Thousands of President Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as Vice President Mike Pence presided over the Electoral College vote.
Carrying Trump banners and American flags and chanting “Stop the Steal,” the protesters blasted their way into the hallowed halls, breaking windows and shoving Capitol police aside as they sought to push the mob back by unleashing pepper spray.
The protesters responded with force, successfully breached the building at several locations.
Once the protesters were inside, security hustled Pence away and members of Congress barricaded themselves in various offices.
Gunshots also rang out in the hallway near the chambers and more windows were shattered throughout the building. An unidentified woman inside was shot in the neck and later died.
The National Guard joined the Secret Service, FBI, Capitol Police and D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department at the scene.
Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday, ordering all but essential workers off the streets.
Nearby agencies from Virginia and Maryland were also called to assist in quelling the melee.
Del. Jazz Lewis, senior adviser to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), worked from home Wednesday and didn’t have to travel to the District.
“Unfortunately, my colleagues are all barricaded in the office … for their safety,” said Lewis, who represents Prince George’s County’s 24th District. “I am texting back and forth with them to make sure they are fine. They are good. They are shaking up and scared. No one could have anticipated something like this.”
Lewis said late Reps. John Lewis and Elijah Cummings “would be crying right now. This is absolutely ridiculous.”
Although Lewis supports law enforcement in protecting the city and Capitol building, he said the protests by Trump’s supporters reflect a double standard in America.
“I do believe if this was Black Lives Matter, then people would have been harmed. It’s not fair,” he said. “We need to start taking these groups [like] The Proud Boys and these white supremacist groups and treating them like domestic terrorists. You have no idea how they could escalate a situation.”
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan posted a notice on Twitter and ordered the state police to assist the Metropolitan Police Department and U.S. Park Police to help with crowd control.
“All Americans should be outraged by this attack on our nation’s Capitol,” Hogan said. “This is a heinous and violent assault on the heart of our democracy. I will not stand for this and neither should any American.”
Prince George’s County police also sent officers on standby to assist D.C. police, said media relations officer Antonia Washington.
“If activated by MPD, we will aid in securing the area for which we were called to assist,” she said.
— Anthony Tilghman (@AnthonyTilghman) January 6, 2021
The protesters were heard frequently chanting, “We took the Capitol.”
Photos and videos of the surreal takeover flooded the internet. A bloodied and critically injured woman was wheeled out of the building, SWAT officers with automatic weapons traversed the halls and authorities reportedly discovered a bomb.
While Trump continued to tweet, President-elect Joe Biden took to television and addressed the nation, condemning the violence and urging Trump to “act like a man.”
“At this hour our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” Biden said, adding that what unfolded was, “an assault on the rule of law like few times we have ever seen it.”
The Democrat added that the uprising was tantamount to sedition.
“The scenes of chaos at the capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are,” Biden demanded.
“I call on this mob to pull back and allow democracy to go forward,” Biden said. “At their best, the words of a president can inspire; at their worst, they can incite.”
He then called on Trump to “go on national television now” to “demand an end to this siege.”
The president later released a video asking protesters to go home, but still tossed gasoline into the fire.
“I know how you feel, the election was stolen,” Trump said in the video.
His predecessor, Barack Obama, condemned the unrest and excoriated Trump and the Congress members who perpetuated the claims of election fraud.
“History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation,” Obama said in an issued stated. “But we’d be kidding ourselves if we treated it as a total surprise.
“Right now, Republican leaders have a choice made clear in the desecrated chambers of democracy,” he said. “They can continue down this road and keep stoking the raging fires. Or they can choose reality and take the first steps toward extinguishing the flames. They can choose America.”
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, an outspoken voice during last summer’s racial unrest surrounding the death of George Floyd, blasted the police response to the mob.
“I will say it, because I don’t think a lot of people want to. Can you imagine today, if those were all Black people storming the Capitol, and what would have happened?” Rivers said in a statement. “That, to me, is a picture that’s worth a thousand words for all of us to see.”
The later it became, the more protesters appeared to arrive.
One estimate placed the crowd at about 10,000, while others estimated anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000.
Even after police convinced some of the Trump loyalists to leave the Capitol, a large remnant of the crowd remained hours after the rally, prompting leaders from both sides of the aisle to describe the rioting as an unprecedented attack against American democracy.
“Today’s violence will never change the results of the presidential election, lead to a second term for President Donald Trump, or interfere with the transfer of power to the Biden administration,” officials at the National Task Force on Election Crises wrote in a statement late Wednesday.
“Protest is a fundamental right, violence and mob activity is not — particularly when the goal is to hinder the working of our democratic institutions.”
The situation unfolded during what historically had been a peaceful transfer of power in which the Electoral College votes are certified in a joint session of Congress.
However, just before the joint session, Trump led a rally nearby speaking for well over an hour. At its conclusion, he urged his supporters to express their discontent at the Capitol.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, called for “a trial by combat” against lawmakers who were certifying the Electoral College votes.
“I could never have imagined a day like this,” said Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff for President Barack Obama and one-time mayor of Chicago.
“Never could you have imagined seeing the security of the U.S. Congress not only being breached but the lives of members of Congress being threatened like this,” Emanuel remarked during a live interview on ABC News.
— Anthony Tilghman (@AnthonyTilghman) January 6, 2021
After watching African Americans protest the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and scores of others, many Black communities called law enforcement’s initial response tepid at best.
“So, imagine Black folk was in this mix,” Public Enemy frontman Chuck D remarked.
The “Don’t Believe the Hype” superstar then posted a video of the Capitol’s unrest.
He questioned: “Would they drop a bomb on ’em like Wilson Goode did?”
“As a part of both Million Man Marches in D.C., we aired differences to the world knowing that we were watched,” Chuck D continued.
“A brother didn’t even take a piss on a tree. Yet, all the Nation of Islam and Minister Louis Farrakhan have gotten was grief and misinformation from many factions here in the U.S.A.,” he said.
Tracy Fredericks, one of Chuck’s followers, noted: “We [Black people] would never have made it inside the Capitol Building.”
Morgan Cherry, a District-based political activist, agreed.
“These Trump supporters, who are about 99.9 percent white, have gone where no Black demonstrators could have gone – and ambushed the Capitol Building,” Cherry said.
Dr. Ebony Hilton, a prolific physician at the University of Virginia, asked why there had been no arrests.
“Where are the handcuffs? Where are the arrests? Where is the tear gas?” Dr. Hilton demanded. “Did we use up all of the rubber bullets at the peaceful Black Lives Matter rallies because our Capitol Building is under siege? When are law and order going to show up?”
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) called on officials to bring in the National Guard to secure the Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi eventually did just that.
“I’ve never seen anyone be able to breach the Capitol like this,” Bass said. “The president of the United States incited this riot and someone needs to go over to Pennsylvania Avenue and arrest him.”
Staff writers William J. Ford and Dorothy Rowley contributed to this story.