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O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, facing waning support from longtime backers and donors in the wake of the attack at the U.S. Capitol last week, defended himself in a newspaper column Wednesday, accusing the media and “Washington establishment” of deceiving Americans into calling him an “insurrectionist.”

Hawley’s column appeared in the Southeast Missourian, a daily newspaper in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. It marked the first time Hawley, 41, has publicly defended himself since the brutal attack on Jan. 6 when a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol following the president’s rally.

Five people died, including a Capitol police officer, and lawmakers had to scramble for safety and hide as rioters rampaged through the building, delaying by hours the tally of Electoral College votes that was the last step in finalizing Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

Hawley was the first senator to announce a challenge to the Electoral College results, and his challenge went on even after the attack. Concerns were also raised after a photo emerged of Hawley greeting protesters outside the Capitol with a raised fist, though that happened before the mob stormed the building.

Hawley, in the column, noted that Democrats objected after losing the 2000, 2004 and 2016 presidential elections and were “praised for standing up to democracy.”

“This time around, anyone who objected has been called an ‘insurrectionist,’” he wrote. “Sadly, much of the media and many members of the Washington establishment want to deceive Americans into thinking those who raised concerns incited violence, simply by voicing the concern. That’s false. And the allegation itself is corrosive and dangerous.”

Other than Trump himself, no politician has suffered the fallout as has Hawley. Multiple donors have pulled financial support. Meanwhile, the Trump-opposing Lincoln Project said it would take out full-page newspaper ads calling out his remaining donors.

Email messages seeking comment from Hawley’s office Wednesday have not been returned.

Also on Wednesday, small crowds gathered at Hawley’s offices in Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis and Columbia in what was dubbed a statewide “Funeral for Democracy.” The groups delivered letters to the offices demanding Hawley’s resignation.

“Missouri is fed up,” Justice Horn, of Kansas City, who helped organize the event, said in a news release. “Our Senator, Josh Hawley, is an embarrassment to our state because he supported a bloody coup attempt to overthrow our election. The best thing to do is resign.”

The health care IT firm Cerner Corp. based in Kansas City, Missouri, said Wednesday that it will suspend contributions “to any candidate or official who took part in or incited violence last week in Washington, D.C.” Spokeswoman Misti Preston said the company isn’t “naming specific names,” but Cerner’s political action committee has donated $10,000 to a Hawley-sponsored PAC over the past two years.

Late Tuesday, two St. Louis-based companies — the utility Ameren Corp. and the financial firm Edward Jones — said they were suspending campaign contributions. The law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner also announced a halt, at least temporarily, to political contributions. The firm is among the largest in St. Louis.

Ameren, Edward Jones and the law firm have contributed to Hawley.

Walmart said Tuesday that its PAC “is indefinitely suspending contributions to those members of Congress who voted against the lawful certification of state electoral college votes.” Walmart gave nearly $1.2 million to federal candidates in the 2017-18 election cycle but none to Hawley, according the opensecrets.org website operated by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Hallmark Cards, based in Kansas City, earlier this week asked Hawley and Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas to return employee campaign donations. The company said its employees donated $7,000 to Hawley and $5,000 to Marshall during the last two years through its PAC.

Hawley, in his 739-word essay, said those involved in the Capitol attack must be punished, saying, “Mob violence is always wrong.”

“But democratic debate is not mob violence,” Hawley wrote. “It is in fact how we avoid that violence.”

Hawley wrote that he has heard from many Missourians concerned about election integrity.

“They have a right to be heard in Congress,” he said. “And as their representative, it is my duty to speak on their behalf. That is just what I did last week.”

___

This story has been corrected to show the Cerner comments came Wednesday, not Tuesday, and Ameren and Edward Jones commented late Tuesday, not late Monday. The story was also changed to show that the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law firm has no specific home base, rather than being based in Chicago.

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ITF seeks new host city for Billie Jean King Cup finals

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