People around the world watched in horror on Wednesday as a swarm of US President Donald Trump’s supporters clashed with law enforcement authorities, tore down metal barricades, and broke into the historic Capitol building. However, observers in India were quick to notice an anomaly in the dystopian visuals— a lone Indian tricolour fluttering amidst a sea of American and Trump flags.
The flag bearer was later identified as 54-year-old Virginia-based entrepreneur Vincent Xavier Palanthigal, who moved to the United States from Kochi in 1992. A member of the Virginia Republican Party’s State Central Committee, Vincent says that he had no intention of defaming the national flag.
“It was because of my patriotic fervour and love that I took the Indian flag. Not to defame it or give it a bad name,” he told the indianexpress.com. Since the attack on the Capitol building, the image of the tricolour has stirred up a storm on social media, with hundreds of angry Indians questioning what the national flag was doing in the middle of the chaos.
“Why is there an Indian flag there??? This is one fight we definitely don’t need to participate in,” BJP MP Varun Gandhi tweeted. Shiv Sena spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi, too, condemned the bearer of the flag. “Whoever is waiving this Indian flag should feel ashamed. Don’t use our tricolour to participate in such violent & criminal acts in another country,” she wrote.
Why is there an Indian flag there??? This is one fight we definitely don’t need to participate in… pic.twitter.com/1dP2KtgHvf
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) January 7, 2021
But Vincent insisted that he had nothing to do with the “miscreants” who wreaked havoc in the Capitol building. Since yesterday, he has been fielding constant calls from journalists in an attempt to “clear his name”.
“I have not slept all night,” he said.
On Wednesday, Vincent, along with a group of 10 other Indian Americans, were participating in a Trump rally in Washington DC to protest against the Congress’ certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election. Carrying the flag was their way of representing the Indian American community, he claimed.
“The rally was very peaceful, as most Trump rallies are. We marched from the White House lawn to the Capitol in a very disciplined way. Initially, it was a very celebratory event. There was laughing and singing — it was like a festival in India,” he recalled. “Trump rallies are usually very fun events. There are always a million American flags as well as flags from other countries.”
It was only once they had arrived at the historic building that mayhem ensued. “We saw people climbing the walls with their claws like animals, which is very difficult for regular people to do.”
A group of armed and angry rioters managed to breach barricades and advance into the halls of the Capitol building, smashing windows and brawling with police officers in what is widely being considered one of the worst security breaches in US history. The protesters roamed through the halls freely, some even entering and looting the offices used by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers.
Meanwhile, Vincent said he knew little of what was transpiring inside the Capitol building. “The internet was jammed and we were not getting any news. I had to call my wife and ask her to turn on the news. It was only then that I found out that they had managed to get inside and were destroying property,” he explained.
Vincent suggested that the real culprits could have been people from the left-wing anti-fascist Antifa and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, a claim echoed by several Trump supporters online, but is yet to be substantiated with evidence.
Currently, federal prosecutors and the FBI are going through photographs and videos from the riots to identify those involved. Wednesday’s pro-Trump demonstrators, including Vincent, could potentially face a host of charges, including seditious conspiracy, which carries a maximum possible prison sentence of 20 years. At least 52 people have already been arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack.
“Some participants in yesterday’s violence will be charged today, and we will continue to methodically assess evidence, charge crimes and make arrests in the coming days and weeks to ensure that those responsible are held accountable under the law,” acting Attorney General Jeffrey A Rosen said in a statement on Thursday.
A graduate from Trishul Engineering College, Vincent is currently the Executive Vice President of a Virginia-based IT services firm called Amaram Technology Corporation.
Several lawmakers, including members of the Republican party, have blamed Trump for the violence that broke out in and around the Capitol. At a rally held in Ellipse park, near the White House on Wednesday, lawmakers and critics had accused President Trump of directing his followers to head to Capitol Hill.
The recent attack also appeared to have deepened the divide within the Trump administration as several of his key aides resigned following the incident.