation to strengthen voter protections, guard election workers from intimidation and reduce the influence of corporate campaign contributions.

Reuters asked Dunn if he would be willing to work for legislative compromises with Evans if they both were to be elected.

"Absolutely," he responded. "We've got to realize that compromise is what it's all about. Anytime that one individual gets everything they want, then that's no longer a democracy. That's not working for the American people."

Asked the same question in a phone interview, Evans responded, "I'm not running to make friends. I'm not running to play patty-cake politics. I'm working to kick in the front door and expose the corruption in D.C."

Dunn, with $3.7 million raised as of March 30, leads in campaign contributions in a crowded field of 22 candidates and has secured the endorsement of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For Evans' one-on-one battle against incumbent Miller, he so far has raised $660,745 to her $921,369.


In the run-up to Jan. 6, according to court documents, Evans expressed excitement on social media about a "wild" gathering at the Capitol and upon entering the building cheered on rioters.

Now, he presents that foray as a badge of courage, campaigning on themes that run strong in the district spanning the entire southern portion of the Trump-loving state.

Evans wants Trump's border wall built, calls his opponent "an undocumented Democrat" for her votes on some bipartisan bills and pushes term limits "that these scumbags in Congress are not ever going to vote for."

Miller's chief of staff, Matthew Donnellan, responded to Evans' characterization, writing in an email: "Carol Miller was just endorsed by unequivocal conservative Congressman Jim Jordan, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the pro-life Susan B Anthony List for her unwavering conservative Republican values."

Donnellan also noted that Evans in 2016 initially ran as a Democrat for a seat in the West Virginia legislature.

"I stood with President Trump that day and made a big sacrifice for it," Evans said, stressing that he did not engage in violence while inside the Capitol, unlike hundreds of his fellow protesters.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)