When Linda Iser looked at the image and who had posted it, she struggled to process what she was seeing. Hundreds of young men had taken part in the deadly insurrection, but this one was from her community, the place in Maryland she had called home for half a century. Trabert, 24, had even gone to the same school as her two daughters, Aberdeen High. She felt ashamed, but also indignant, because of who Trabert is: the son of Aberdeen’s police chief.
Trabert, a one-time aspiring model who has not been charged in connection with the riot, didn’t respond to requests for an interview. But his mother and brother insisted that he didn’t actually enter the Capitol and had done nothing wrong.
Iser, and dozens of others who saw the Facebook post, weren’t convinced of that, and it seemed to her that Trabert believed he could get away with whatever he’d done because of his dad’s job. She was determined to make sure he didn’t, joining a group of local activists who bombarded the police department’s Facebook page with comments demanding to know if one of their own had been involved — and what the people in charge were going to do about it.
Tens of thousands of Americans are asking those same questions in communities across the country as they learn that their colleagues, college friends, kids’ teachers and even parents were among the rioters. They came from all over and from every walk of life: a firefighter from Florida, a Texas florist, a newly elected West Virginia lawmaker, the son of a judge in Brooklyn, a former Olympic swimmer from Colorado, two police officers in rural Virginia, a professor in Pennsylvania, a California candy shop owner.
More names and images tumble forth on social media every few hours, as Internet sleuths work to expose the rallygoers living near them. Some participants have been arrested. Others have lost their jobs and received death threats. Far removed from the thrill of their uprising, a few have said they were sorry, but even the apologies have done little to still the upheaval consuming many of their hometowns.
In Aberdeen, 70 miles northeast of Washington, word of Trabert’s Facebook post quickly spread among the town’s 16,000 residents, and what followed there was the same thing happening all over America, including in the halls of the desecrated Capitol: fear and fury, silence and obfuscation, lies and conspiracy theories, allegations of a coverup and, before long, a threat of more violence.
But in the beginning, Iser and the rest of the activists just wanted answers.
“Please verify that you do not support this behavior,” she wrote on the police department’s Facebook page, along with a screenshot of Trabert’s post.
Seconds later, her message disappeared.
‘The alpha males’
Rolling hay fields dot Aberdeen’s northern edges and a collection of strip malls sits at its center. On nearly every block, American flags fly outside the homes of military veterans who settled there after stints at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground. The town’s most famous native son, Cal “Iron Man” Ripken, the Hall of Fame Orioles baseball player, personifies its work ethic.
Jenn Welsh, a self-described liberal, had grown up with lots of conservatives in Aberdeen and surrounding Harford County, a mostly White area where 55 percent of the voters backed Trump in November.
Welsh, 28, moved away a few years ago, but Aberdeen still felt like home, and she used social media to keep up with the town and its people. All of the pro-Trump bravado annoyed Welsh and her friends, but Trabert stood out. What they saw in his words often felt like something more serious, and sinister.
In November, she spotted a Facebook conversation between him and his older brother, Taylor Trabert, a police officer with the Maryland Transportation Authority, about what would happen if Trump lost.
Referencing an armed uprising, Christian predicted “most of the US military would join it too.”
“and police we are the alpha males,” Taylor responded.
“Taylor,” Christian wrote back, “has anyone been talking about militia?”
His brother replied: “text me.”
Welsh took a screenshot then and another two months later — this time of Trabert’s claim that he had actually taken part in an uprising.
Welsh didn’t know whether Trabert (who has since deleted his Facebook page) had broken into the Capitol. But she had seen enough to feel concerned, so she headed to the police department’s Facebook page.
Her post demanding answers, and all the others, kept being removed.
The censorship enraged another Aberdeen resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her family’s safety. The woman, who is White, thought about the summer’s demonstrations against racism in American policing. She thought about her Black husband and mixed-race children.
On Jan. 8, she added her own comment on the police department page: “I think the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
A few days later, out walking her dog on a Monday evening, the woman found a small white envelope tucked into her mailbox. At first, she thought it must be a thank you for a baby-shower present she recently sent a friend.
