Missoulian: For these Montanans, it’s worth the crowds and protests to see inauguration

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chris Skorupa had worried about immersing a group of 4-H members from Montana in Friday’s sometimes-tense inaugural crowds. 

But the teenagers, who’d spent the week preceding the inauguration touring the nation’s capital, said it was worth it to be among the thousands of Americans who swarmed the Capitol grounds Friday morning to watch Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States.

“I’ve been raising money from my pigs to go on this trip,” said 14-year-old Luke Ostberg of Fairfield. Ostberg, who said he’s been in 4-H since first grade, said seeing Friday’s events first-hand was an unbeatable experience. 

“I really liked the inauguration ceremony, just that we were so close and could see everything with our own eyes,” he said.

The group also saw some of the protests. All day Friday, Trump supporters and opponents confronted one another in pockets of the crowded and emotional streets, where tensions seemed to rise from nowhere between strangers into heated disagreements, only to die out when they were forced by waves of nonstop foot traffic to keep moving. 

But on Skorupa’s section of Capitol Hill, things were calmer than he’d planned for.

Of course there were people protesting Trump outside Union Station with signs that read, “TO FIGHT TRUMP AND THE DEMOCRATS BUILD A REVOLUTIONARY WORKERS’ UNION” and “NOT MY PRESIDENT.” There were also religious protesters shouting “fear God” over loud speakers, with signs that read, “EVERY REAL MUSLIM IS A JIHADIST,” and “TRUMP, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN: BAN HOMO MARRIAGE.”

But the groups were rather small and, for the most part, they were relatively peaceful, said the business owner from Bridger.

Skorupa said the 4-H members were able to meet U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., when they found him on the same flight to Washington. Then they watched Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke’s three-hour Senate confirmation hearing. Trump nominated Zinke to be his secretary of the Interior Department.

Joshua Phillips, a 17-year-old 4-H member from White Sulphur Springs, said Zinke’s hearing was his favorite part of the trip.

“Zinke is a Montanan,” Philllips said, “and you could feel the Montana spirit there.”

As for the big city life in Washington, Phillips said he wasn’t completely sold, and he definitely wasn’t looking forward to the long plane ride home to Montana.

Aside from the influx of thousands of Trump supporters and protesters, the streets of Washington were crowded with law enforcement agents, ranging from city and state police, to FBI agents, Secret Service and the National Guard.

Charlie Stortz, the vice president of Logistic Systems, Inc. in Missoula, said there were roughly 29,000 law enforcement agents working inaugural security, including 7,500 National Guardsmen.

Stortz, whose company provides computerized dispatch systems for law enforcement agencies, including those who secure the Washington area on Inauguration Day, said after a series of protests erupted near 14th and K streets, 95 protesters were arrested and three metropolitan police were injured by rocks that were thrown during the rally.

Stortz said some small groups of protesters were still lighting newspapers on fire in the late evening.

“It was a very busy day,” Stortz said, adding that the Women’s March on Washington, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday near the Capitol, will just be another highly monitored event in Washington. “We’ll have a good watch on everything and we’ll do the best we can to keep things safe.”