Steve Dymus tries not to talk much about Jan. 6.

Yes, he was there, along with others who ventured to Washington on the same bus trip out of Pennsylvania.

But he didn’t cross Constitution Avenue or climb the Capitol railings. When tear gas rose, he helped several older people from his group back to the bus.

None of that seems to matter, given how the day is remembered: An attack on the nation, on democracy, with those who attended vilified regardless of their actions.

“When it first happened, I used to say to people, ‘That’s not how it happened for everyone there,’” Dymus, 33, said this week, as the anniversary of the attack neared. “Then they would be like, ‘Well, how do you know?’ But I just didn’t even want to go there.”

Dymus, a New Yorker, joined up with the Harrisburg group. I had tagged along to chronicle what most assumed would be a day of partisan protest and rallies.

More than 700 people have since been charged for the riot that erupted when President Donald Trump’s supporters violently clashed with police and tried to stop the certification of a lawful election and the peaceful transition of power.

There were also possibly tens of thousands of people like Dymus — many drawn by the same lies about a stolen election — who protested peacefully and did not approach the Capitol.

The Harrisburg group was organized by Ben Philips, a computer programmer from near Bloomsburg. Phillips would become one of five attendees who died, suffering a stroke on Capitol grounds.

In recent weeks, I reached out to a dozen people from the trip, to ask if their views of the day had changed at all. Not surprising, several were wary of discussing Jan. 6, even though they didn’t participate in the attack. Many never responded.

But Dymus agreed to talk, as did Lisa Mickles, a woman I sat next to on the bus.

Dymus had stayed with Philips the night before the trip, so Jan. 6 was a double blow: the shock of what their protest became, and of spending 24 hours with a man who didn’t return home.

“At the end of it, when we got off [the bus], we were just like, ‘Wow that really just happened,’” Dymus said. “And then… Ben dying was just another thing we had to kind of realize was real.”

There had been an excited buzz at dawn when everyone gathered to meet outside the Bass Pro Shop in Harrisburg. Someone passed out bright orange hunting tape so the group could stick together. One passenger was serenaded with “Happy Birthday.”

As we barreled toward D.C., Philips said he felt as if he were headed toward the “first day of the rest of my life.”

Dymus now resents how stories about the attack rarely mention that thousands of people like him didn’t run toward the chaos. He’s also angry at the rioters for making him effectively guilty by association.

“You made the decision. Your actions were none other than your own,” he said.

He was with two friends and others in the group when Trump’s incendiary rally ended and they moved toward the Capitol. By the time they arrived, people were climbing the walls.

“It wasn’t exactly easy to tell what was going on, but there was a moment where you say, ‘Hey, I could go up there,’” he recalled. “But at the same time you see a bunch of people running away. I said, ‘I’m getting away from this crap.’”

Dymus said he still thinks there were problems with the election worth investigating but doesn’t dwell on it much anymore. There is no proof of significant election fraud, and multiple investigations have either failed to turn up evidence of tainted results or debunked fraud allegations. Still, surveys show, the majority of Republicans say Biden wasn’t legitimately elected.

“There’s a lot of inconsistencies, a lot of shady things that happened … and I don’t think many of those things were taken seriously,” Dymus said. “But there’s no way to prove it and we just gotta move on.”

He’s still glad he went to Washington.

“I made the choice,” he said. “And I made the choice that day to keep myself and my friends in a good spot and we didn’t put ourselves in jeopardy.”

Mickles, 58, drove from Juniata County to join the bus group.

“Considering there [were] like a million people there who did nothing wrong, I just don’t see how they give it that designation as an ‘insurrection,’” she said.

For years, Mickles was a local reporter in northeastern Pennsylvania, covering government and politics.

Her trust in fact-based news eroded during Trump’s presidency; she still believes the election was stolen.

“I did what I had to do,” Mickles said. “If I hadn’t gone, I would have felt bad. I did it because I want our country to be run by citizens and have our votes count and I don’t feel like that’s the case.”

She also arrived at the Capitol after the chaos started. She remembers sirens, the chill as the sun started to set and leaving the area with others. “We had some hot chocolate and we waited for the bus,” she said. Then they learned that Philips had died.

When she got home, she posted photos to Facebook.

“My sister was very mad at me, saying, ‘How can you do that to our country?’ Like I was bashing in windows and breaking in,” she said. “We were all singing patriotic songs, waving flags.

“I was just standing there saying: ‘Please listen to us. We just want fair elections. If we don’t think it’s fair can we at least look at it?’” she added. “And it got twisted that we were all insurrectionists.”

With the myth of a stolen election now an article of faith for most Trump supporters, both Dymus and Mickles said they’re not sure the country has become any more unified since Jan 6. Their happiest 2021 moments had nothing to do with politics. Dymus passed an exam to become an insurance broker. Mickles took a cross-country motorcycle trip with her boyfriend.

“The whole world’s a mess,” said Mickles, who now works for a cabinetmaker. “But I’m hopeful. I still believe in the Trump movement. Sit back. Be patient. It doesn’t even have to be Trump. Just the next election.”