Audrey Ann Southard spent years helping kids find their creative voices and strengthening her own.
The Spring Hill vocal coach and piano teacher sang like an angel when she posted videos of herself crooning Norah Jones’ Don’t Know Why or belting out Memory from Cats, and when she went to Sicily in 2012 for an international music competition, she won.
That led to a showcase on a stage inside New York’s Carnegie Hall.
More recently, Southard used her powerful soprano to scream at police officers that they should “tell f--king Pelosi we’re coming for her! F--king traitorous c--ts, we’re coming! We’re coming for all of you!” She was part of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
In a first-person video recorded by YouTuber JaydenX, Southard charges through Statuary Hall — staying within the velvet ropes — and stands at the front of a group blocked by police at a hallway.
The group chants “USA” and “We want Trump” as some men at the front try to talk police into stepping aside.
When an officer says something inaudible on the video to Southard, she replies, “For my son!”
And when one protester tells the crowd that the police might let them by if they agree to be peaceful and quiet, Southard, holding the wooden pole attached to an American flag flat against an officer’s torso, yells: “Bulls--t! They’re going to feel us!”
“We’re pushing through. Boys, ready to go again?” she shouts back to the crowd, before yelling at an officer, “last breath or last bullet, what’s it going to be?”
The crowd forces its way past those officers. Southard disappears from view. The rioters soon bottleneck again at a locked door. The camera looks through a window and trains on an officer’s arm on the other side, holding a pistol. Seconds later, 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt is shot to death.
Earlier that day, Southard, 52, posted a now-deleted live video to her own Facebook page.
“We’re standing in front of the Capitol building, ready to take it,” she said. “It’s gonna be fun.”
Southard declined to talk to the Tampa Bay Times for this story beyond denying she was in Washington, D.C., at all.
One of the men who traveled to Washington, D.C., with Southard said she was swept up in the mob.
James R. Christenson of Tarpon Springs, an air conditioning and appliance repair tech, frequent political video blogger and a self-described, self-taught expert on American history, used GoFundMe to raise $475 to help pay for the trip for himself, Southard and two other locals.
Southard posted a link to his online fundraiser before their trip, calling Christenson a “true gentleman and scholar” and praising his knowledge.
The site later took down Christenson’s fundraiser, likely due to its association with the Capitol riot, but an archived version stated that “Republic Patriots” would be traveling to Washington to “secure our Constitution and that of our founding Republic values.” It also stated that through “prior drill runs, we the patriots of America have borne the cost to make our presence known.”
Christenson, a 55-year-old grandfather, said the local group never planned to go inside the Capitol.
“We went there to witness history,” he said. “We were there to stand in solidarity as Mike Pence declined to certify the election and handed things off to the Senate so we could leave and go home knowing we were finally getting a fair election.”
When news spread through the crowd that Pence was not going to attempt to block Biden’s victory, Christenson said he felt the anger roll like a tidal wave as thousands of people began to crush forward.
“I saw one Marine veteran tell a cop, just take your hand off your gun, because if you pull it this is going to be a bloodbath,” Christenson said. “The cop took his hand off it and started moving aside.”
Christenson said he was standing with Southard as he got shoved from behind and watched a metal barrier topple over and pin an officer beneath it.
“I don’t know who he was, but people were going to trample right over him. He’d probably be dead.”
Christenson said he grabbed the officer near the collar to help free him.
“He opened his eyes, and I could see that he wasn’t sure if I was going to hurt him,” Christenson said, his voice cracking. “He said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ and I said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you’.”
Christenson began to cry as he told the story.
“I can only imagine what he saw in my eyes,” Christenson said. “We were just two Americans who didn’t know why we were fighting.
“It was scary. I didn’t realize how unstoppable a force that many people can be.”
Still, Christenson said he did not agree with labeling the Capitol mob “traitors” or “terrorists.”
“They’re Americans, willing to take a bullet for what they believe.”