Then she opened it. “You are the biggest rasist on Facebook,” it read. “Stop your s---! … We watching you now. Call them cops you hate so much.”
Just as she read those words, written in neat lines of black handwriting, Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson approached a dais across town.
Robertson was about to give his regular briefing to the city council when one member asked if he could clear up the “misinformation” about what happened at the Capitol.
Robertson turned and motioned to Christian’s father, Chief Henry Trabert, who joined him from the podium. The two men had already posted a statement to the police department’s Facebook page condemning the lawlessness and saying that Henry Trabert, who declined to be interviewed for this story, didn’t know Christian had attended the protest but that “information that we have reflects the Chief’s son only participated in the permitted outdoor rally. ... If that information proves untrue, we expect justice will be served.”
Now, with the chief standing silently at his side, Robertson told the council why he had decided to delete all those comments.
“Attorneys are telling us that this could have been a conspired event — could have been, don’t know — it could have been a fake plant,” Robertson said. “Allowing completely unfettered comments that have nothing to do with Aberdeen … that may have strongly had subterfuge behind it, is something that we have to look at.”
He offered no evidence to back up the accusation of “subterfuge” lodged against the citizen commenters, and not once during the exchange did the public officials involved criticize Trump or the chief’s son or acknowledge the two Capitol police officers who are now dead.
But in honor of their memory, a U.S. flag outside the red-brick municipal complex flew at half-staff, just next to a sign from the National Civic League designating Aberdeen an “All-America City.”
‘Wrong is wrong’
“Lock him up,” Paul Phipps said to himself when he first learned of Trabert’s post, a mocking reference to the chant often directed at the president’s perceived enemies.
Phipps, a lifelong Republican who lives just outside Aberdeen, had considered Trump an existential threat to American democracy since before the 2016 election. Grudgingly, the 57-year-old had voted for Hillary Clinton then, and in November, he had backed Biden. But nearly all of his friends and most of his family members were avid Trump supporters.
What happened at the Capitol sickened him, as did the apparent role of the police chief’s son, but Phipps wondered if maybe some good could come out of it all. Though his disdain for the president had strained relationships, he hadn’t shied from trying to persuade other conservatives that they should abandon their allegiance. Now Trump had provoked one of the most disgraceful acts in modern American history, and here was Trabert — a local man no one could rationally accuse of being a member of antifa or Black Lives Matter — proudly announcing he was involved. Maybe, at last, some of Phipps’s Republican neighbors would change their minds about the president.
Phipps knew where to find out. No one in Harford County was more devoted to Trump than Jerry Scarborough, a former Maryland State Police trooper who was named officer of the year in 1989 but was later fired after he poisoned three dogs and allegedly struck a 13-year-old boy during a neighborhood feud. Scarborough, who initially agreed to an interview but didn’t respond to calls or texts afterward, went on to open a waste management and portable toilet company, Hall’s Septic Services Inc. But today, he is best known to many people for the pro-Trump propaganda he pumps out on his public Facebook page.
When Phipps checked it after the riot, the vast majority of commenters defended Trump, but a few, it appeared, were wavering.
“I am ashamed that I voted for him,” one man wrote.
“We can’t say we’re pro law and order, then condone an insurrection,” added another.
Mark Rudd, who twice voted for Trump, criticized him, too, writing that “no man of God would or should act like that.”
Rudd, 55, pastors Trinity Freewill Baptist Church in Darlington, minutes from Aberdeen, and on Jan. 6, he had just sat down to read his Bible when he heard about the riots. Watching on Fox News, he couldn’t understand why Trump had told the mob to go to the Capitol or, worse, why he hadn’t immediately commanded his followers to end the attack.
“What happened Wednesday was sickening and repulsive,” Rudd told his congregation that Sunday, but what he didn’t share with them was the creeping sense of doubt he had begun to feel about his support for the president.
“Wrong is wrong,” Rudd had decided.
From Mary Lawson’s home on Paradise Road, where her family has lived in Aberdeen for four decades, she had watched the riot, too, but what she saw was a wrong that had nothing to do with the president.
Lawson, 75, had discovered the far-right TV network One America News about a month earlier, and their coverage of the episode left her convinced that antifa and Black Lives Matter were entirely responsible.
