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Pro-Trump Largo coffee shop owner recounts moment barriers gave way at U.S. Capitol

Cliff Gephart said he went to Washington, D.C., to witness history. When the crowd broke past the last barriers, he decided that was too far.
Cliff Gephart, 50, of St. Petersburg, at left, poses for a selfie during the U.S. Capitol protest Wednesday with fellow Trump supporter Craig Long.
Cliff Gephart, 50, of St. Petersburg, at left, poses for a selfie during the U.S. Capitol protest Wednesday with fellow Trump supporter Craig Long. [ Courtesy Cliff Gephart ]
Published Jan. 7
Updated Jan. 7

Cliff Gephart remembers the man with the bullhorn and his message: Move forward!

A self-described “hardcore” supporter of President Donald Trump and owner of the Trump-themed Conservative Grounds coffee shop in Largo, Gephart said he felt compelled to travel to Washington, D.C., to protest Wednesday, the day Congress was set to certify the 2020 presidential election results.

“I thought it would be an interesting moment in history,” said Gephart, 50, of St. Petersburg.

Related: Trump-themed Conservative Grounds coffee shop has opened in Largo

Bundled against the cold with a Trump beanie on his head, Gephart listened to the president and others speak outside the White House grounds, then joined a throng making its way to the U.S. Capitol.

“By the time I got there, there were several people on the scaffolding that were encouraging people to keep moving forward,” he said. One of them was the man with the bullhorn.

Gephart was able to position himself about a dozen people back from the last metal barrier on the west side of the Capitol. In a 56-second video Gephart posted to Facebook, the building’s majestic façade looms in the background as the crowd chants “USA! USA, USA!” and waves slogan-bearing flags: Keep America Great. Gun Owners For Trump. Liberty or Death.

Related: Not antifa: Man in horned fur cap at Capitol supports Trump, QAnon | PolitiFact

Members of the Capitol police in riot gear can be seen standing just beyond the barrier. Then, people in the crowd start to lift the barriers out of the way. Cheers erupt from the crowd.

The protesters-turned-rioters can be seen scuffling with the clearly outnumbered police. Some of them pick up the barriers and push them into officers who try to fend off the attack with clear shields. People can be seen streaming past Gephart, who stands still and keeps the video going for another half minute or so.

For him, he said, that was going too far, actions he couldn’t condone. When “all the mayhem went down,” he said, “I left because I didn’t want to be a part of that.”

“(Trump’s) presidency has been under attack for the last four years from the left and I wanted to let the world know I was against that, but as far as conquering my Capitol, I said, ‘Cliff’s gone as far as he can,’ ” Gephart said. “There are a lot of things that I do think are the enemy of the conservative right, but I didn’t think the people in that building were my enemy.”

Like the rest of the country, Gephart is still absorbing what happened, including the images of rioters inside the Capitol building and news that a woman who barged into the building was fatally shot by police.

“When you breach lines and doors and chambers, somebody’s going to stop you at some point, and I feel like that was not a smart move on her part,” he said.

Related: Hernando blogger was at head of Capitol mob as it attacked

Gephart said based on the footage he saw, many of the people who did go into the building appeared to be “looking for the best selfie they could get,” and others were likely “radicals” who were intent on going to D.C. to cause havoc.

Asked what he thought about the widespread belief that Trump’s rhetoric sparked the insurrection, Gephart said he didn’t think people felt inspired to storm the Capitol based on Trump’s words.

“There was a plan to march from the Ellipse to the Capitol before Trump ever spoke,” he said. “I think there was a plan, they were going to go from Point A to Point B. I don’t know if they knew what was going to happen when they got to B. I certainly didn’t know.”

Related: Tampa Bay man arrested in connection with Capitol riot, police say

He posted the video to Facebook at 8:15 p.m., hours after the scene played out. On the post, he added in the caption, “the moment America was changed.”

Asked what he meant by that, he struggled to put it into words.

One thing is clear, though. Joseph R. Biden will be the 46th president of the United States of America. Early Thursday morning, the members of Congress who had to flee and shelter in place returned to work and certified the Electoral College results — 306 for Biden to 232 for Trump.

“I think it’s going to take some people time to digest it,” Gephart said. “The people who were there are going to have to decide how they can make a difference, how they can get people elected to make the change they want to see in America.”