Pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop members of Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, an unprecedented attack on democracy that sent shockwaves around the world. The violent, right-wing mob breached the Capitol shortly after Donald Trump told supporters in Washington that he would not concede the 2020 election, despite all 50 states certifying his decisive loss, and while continuing to push dangerous lies about widespread voter fraud.
“The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America, do not represent who were,” Biden said in an address as rioters occupied the building. “What we’re seeing are a small number of extremists, dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now.”
Disturbing images of Trump supporters thrashing through the sacrosanct halls of Congress blared across cable news and social media, alarming the international community. “The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power,” tweeted U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson, as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that “the outcome of this democratic election must be respected.”
Inside the Capitol, as staffers and members of Congress took cover on the House floor, with Senator Mitt Romney reportedly yelling, “This is what you’ve gotten,” to his colleagues, including Senator Ted Cruz, a vocal supporter of Trump’s crusade to delegitimize Biden’s victory by fueling baseless fraud claims.
“I was in line to get the vaccine when it started really ramping up outside,” said a senior Democratic Congressional staffer. “[A] cop outside was listening to his radio. At one point [they] said, ‘Things are getting dicey.’ Then the nurse had to tell me three times to relax before she injected me.”
“Since then, basically, we’ve been hunkered down in our office watching this on TV and Twitter like everyone else,” the staffer said.
An aide to a Democratic member of Congress recounted their boss’s experience: “[She] barricaded herself in the office [and is] putting furniture in front of the doors. She was trying to stay quiet because she was afraid people could hear her inside her office…this is like an active-shooter drill that we helped our kids prepare for.”
“I was checking Twitter to see what people were saying to tell my boss,” said an aide to a progressive staffer describing the chaos. “All I wanted was an email from [Nancy] Pelosi’s staff being like, This is real, do this. That’s the purpose of leadership, right? That’s why we have people in leadership positions: to tell the rest of us in times of crisis what to do. I get that…safety was first. But everything was dropped about this. Absolutely everything.”
“It’s shocking to me because we all knew this was coming,” the staffer added. “People call you for weeks. I moved my car this morning—I was very prepared for this. These are the people that are supposed to protect us [from] another 9/11? Are you kidding?”
Vice President Mike Pence was quickly evacuated by security while the rest of the Senate members were locked in their chambers. According to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic, the mob swarmed outside the Senate chamber while others paced the halls screaming, “Where the fuck are they?” Some vandalized Congressional offices, including that of speaker Pelosi.
When the pro-Trump horde began tearing down fencing around the Capitol, the police had a chance to stop them before they breached the building’s doors. Instead, the group was allowed the group to swell in size until there was a large enough crowd to force entry.
As rioters marched up the steps, they could be heard shouting, “Don’t let them get away with this! We’re getting in there and shutting it all down;” “It’s too late for the First Amendment—we’re exercising our Second Amendment rights this time around;” and “1776 will commence again,” the last of which is a quote from Alex Jones, who has called for Trump supporters to “surround the White House and support the president.” (In June, when protesters gathered in D.C. to express outrage against racist policing, law enforcement spared no mercy and no expense. If police were so much as hit by a plastic water bottle, they responded with volleys of teargas, despite every being encased in body armor.)
But it took hundreds of Trump supporters bum-rushing the Capitol’s hallways before law enforcement began to exert real force. When asked if he was willing to die for the cause, one rioter said that the “80 million Americans who voted Trump are done standing by—I don’t care how many of us go down, we’re gonna finish this today,” seemingly referencing a comment Trump made during a presidential debate in which he told the extremist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Others in the crowd shared a similar sentiment, chanting “fight for Trump,” while many waved “Make America Great Again” and Confederate battle flags.
Around 4 p.m. EST, the Army deployed the D.C. National Guard in and around the city, the New York Times reported. The decision came after an initial request to deploy the National Guard was reportedly denied by the Department of Defense. According to NBC News, one woman was in critical condition after being shot at the Capitol, while several more Trump supporters were transported the hospital. The woman later died.
Several Republican lawmakers—some of whom had said they would protest the certification of Biden’s election today—tweeted attempting to discourage the rioters.
The president’s children were likewise in damage-control mode, with first daughter Ivanka Trump deleting a tweet in which she labeled the rioters “American patriots.” (Her brothers, who tweeted their own disavowals, had stood in front of the same mob earlier that day, riling them up and threatening lawmakers who didn’t support their father.) A former friend of Ivanka’s predicted that this moment, as well as so many other moments, would haunt her after her dad leaves office. “It follows them because it is them,” this person said Wednesday afternoon. “It is who they are now.”
Emily Jane Fox contributed reporting. This article has been updated.
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