Days before traveling to Washington, Christenson posted a link to his website, where he’d published a 17,000-word “Peoples Declaration.” In it, he described a plan for “the People,” with the help of the U.S. military, to install Donald Trump in office until 2024. He also advocated for removing all Democratic politicians and officials.
After the Capitol siege, he made an edit: they’d remove Democrats and Republicans.
Christenson lost sight of Southard during his encounter with the cop but said she was dragged toward the building entrance by the thousands of people in motion behind her. The next time he saw her, when she exited the Capitol, “she looked like she’d had the crap beaten out of her.”
He’d waited outside.
He said he won’t be going back to Washington, D.C., but will stick around and see what happens here in Florida later this month.
Days later in Florida, Myndee Washington was watching Ali Velshi’s coverage of the Capitol on MSNBC and was shocked to see a familiar face. The woman looked disheveled, her gray hair wet and pulled back, and her usual makeup wiped away after a pepper spraying. But Washington was 100 percent sure it was her old friend Southard.
The women met in 2010 while performing in a community theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Stage West Playhouse. Washington said they became fast friends, started having dinner and shopping together.
“Audrey was very effervescent, very passionate,” Washington said. “We’re both artists, and despite what some people think of registered Democrats, I have very strong family values, and she did, too. We’re both middle class, raised in the theater and singing at church and community events. It was almost like kindred spirits.”
Washington said that her friend became more openly political late into President Barack Obama’s first term.
“I was never really that political, but I do think you should respect the office,” Washington said. “She started to become involved with the Tea Party, singing God Bless America at their events, and she was really into the birther stuff, posting on Facebook that Obama was not born here.”
The women grew apart. They eventually went so far in their respective directions that they came full circle by the time they met again.
Washington was marching with a Black Lives Matter group in New Port Richey after the death of George Floyd last summer when a car pulled up and a woman got out screaming.
“Telling us to get jobs, get off welfare, back the blue,” Washington said. “I immediately recognized Audrey.” She had not seen her in years, but she started streaming a live video from her phone and called Southard out by name. After that, they officially stopped being friends, on Facebook.
Christina Boneta, one of the organizers of Pasco’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and others also recognized Southard from the footage at the U.S. Capitol. Boneta said that mostly, it was that voice.
“When someone screams at you that much, trying to get you to fight them, for an entire summer,” Boneta said, “it’s engraved in my mind.”
Speaking to the Times in 2012, a Spring Hill Opera Club member and vocal teacher described that voice as a rare gem, a lirico spinto, capable of slicing through the “wall of sound” produced by an orchestra when performing in operas.
“You don’t find many singers in this area like that,” he said.
Videos show Southard counter-protesting and screaming at Boneta’s group on multiple occasions in front of New Port Richey City Hall. One time, she showed up wearing a Jason mask. “We were all like ‘Okay Audrey, we know that’s you,’ ” Boneta said.
Skeek Allen hired Southard to give his daughter singing lessons at Westchase Music School in Tampa a few years ago. He later wrote a review stating, “Not only does Ms. Audrey make learning fun, she is able to create a safe, nurturing environment. ... Amazing things can happen when the right teacher helps a willing student to make those ‘invisible connections’ beneath the surface.”
This week, Allen said he had not seen Southard for years but remembered her as “extremely kindhearted” and focused on building students’ self-esteem.
“The riot at the Capitol was destructive, not constructive,” Allen wrote by email after viewing the video of Southard. “There seemed to be so many people caught up in a mob mentality, and maybe Audrey got swept up in it, too. Unfortunately, when that happens, the best parts of a person take a backseat while anger and frustration take the wheel.”
Southard is staying silent about the experience.
A day after she returned from the Capitol, she shared a video memory of herself smiling and singing joyfully on Facebook two years earlier.
The caption read, “I haven’t been able to sing all week, and I’m terrified!!!”