Schmitt and Democratic leader clash over assemblyman's remarks to D.C. rally goers on bus
The furor erupted with an online photo of Assemblyman Colin Schmitt addressing bus riders headed to President Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally, a gathering that spiraled into a violent invasion of the Capitol as lawmakers tried to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
The Orange County Democratic Committee tweeted the image of Schmitt aboard the bus with a message accusing the New Windsor Republican of "SUPPORTING A BUSLOAD OF RIGHT WING EXTREMISTS" and "UNDERMINING OUR DEMOCRACY."
And as the chaotic events in Washington continued to unfold on Wednesday, Orange County Democratic Chairman Brett Broge called for Schmitt's resignation and Schmitt fired back with a statement demanding an apology, saying that social media vitriol had inspired someone to make a violent threat to his district office.
Both sides held their ground on Thursday, with no dispute that Schmitt spoke on two D.C.-bound buses before they left Orange County but with dueling accusations about which side did the inciting that day.
Broge said Schmitt showed poor judgment in boarding the buses to speak, which he said only lent credence to the baseless claims of election fraud that Trump has made since his defeat and repeated as he addressed his supporters in D.C. before the melee began on Wednesday.
He said Republicans need new leaders "who stand up to this sort of nonsense."
"Republicans like Schmitt need to fight this sort of right-wing fantasy about voter fraud, and speak the truth," he said.
Schmitt said in response that Orange County Right To Life had asked him to speak to the rallygoers about an Assembly bill he and they oppose, and that he stuck mainly to that topic and his concerns about one-party rule in Albany. He said he spoke for less than two minutes on each of two charter buses in the Monroe park-and-ride lot. He didn't join the 90 riders for the trip.
Schmitt, who just started his second term and represents nine Orange County towns and Stony Point in Rockland County, spoke with a reporter by Zoom from his office in Washingtonville, where he had assembled a dozen or more people of all ages from Wednesday's bus trip. He called them "salt of the earth" people who prayed before their ride, had no malice, and were being maligned as rioters.
"They're attacking each and every one of the people behind me," Schmitt said of his internet critics.
One of those riders, a mother of three from Ulster County, said she went to the rally to show support and gratitude for Trump, not with any expectation of overturning his defeat. Susan, who withheld her last name for fear of getting threats, said her group listened to the president's speech and walked toward the Capitol, but held back and never approached the chaos that unfolded.
"We were there to support him," she said. "We were not there to incite violence."
Schmitt wouldn't answer directly if he supported Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally, but said he believes that people should always have faith in an election's integrity and that concerns about impropriety should be investigated.
He said Village of Washingtonville police were investigating a violent threat made by phone to his three-employee office in Washingtonville. He said that the caller's phone number was blocked, but that state information technology workers were trying to retrieve it.
He declined to say more about the nature of the call.
Broge denounced any threats that were made against Schmitt or his staff, saying, "Threats of any kind are intolerable."
Schmitt, who serves in the National Guard, said he had not learned yet if he will be deployed to Washington. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that, at the request of the U.S. National Guard, he will send 1,000 New York Guard members to the nation's capital for up to two weeks to help maintain order after Wednesday's riot.
Orange County Right to Life President Clay Boone issued a statement Thursday confirming his group asked Schmitt to speak to the rally goers about an Assembly bill, and said he was "deeply saddened and offended by the malicious, disparaging accusations and insinuations made about our members." He also asked for an apology.