Washington – A mob of people loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, halting Congress’ counting of the electoral votes to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory as the police evacuated lawmakers from the building in a scene of violence, chaos and disruption that shook the core of American democracy.
Around 2:15 p.m., as the House and Senate debated a move by a faction of Republicans to overturn the election results, security rushed Vice President Mike Pence out of the Senate chamber and the Capitol building was placed on lockdown after angry pro-Trump demonstrators surged past barricades and law enforcement toward the legislative chambers.
For a time, senators and members of the House were locked inside their respective chambers. Images posted on social media showed scenes of supporters violently tussling with the police as at least one person took to the rostrum of the House chamber to declare his support for Trump.
A woman, who seemed to be part of the mob, can be seen being shot in the neck and is in critical condition.
“This is what you’ve gotten, guys,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney yelled as the mayhem unfolded in the Senate chamber, apparently addressing his colleagues who were leading the charge to press Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.
“This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Romney furiously said later.
The unrest prompted Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington to declare a citywide curfew from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday. The army is activating the entire District of Columbia National Guard — 1,100 troops — in response to a request from Bowser, an army official said Wednesday.
After exhorting his supporters to go to the Capitol to register their discontent Wednesday morning, Trump tried later in the day to tamp down on the violence: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” he wrote on Twitter. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
As the clashes intensified, he made no mention of the election and did not call for his supporters to disperse. Instead, he tweeted: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue.”
The extraordinary day in Washington laid bare deep divisions both between the two parties and within Republican ranks, when the ceremonial counting of electoral votes that unfolds every four years in Congress turned into an explosive spectacle, with Trump stoking the unrest.
Democratic lawmakers said the Capitol Police had instructed them to take cover on the floor and prepare to use gas masks after tear gas was dispersed in the Capitol Rotunda.
On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, yelled out to Republicans on the House floor: “Call Trump, tell him to call off his revolutionary guards.”
In a scene of unrest common in other countries but seldom witnessed in the history of the U.S. capital, hundreds of people in the mob barreled past fence barricades outside the Capitol and clashed with officers. Shouting demonstrators mobbed the second-floor lobby just outside the Senate chamber, as law enforcement officials placed themselves in front of the chamber doors.
Multiple lawmakers reported that the Capitol Police had instructed them to take cover on the House floor and prepare to use gas masks after tear gas was dispersed in the Capitol Rotunda of the Capitol. Shortly afterward, the police escorted senators and members of House from the building to others nearby, as the mob swarmed the hallways just steps from where lawmakers were meeting, carrying pro-Trump paraphernalia.
Rep. Nancy Mace, a freshman Republican from South Carolina, described seeing people “assaulting Capitol Police.” In a Twitter post, Mace shared a video of the chaos and wrote: “This is wrong. This is not who we are. I’m heartbroken for our nation today.”
Other Republican lawmakers, locked inside the Capitol, used Twitter to urge the mob to be peaceful.
“This is a coup attempt,” said Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
In the early afternoon, the police fired what appeared to be flash-bang grenades. Rather than disperse, the demonstrators cheered and shouted, “push forward, push forward.” One person shouted, “that’s our house,” meaning the Capitol. Other people repeatedly shouted, “You swore an oath.”
As officers and members of the mob clashed outside, lawmakers had been debating an objection to the certification of Arizona electors, ensconced in their respective chambers. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, warned of a “death spiral” for democracy, while Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, listed a litany of accusations of election fraud with little evidence.
“I don’t recognize our country today, and the members of Congress who have supported this anarchy do not deserve to represent their fellow Americans,” said Virginia Democrat Rep. Elaine Luria.
Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, urged the people to be peaceful.
‘Demand an end to this siege.’
President-elect Biden demanded on Wednesday that Trump call on his supporters to end what Biden called an “unprecedented assault” on democracy as the angry mob breached the Capitol, delaying the formal certification of the 2020 election and plunging Washington into chaos.
“I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege,” Biden said in brief remarks from Wilmington, Delaware.
Seeking to tamp down the anarchy that Trump stoked with angry rhetoric just hours earlier, Biden urged rioters to abandon what amounted to an armed occupation of the House and Senate. The president-elect denounced Trump’s refusal to graciously accept defeat, and suggested the president was to blame for the violence.
“At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite,” Biden said.
“This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition and it must end now,” he added. “I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward.”
Violent clashes between police and pro-Trump protesters underscored a grim reality for Biden: He will not only inherit a country wracked by a pandemic and economic crisis, but also a political fabric that has been ripped apart by Trump in ways that have not been seen in more than two centuries.
Never before in America’s tumultuous modern history has the peaceful transfer of power devolved into a physical confrontations inside the corridors of power in Washington, egged on by an incumbent president, who on Wednesday morning raged that the election was “rigged” and vowed “we will never concede!”
Unlike Biden, Trump remained mostly silent for hours, tweeting only that he hoped his supporters would remain peaceful and eventually saying that the National Guard would be sent to help police.
Moments after Biden delivered his remarks, Trump posted a one-minute video in which he empathized with the rioters because “we had an election that was stolen,” but urged them to “go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order.”
But many of his supporters appeared to dismiss the president’s tweets and video. Protesters waving “TRUMP” flags descended on the Capitol. Instead of delivering remarks about his plans to accelerate the country’s economic recovery, the president-elect delivered a forceful call for peace as the National Guard raced to Washington.
“At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault,” he said, adding later: “Today is a reminder, a painful one, that democracy is fragile.”
Pelosi’s office vandalized
In the Capitol, pro-Trump protesters stormed Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s august suite of offices, flipping over tables and pulling photos off the walls.
In the basement “crypt” of the Capitol, hundreds of Trump supporters shouted “U-S-A, U-S-A,” creating a roar in the building. Shattered windows left glass scattered on wet floors.
“You stay here and call everybody you know and tell them to get to D.C. now,” one protester said.
A Capitol Police officer tried to reason with the crowd: “You guys just need to go outside,” he pleaded with a man in a green backpack. When asked why they weren’t expelling the protesters, the officer said, “We’ve just got to let them do their thing now.”
Explosive device at GOP HQ
An explosive device was found at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee in Washington and the nearby headquarters of the Democratic National Committee was evacuated after the discovery of a suspicious package Wednesday, according to three people briefed on the discoveries.
The device that was found at the RNC was a pipe bomb that was successfully destroyed by a bomb squad, according to an official for the RNC.
The package at the DNC has yet to be identified, according to a top Democrat briefed on the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
The RNC and DNC are headquartered just a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, which President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed Wednesday afternoon soon as Congress had gathered to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and shortly after the president addressed the crowd near the White House.
As a mob breached the Capitol, Vice President Mike Pence was rushed from the Senate chamber and the building was placed on lockdown. Shortly after, Trump tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done” because he did not try to reject the electors.
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