Officials declared the US Capitol complex “secure” on Wednesday after heavily armed police moved to end a nearly four-hour violent occupation by supporters of US President Donald Trump.
Violent protesters loyal to the president stormed the US Capitol earlier and forced lawmakers into hiding, in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep President-elect Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.
An announcement saying “the Capitol is secure” rang out Wednesday evening inside a secure location for officials of the House. Lawmakers applauded.
The occupation interrupted Congress’s Electoral College count that will formalize Biden’s upcoming inauguration on January 20.
Lawmakers were evacuated to secure locations around the Capitol complex and Washington, DC, after thousands of Trump supporters breached the building and skirmished with police officers.
CNN reported that lawmakers intended to return to the process in the coming hours, with some Republican lawmakers who had originally planned to object now set to vote in favor, horrified by the day’s events.
A woman who was shot inside the Capitol during the violent pro-Trump protest died of her injuries, according to two officials familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The Metropolitan Police Department said it was taking the lead on the shooting investigation. Police did not immediately provide details about the circumstances of the shooting.
Police used tear gas and percussion grenades to clear the protesters from the grounds of the Capitol ahead of a curfew in the city.
Police donned gas masks as they moved in with force to clear protesters from the Capitol grounds shortly before the 6 p.m. curfew took hold. In the moments before, there were violent clashes between the police and protesters, who tore railing for the inauguration scaffolding and threw it at the officers.
The district’s police chief said at least 13 people were arrested, and five firearms had been recovered.
Police Chief Robert Contee called the attack a riot.
Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier declared the 6 p.m. curfew and the National Guard and state and federal police were called in for control.
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) January 6, 2021
The protesters were egged on for weeks by Trump, who since the November presidential election had launched a barrage of false attacks on the integrity of the results. While rallying his supporters outside the White House Wednesday morning, he urged them to march to the Capitol. But later — hours after they fought police and breached the building — he told them in a video that although they were “very special people” and he backed their cause, they should “go home in peace.”
Other than a pair of tweets and that minute-long video, Trump was largely disengaged from the occupation of a main seat of the nation’s government. It was Vice President Mike Pence, not Trump, who spoke with senior defense leaders about calling up the National Guard.
Twitter later removed Trump’s video and another post that exhorted his followers to “Remember this day forever.” Facebook also took Trump’s video, saying, “We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”
Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, had declared in Wilmington, Delaware: “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 that democracy was “under unprecedented assault,” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans.
Even for a Capitol building that has seen centuries of protests and even violence — including a 1954 shooting involving Puerto Rican nationalists — Wednesday’s events were astounding because they appeared to unfold at least initially with the blessing of the president and also because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a lawful presidential election.
The chaotic protests halted Congress’s constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had tried to steer Congress away from Wednesday’s formal protest of those results, and he said at the start of proceedings that Trump had clearly lost.
Wednesday’s ordinarily mundane procedure of Congress certifying a new president was always going to be extraordinary, with Republican supporters of Trump vowing to protest election results that have been certified by the states. But even the unusual deliberations, which included Pence and McConnell defying Trump’s demands, were quickly overtaken by the chaos.
In a raucous, out-of-control scene, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. At least two explosive devices were found, one at the Capitol and another at the Republican National Convention headquarters, but law enforcement said it did not pose a threat.
They’re bull-rushing the police, inside the U.S. Capitol building, right now.
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) January 6, 2021
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.
It added up a frightening scene for lawmakers, who were directed to take extraordinary action for their own safety. The protesters abruptly interrupted the congressional proceedings in an eerie scene that featured official warnings directing people to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.
Representative Scott Peters, a California Democrat, told reporters he was in the House chamber when protesters began storming it. Security officers “made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault, it looked like. They had a piece of furniture up against the door, the door, the entry to the floor from the Rotunda, and they had guns pulled,” Peters said.
“And they just told us to take our pins off,” he added, referring to lapel pins members wear so Capitol Police can quickly identify them. Then the lawmakers were evacuated.
A clerk helped grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwise, said Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.
Trump supporters posting on internet forums popular with far-right fringe elements celebrated the chaos. Messages posted on one turned from profane frustration over the content of Trump’s speech to glee when supporters stormed the building. At least one leading figure was livestreaming video from inside the Capitol during the siege.
The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol.
Inside our US Capitol. All these insurrectionists must be arrested. pic.twitter.com/yMUNYtwwei
— Amy Siskind ????️???? (@Amy_Siskind) January 6, 2021
Pence was closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.
Pence had a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he was under growing pressure from Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favor, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.
“Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.
Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.
Arizona was the first of several states facing objections from the Republicans as Congress took an alphabetical reading of the election results. Then the chaos erupted.