“Because they’re troublemakers,” she said, standing near the large wooden Trump sign at the end of her driveway.
Told what Trabert had posted on Facebook, she was stunned. Lawson respected the police chief and couldn’t imagine his son was a liberal. That meant an actual Trump supporter had, in fact, been involved, Lawson realized. She sighed and shook her head. It just didn’t make sense.
‘We’d get shot’
With Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaching, John Richardson, president of the Harford County NAACP, struggled to think of anything good to say in the speech he was writing for an MLK event.
Richardson, a 79-year-old retired hospital chaplain, Googled famous addresses given by King, seeking inspiration, and pulled up the “I Have a Dream” address.
“Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York,” he read, and that’s when the text arrived telling him that the son of Aberdeen’s police chief had bragged about being at the Capitol.
Richardson knew Henry Trabert and respected him. Since summer, his department has collaborated with the Harford County NAACP on possible reforms, Richardson said, including rethinking its chokehold policy and exploring ways to hire more African American officers. Just 14 percent of the force is Black in a town that is 25 percent Black, but a spokesman said the department has made progress. Three of their last five hires were African American.
“The police chief’s son is an adult,” Richardson said he had thought to himself. “You can instill certain values in children, but they can stray away from that.”
Still, Richardson couldn’t help wondering: How far had Christian Trabert gone? Had he actually broken into the U.S. Capitol?
There were no answers.
Zeno Jones had been dealing with fallout from the riot for days. Jones, 39, a Black middle-school security liaison, runs a mentoring program for boys in Aberdeen. Now his former mentees, many of them Black or Hispanic, were pinging him on Instagram, asking for his thoughts.
He responded the way he often does: by asking them to share theirs.
“When BLM activists PEACEFULLY protest we are met with tear gas and rubber bullets,” one wrote.
“White privilege is the reason they were able to go into a federal building,” wrote another.
And a third: “If we were to do that then we’d get shot on the spot.”
Jones agreed, but he said little in reply, sending each student a single brown thumbs-up emoji. He believes his job is to boost young people by embracing their voices, not drowning them out with his own.
He also didn’t have much to say when a Black colleague told him about Christian Trabert.
“Did you know the police chief’s son was there?” the colleague asked as they were walking to their cars after work.
“No,” Jones said after a moment, “I didn’t.”
He was disgusted but not surprised. It didn’t make him feel any less safe in Aberdeen because, as a Black man, he already felt unsafe.
He climbed in his car and drove home, silent.
‘Twist words around’
Seven days after the insurrection, Christian Trabert’s mother answered the door to her apartment. He was out, and she didn’t want to discuss what happened, she said, but insisted her son had done nothing wrong.
“He’s just talking crap,” she said.
At a townhouse a mile away, Trabert’s brother, Taylor, the police officer who had described himself and his comrades as “alpha males,” also declined to talk, except to say his sibling was no criminal.
“Everybody wants to twist words around,” he said, standing outside his door, a Trump flag dangling above a nearby window.
As he spoke, a car was pulling up to the Maryland State Police barracks in Bel Air. The woman who received the threatening note after her Facebook comment had finally decided to report it. With a friend who had come to support her, she walked inside the station and read the note’s menacing words to an officer.
“There’s nothing we can do,” the two women recalled him saying, because he didn’t think it explicitly threatened her life or safety.
The woman asked if he could at least document that she had visited and tried to report the note, in case something happened. The officer said no.
“I guess I’ll wait until I end up with a bullet in my head, and then I can file a report,” she said, losing her temper and walking out.
Phipps, the Republican who’d tried for four years to persuade his conservative friends to renounce the president, had given up, too. He was on a text thread with eight other golf buddies, all of them Trump supporters. They were silent at first after the attack on the Capitol, before the excuses and conspiracy theories started popping up on his cellphone. That was it for Phipps. He told them to take him off the thread.
Meanwhile, Rudd, the pastor, was still struggling with how to view the president he had admired for so long. He had taken his Trump flag down before the holidays, so it wouldn’t offend his sister when she came over for Christmas. Now, he decided, the flag would stay in the shed.