Trump backers storm Capitol Hill, disrupt effort to certify Biden’s election win
'Our democracy is under unprecedented assault': Biden
By James McCarten
WASHINGTON, D.C. — What was supposed to be a historic day in the U.S. capital lived up to that billing for all the wrong reasons Wednesday as an angry throng of Donald Trump supporters managed to overpower police and lay siege to Capitol Hill.
After hearing the president himself air familiar, phoney grievances about a “stolen” presidential election, a group of protesters mobbed Capitol police and ran amok through the building as lawmakers were in the process of certifying Joe Biden’s victory.
Members of Congress were promptly evacuated and officers, weapons drawn, confronted the mob, which eventually succeeded in gaining access to the very legislative chamber where members of the Senate and the House had just been sitting.
Let me be very clear: the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not represent who we are. What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 6, 2021
The images that ensued were jaw-dropping: a man in a Make America Great Again hat, his feet up on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk. Another striding through the rotunda with a Confederate flag over his shoulder. The dais occupied by a man with a Trump flag as a cape.
Outside, as police sirens echoed and helicopters pulsed overhead, thousands upon thousands of others massed on the Capitol steps cheered and celebrated news of the breach, waving flags, firing flares and popping smoke grenades from atop the balcony.
D.C. police Chief Robert Contee confirmed that shots were fired inside the Capitol and at least one person was taken to hospital with a gunshot wound. Media reports suggest that person has since died of their injuries.
Trump, who had vowed to loyalists gathered outside the White House that he would never concede defeat in November’s presidential election, issued a tweet urging supporters to “stay peaceful.”
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” Trump wrote, stopping short of asking protesters to vacate the federal legislative building.
“They are truly on the side of our Country.”
He later posted a brief video urging occupiers to “go home,” but also repeated his claim the election was stolen and expressed solidarity with the crowd: “We love you,” the president said. “You’re very special.”
Actions condemned by global leaders
Canadians are deeply disturbed and saddened by the attack on democracy in the United States, our closest ally and neighbour. Violence will never succeed in overruling the will of the people. Democracy in the US must be upheld – and it will be.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 6, 2021
While political observers, elected officials and world leaders condemned the actions on social media platforms, the jubilant, celebratory mood on the grounds outside the building offered a jarring study in contrasts.
As night fell, however — a persistent din of police sirens and the glow of emergency lights punctuating the darkness — police had surrounded the vast Capitol grounds in force and were gradually pushing people away from the building.
President-elect Joe Biden, whose election win two months ago was supposed to be certified Wednesday, instead found himself addressing the nation and pleading for calm.
“Our democracy is under unprecedented assault,” Biden said, calling the protesters “extremists” who are “dedicated to lawlessness.”
“This is not dissent, it’s disorder, it’s chaos. It borders on sedition, and it must end — now,” he said.
Even Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., felt compelled to issue a statement.
“We are following the developments on Capitol Hill very closely,” Hillman tweeted. “All Embassy staff are safe and accounted for. We call for calm during this time.”
“Canadians are deeply disturbed and saddened by the attack on democracy in the United States, our closest ally and neighbour,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted. “Violence will never succeed in overruling the will of the people. Democracy in the U.S. must be upheld — and it will be.”
Vice-president speaks out
We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms. We grieve the loss of life in these hallowed halls, as well as the injuries suffered by those who defended our Capitol today.
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) January 7, 2021
In a joint statement, congressional leaders Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer called on Trump to demand that protesters leave the building immediately. Vice-President Mike Pence also urged the interlopers to withdraw.
“This attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated,” Pence said. “Those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
With the Capitol declared secure shortly after the supper hour, House officials said the joint session would reconvene and resume the business of confirming Biden as president-elect — a process that this year involves hearing and debating the objections of a number of senators and members.
National Guard reinforcements were called in to help restore a sense of order, while D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed an overnight curfew beginning at 6 p.m. ET in an effort to disperse the crowds.
“I continue to urge all Washingtonians to stay home and stay calm,” Bowser told a news conference. “The behaviour that we are witnessing is shameful, unpatriotic and above all, it is unlawful.”
The protesters themselves provoked police officers on the Capitol grounds, Contee said.
“Due to the violent behaviour towards the police officers there, and their intent on gaining access to the Capitol, a riot was declared,” he said.
“It was clear that the crowd was intent on causing harm to our officers by deploying chemical irritants and police to force entry into the United States Capitol building.”
Contee said 13 people had been arrested, all of them from out of town, and a number of guns had been confiscated.
Wednesday began with the president himself addressing a crowd of thousands massed between the White House and the Washington Monument, a sea of Trump banners and American flags snapping in a bitter January wind.
“We will never concede,” Trump bellowed to lusty cheers. “We will never give up.”
What is normally a staid exercise in constitutional process began Wednesday with Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz formally objecting to the electors from their states.