OPINION: Chris Kelly Opinion: A primary offense

May 21—Meteorologists blamed Wednesday’s unseasonably chilly weather on a cold front, but I’m pretty sure it was my fault.

Tuesday was an idyllic day for a primary election — 75 degrees and sunny. I voted early and went to work late. Soon, the third-floor conference room table would be piled high with pizza on the company’s dime.

Then the tips started rolling in. A domestic terrorist was parked outside a polling place at Green Ridge Assembly of God church.

I scarfed down a couple of cuts and rolled over to the church. To be sure I could identify the domestic terrorist, I Googled photos of her participating in the Jan. 6 domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol. A shot of her sitting on the hood of a police car is the first image that comes up when you Google her name.

When I walked up to the front doors of the church, she was sitting in a camping chair.

“You’re Deborah Lee,” I said.

“What?” she replied.

“You’re Deborah Lee,” I said again. “From the Jan. 6 domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol.”

“Who are you?” she asked, her face tightening much like it looks in the photo of her atop the police car.

I replied in the sunniest tone I could manage:

“I’m Chris Kelly, from The Times-Tribune.”

She hissed: “I have nothing to say to you!”

I’ve withstood my share of icy glares, but this was a gale-force, bomb cyclone blizzard of contempt. A frigid wind whipped around me. The sky darkened. I could feel the temperature dropping throughout the valley.

I’m sorry for my part in that, but not sorry at all for questioning the presence of a domestic terrorist at a polling place. In April, Lee, 56, was indicted on charges of felony obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting obstruction.

Federal prosecutors say Lee tried to block Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote that confirmed Joe Biden as president.

The recent indictment includes the four misdemeanors in the original criminal complaint against Lee — entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

Old Forge Insurrectionist Frank Scavo and Michael Rusyn — an Olyphant volunteer firefighter who breached the Capitol building with Lee — pleaded guilty to the parading charge. Scavo served 60 days in federal prison. Rusyn was sentenced to 60 days of home confinement.

Lee rejected a similar plea bargain. The Feds responded by tacking on a felony charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Roll the dice, claim the jackpot.

Lee pleaded not guilty, despite a deluge of damning evidence that includes photos of her participating in the insurrection and her own antisocial media posts and private messages bragging about her part in America’s darkest day since 9/11.

“I’m live. I’m at the Capitol doors. We’re all the way inside the building. We’re trying to get in. We got the glass broken,” Lee said in a video posted on her Facebook page.

“I broke into congress (sic) and there were guns on us,” she wrote in “private” messages to other Facebook users. “It’s our house. Our capital (sic). We had every right to occupy.”

No, they didn’t, which is why 1,000 Americans (and counting) were criminally charged for joining the failed coup attempt, according to the Department of Justice. About 485 pleaded guilty to charges likely to earn them jail time. About 120 pleaded guilty to felonies. Another 364 pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.

Some 52 defendants pleaded guilty to felony charges of assaulting law enforcement officers. Another 22 pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder. Of those 74 defendants, 41 were sentenced to prison terms of up to 90 months. Four pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.

The Capitol attack was not a “peaceful protest” or an “exercise in freedom of speech.” It was a criminal attempt to overturn a free, fair election carried out with traitorous contempt for the Constitution.

Lee has every right (for now) to participate in the electoral process, but a domestic terrorist who took part in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election has no business greeting voters at a polling place.

Also, Lee lives in Olyphant (for now). Why was she working the polls in Scranton? I might have asked her, but she meant what she said: She had nothing to say to me!

So I reached out to the candidates she represented at the polls. Her hardest push was for Scranton City Council candidate and MAGA Republican Marc Pane. I reached Pane on Thursday. Our conversation was brief but cordial.

“I had people all over the city,” Pane said, but he was not aware Lee was one of them.

Neither were Bob Casey and Tom Borthwick, who both landed seats on the Scranton School Board. Lee also distributed their candidate cards, which advocated voting for Casey, Borthwick and Mark Dennebaum, who won a Republican nomination to run for school board.

When I asked Casey and Borthwick (in separate conversations) if they were aware that Deborah Lee was representing them at the polls, both replied:

“Who’s Deborah Lee?”

“The domestic terrorist from Olyphant who was indicted for her role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”

Both were duly horrified by the news. Both said they didn’t know Lee was distributing their cards. I believe them. Anyone can request candidate cards. Campaigns are happier to get help than they are curious about who’s helping.

“Do we have to do background checks from now on?” Casey asked, mostly joking.

Google should suffice. Before agreeing to have their names appear alongside Dennebaum’s, Casey and Borthwick should have typed his name in the search bar. They might have learned that Dennebaum is an anti-vaxxer, COVID skeptic and Jan. 6 apologist.

Dennebaum hosted the ambush podcast of my 2021 sit-down with Teddy Daniels at Pane’s garage in Scranton, but I have no hard feelings. I had a good time.

I left Dennebaum a voicemail on his cellphone on Thursday. My educated guess is that he invited Lee to represent the three candidates, but I wanted to ask him. Dennebaum didn’t call me back. Not even to say he had nothing to say to me.

Meteorologists are free to scoff at the notion that Deborah Lee’s glacial glare could affect the weather, but there were other elements at work. Consider the arctic irony of a domestic terrorist who joined an attempt to nullify the votes of millions of Americans parking herself outside a polling place and encouraging voters to cast ballots.


CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, is not a meteorologist. Read his award-winning blog at timestribuneblogs.com/kelly. Contact the writer: kellysworld @timesshamrock.com; @cjkink on Twitter; Chris Kelly, The Times-Tribune on Facebook.

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