At 4:30 a.m. last Wednesday morning, Jan. 6, Assemblyman Colin J. Schmitt climbed the steps of one of two buses in the Monroe Park-and-Ride to say a few words to the people on board.
The buses were filled with 90 or so people Schmitt described as “the salt of the earth,” including senior citizens, young mothers, “your neighbors” and people he goes to church with.
They were getting ready for the five-hour ride to Washington, D.C., where people from across the country were gathering to protest the Congressional certification of Joseph R. Biden as the next president of the United States of America.
Schmitt said he had been invited by Clay Boone, president of Orange County Right to Life, a group he said was a “peaceful and faith-based organization,” to discuss a legislative proposal that would give the governor the power to detain people against their will during public health emergencies.
The assemblyman would later say in a Facebook post that he spoke about one and one-half to two minutes about the legislative proposal and the danger of one-party rule in the New York State Assembly, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 103-43.
He said he urged those bus travelers to be healthy and to stop by his local office if they needed anything.
What enfolded next throughout the rest of the day and into the next illustrated how the turmoil in the nation’s capital would echo in Orange County.
Six and a half hours later, a now clean-shaven Schmitt was sworn in to his second term in the State Assembly in a ceremony that was live streamed from his district office in Washingtonville. The Republican represents the 99th Assembly District, which includes people who live in places like Goshen, Chester, Blooming Grove, Cornwall and Woodbury.
In Washington, D.C., the gates on the east and west sides of the Capitol were breached. On the north and west sides by the Senate chamber, rioters scaled walls, broke windows and forced their way into the Capitol and ransacked Congressional offices.
Ninety minutes later, Schmitt’s office released the following statement:
“I am deeply disturbed by the assault on the United States Capitol today. There is absolutely no justification for any form of violence against the pillars of our democracy.”
As darkness fell on the sixth of January, Orange County Democratic Committee chair Brett Broge issued a press release calling on Schmitt to resign “based upon support given to far right extremists:
“This morning New York State Assemblyman Colin Schmitt gave a sendoff to a bus load of Orange County rioters as they embarked on their trip to storm the United States Capitol.
“As a member of the Army National Guard, Assemblyman Schmitt swore an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ This afternoon thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol to stop the certification of President-Elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in an act of domestic terrorism.
“The attached photo, obtained by the Orange County Democratic Committee, depicts Assemblyman Schmitt greeting a bus-load of far-right extremists as they prepared to join in this blatant act of sedition. As an elected official, and most importantly as a member of the United States Armed Forces, this behavior is absolutely reprehensible. Though Schmitt recently released a statement condemning these actions, he demonstrated shameful negligence this morning when he validated the violent conspiracy theories of his far-right supporters.
“We call on Colin Schmitt to immediately resign from his position in the New York State Assembly. His judgment is impugned and he can no longer adequately represent the interests of Orange County residents.”
Thursday, Jan. 7, 1:45 p.m.
The next afternoon, Taylor Weyeneth, Schmitt’s chief of staff, sent out the following statement on Schmitt’s behalf:
“This afternoon my district office staff received a credible threat of violence that has impacted the safety of me, my wife and my young staff members following the repugnant and false social media and press statements from the Orange County Democratic Party and NYC Democratic Socialists of America. Local law enforcement and legislative offices in Albany have been notified and are investigating the threat. Proper safety protocols have been initiated and will be ongoing. This type of violent incitement is as abhorrent as the violent attack that occurred in Washington.
“The fact that the Orange County Democratic Party and NYC Democratic Socialists personally attacked me for speaking to a local faith-based group about concerns they have with state legislation shows how deeply out of touch they are and why I achieved a historic re-election, winning every single town in my district, just two months ago.”
In an interview, Weyeneth said the caller, one of about 100 to the office, said “I am coming for you.” He said the caller he used a blocked number.
The communication is being investigated by police and Assembly security personnel. The office did not close, but Schmitt slept away from his house Wednesday night, Weyeneath said.
Weyeneth said the office was still receiving angry calls Thursday, but the response was “more mixed.”
Weyeneth said in interview that the Orange County buses arrived late to the rally. They were frightened by what they saw and did not approach the Capitol. After praying for law enforcement, they got back on the buses and returned home, he said.
Weyeneth also said his boss accepts the results of the election - that Joseph Biden won the electoral college - but tells constituents who ask that he wants to ensure the integrity of our elections. He “absolutely” supports the First Amendment right of peaceful protest being exercised by those who attended the rally.
Boone, the Orange County Right-to-Life chairman, said: “I am deeply saddened and offended by the malicious, disparaging accusations and insinuations made about our members... It is morally reprehensible for them to lie about our members and Assemblyman Colin Schmitt to advance their partisan political agenda.”
In response, Broge said in an email that his party has no relationship with the “Democratic Socialists. The fact that he has been carrying on about NYC Socialists is no doubt another deflection from the issue that he should not have been showing support to a bus load of seditionists yesterday morning.”
He added: “It further raises doubts about the sincerity of the threats that were supposedly made against him. That said, threats from anyone towards the assemblyman or his staff are unacceptable. Political violence is always wrong, whether its implied purpose of a political rally which attracted the attendance of a busload of Orange County Right to Lifers or otherwise.”
On Friday, Broge emailed that Right to Life should not have attended the “Stop the Steal” rally: “They should not have given support to the seditious rally. As to their stated intentions or involvement, when you lay down with dogs, you get fleas. Anyone associated with this event is tainted by its seditious purpose and outcome.”
Broge said he didn’t know what the local residents did in Washington. Nor, he said, did he have first-hand knowledge of what Schmitt said on the buses.
Then on Saturday, Broge posted the following: “The bulk of the blame for Wednesday’s violence I place on the actual participants and the President of the United States. However, politicians like the Assemblyman who have failed to stand up to the Presidents lies and those on the bus who have failed on the bus that have failed to question the lies share responsibility as well.”
In one of the more than half dozen emails of support, Monroe Town Supervisor Tony Cardone responded:
“Assemblyman Colin Schmitt is a friend and a leader of integrity. The Orange County Democratic Party should be ashamed of themselves for their statements. These claims are entirely false and must be rejected. Attacks on local private Orange County citizens by the Democratic Party set a new standard of lowest of the low. Thank you, Colin Schmitt, for your continued leadership.”
For those interested, the discussion continues on Facebook and other social media outlets.
This story was reported by Jeff Storey and written by Bob Quinn.