Chaos erupted at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as a pro-Trump mob stormed the seat of the country’s legislative branch in a violent scene that was reminiscent of an attempted coup or an insurrection.
Lawmakers were evacuated as the rioters breached barricades, interrupting the certification of the results of the recent presidential election. Thousands of rioters, waving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and shouting “stop the steal,” flooded Capitol Hill and paraded through National Statuary Hall, creating a tense standoff with law enforcement that dissolved into violence. Tear gas was reportedly deployed in the rotunda and shots were fired.
CNN reported that a woman was in critical condition after being shot in the chest on the Capitol grounds. Multiple outlets later reported that she had died. Several others, including a police officer, were injured.
“This is not dissent, it’s disorder,” Biden said. “It’s chaos. It borders on sedition and it must end now.”
Shortly afterward, Trump posted a pre-recorded video calling on his supporters to “go home in peace,” and saying that the rioting was “playing into the hands” of his opponents.
“I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us,” Trump said. “But you have to go home now… We don’t want anybody hurt.” Shockingly, the President also stated: “Go home, we love you, you’re very special.”
The governors of Maryland and Virginia said they would dispatch the state troopers and activate the National Guard to help quell the violence. Kayleigh McEnany, the president’s press secretary, also said that federal officers and National Guard would be deployed.
Images from inside the House chamber showed police with their guns drawn as protesters banged on the doors. Video images showed the demonstrators smashing windows and climbing into the building. Igor Bobic, a reporter for HuffPost, tweeted that the president’s supporters eventually entered the Senate chamber, with one taking the dais to yell, “Trump won that election!”
As law enforcement officers attempted to get the rioters to disperse, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew beginning at 6 p.m. E.T.
Before the protests escalated, thousands of Trump supporters gathered in Washington, D.C. this week to take part in a rally held on the National Mall. There, Trump addressed the cheering crowd shortly before Congress met to certify the results.
“We will never give up. We will never concede,” Trump said.
Trump riled up the crowd, and then said that they would walk up to the Capitol to “cheer on our brave senators” who were opposing certification.
“We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he said. “You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
Spurred on by his bellicose rhetoric, a typically ceremonial counting of the electoral votes submitted by each state, devolved into a shocking riot. Numerous Republican members of the House and Senate had vowed to contest the legitimacy of the presidential election in key battleground states, but their efforts were halted amidst safety concerns. Both chambers went into recess as police struggled to contain a situation that quickly spun out of control.
Vice President Mike Pence, who earlier announced that he would defy President Trump and refuse to attempt to stop Biden from becoming president, was among the top officials who were evacuated.
“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now,” Pence tweeted. “Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”
Establishment Republicans also spoke out against the violent mob that stormed the Capitol. “This is not the American way. This must stop now,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News. “What is happening right now is unacceptable.”
The chaos in D.C. meant that viewers across the country watched news networks in which members of Congress gave telephone interviews while sheltering in their offices or in secure locations. For some, the fear was evident in their voice.
“My colleagues and I are a little shell-shocked,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D.-Conn., told CNN by phone.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., urged Trump to send a tweet urging the protesters to go home. “Call it off,” he said on CNN. “The election is over.”
Even before protesters flooded the Capitol, the vote certification had become uncharacteristically contentious. Republicans issued objections to certifying Arizona’s electoral votes, which closed the joint session and kicked off debate in both chambers over whether or not there were election irregularities that would nullify Biden’s victory in the state.
The effort has been spearheaded by rising stars on the far right including Josh Hawley, who was elected to the Senate from Missouri in 2018, and Jim Jordan, who has represented the Columbus, Ohio area in the House since 2007. Their effort is widely expected to fail. Democrats control the House of Representatives and several Republicans in the Senate such as Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Kevin Cramer have said they will back the Electoral College.
“We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a conservative Republican, said, while opposing the efforts to challenge Biden’s win. “The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it will damage our republic forever.”
Schumer, the Democratic leader who seems poised to replace McConnell as majority leader after his party picked up two seats in the Georgia runoff election, echoed his warnings.
“Half of our voters are being conditioned by the outgoing president to believe that when his party loses an election the results must not be legitimate,” said Schumer. “As we speak, the eyes of the world are on this chamber questioning whether America is still the shining example of democracy, the shining city on the hill.”