The nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and donned gas marks, while police futilely tried to barricade the building, one of the most jarring scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power. A woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol, and Washington’s mayor instituted an evening curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.
The rioters were egged on by Trump, who has spent weeks falsely attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to descend on Washington to protest Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s victory. Some Republican lawmakers were in the midst of raising objections to the results on his behalf when the proceedings were abruptly halted by the mob.
“I had to grab the three staffers of mine who are here and walk through what the plan was in case someone came into our office,” said Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-PA 2nd District).
“I was very worried and alarmed especially because we had so many people coming in that were not screened. I didn’t know if there were weapons,” said Congressman Andy Kim (D-NJ 3rd District).
Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey 2nd Congressional District planned to not certify Biden’s electoral college victory.
“Why do I think this happened? Because I think in any organization unfortunately sometimes some people get involved with it that don’t understand how they should behave, the rule of law,” said Van Drew. “You have a right to protest, but you don’t have a right to destroy.”
Speaking from the safety of his office in the Longworth Building on Capitol Hill, Pennsylvania Congressman Dwight Evans (D-PA 3rd District) said he could hear and see the chaos from outside while he sheltered in pace.
“It’s somewhat disturbing. In my four years, this is my 5th year. Never has this happened where you can see individuals try to take over the US government,” said Evans.
The president gave his supporters a boost into action Wednesday morning at a rally outside the White House, where he urged them to march to the Capitol. He spent much of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching scenes of the violence on television. At the urging of his staff, he reluctantly issued a pair of tweets and a taped video telling his supporters it was time to “go home in peace” – yet he still said he backed their cause.
A somber President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, said American democracy was “under unprecedented assault,” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans. Former President George W. Bush said he watched the events in “disbelief and dismay.”
The domed Capitol building has for centuries been the scene of protests and occasional violence. But Wednesday’s events were particularly astounding both because they unfolded at least initially with the implicit blessing of the president and because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a free and fair presidential election.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy deployed the National Guard to assist with the unfolding situation in the nation’s capital.
“We are witnessing one of the darkest days in American history. The President must immediately condemn the attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol and deploy the National Guard to keep Members of Congress safe and allow a peaceful transition of power,” said Murphy.
The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol. More than a dozen people were arrested.
As darkness began to set in, law enforcement officials worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades to try to clear the area around the Capitol. Big clouds of tear gas were visible. Police in full riot gear moved down the steps, clashing with demonstrators.