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'You definitely didn’t feel comfortable' | Former Turlock mayor details experience traveling with Capitol rioters

The former mayor lambasted the rioters and said that on the plane back to California, some didn't even register the gravity of what they had done at the Capitol.

TURLOCK, Calif. — Former Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth was recently in Washington D.C. on business. In his post-political life, he's does consultation work for irrigation districts and water.

His most recent business trip, during the first week of January, however, coincided with an insurrection on the national's Capitol, resulting in the death of a police officer and four others. 

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, President Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington D.C. while lawmakers were trying to confirm the electoral college certifications and making Democrat Joe Biden the presidential election winner.

Soiseth believes he not only shared a hotel with people who participated in the Capitol riots, but also a plane ride back to California.

“I was in a hotel though filled with these supporters and to watch them come back in like they had gone to concert, like they’d gone to a rally, and they were so excited for what they accomplished," Soiseth said. "It was surreal that they would actually feel excited about what went on....”

RELATED: US Capitol Riot: What we know about the chaos in DC, aftermath

The former Turlock mayor thought the tension of the day would be around what Vice President Mike Pence would do with the certification vote. Soiseth and his partner were on a jog by the Capitol Mall when they stopped by the Save America Rally to hear President Donald Trump's words for themselves. 

“Having seen some of the individuals that were down on the mall, some of them had their hunting gear, some of them had backpacks filled with — now we know — ammunition and weapons," Soiseth said. "It’s a scary thing.”

When the riot happened, he was back at his hotel in Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac River, seeing the chaos unfold as curfews around the area went into effect.

“It just was unreal. It just was something that I would never believe would happen and would occur in the United States,” Soiseth said.

In his career, he spent time in Afghanistan mentoring government officials about how to become a democracy, using the United States as an example. He said it was jarring to hear some of the same rhetoric in the U.S. that he heard in Afghanistan when insurgents tried going after their countrymen in the guise of tribalism or protecting their country.

"It’s something that I’d never thought I’d see, let alone in the Capitol building being chanted to try and go after our vice president’s life or speaker of the house’s life and basically take back the Capitol for their cause,” Soiseth said.

As he tried to make his way home, he learned he'd be sharing a plane ride back to California with people who appeared to have attended the rally or stormed the Capitol.

“About 80% of our plane ride was filled with these individuals that attended the rally and/or went to the capitol, because they all still wore their supportive clothing that said Trump and different sayings,” Soiseth said.

The plane ride back to California was laden with conversation about how the riot at the Capitol was "the first of many" and that there would continue to be "war in the streets," Soiseth said. 

RELATED: Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers strong rebuke of riot by Trump supporters, urges support for Biden

“They were really excited about the next phase," Soiseth said. "They were talking about what had happened, but they were also talking about what’s to come. I think that that’s what was worrying me that… they didn’t realize the gravity of them storming the Capitol and that this was illegal... That this was something they shouldn’t have done.

“You definitely didn’t feel comfortable," Soiseth added. "You wanted to get through this flight as quickly as possible. Again, these are people that are openly talking about how they were saying ‘Hang Pence, Hang Pence.’”

On Facebook, the former mayor lambasted the riot at the Capitol and noted in part that a new chapter of healing was needed. Part of that, he said, is tied in with what the rhetoric and words of people leading the country.

“I think what’s troubling is that a lot of people gave our leaders a pass because of rhetoric. 'It’s just words. You’re allowed to say words.’ But you really aren’t; you now see the repercussions of what words can do,” Soiseth said.

Despite past events, Soiseth still has hope that Republicans and Democrats can come together and lead the country out of this dark chapter of history in a constructive way. 

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