U.S. Capitol in lockdown after Trump unleashes violent mob on Congress

At least one person shot as pro-Trump protesters invade Capitol, reach House and Senate chambers and offices

Published January 6, 2021 3:39PM (EST)

Trump supporters stand on the U.S. Capitol Police armored vehicle as others take over the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, as the Congress works to certify the electoral college votes. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Trump supporters stand on the U.S. Capitol Police armored vehicle as others take over the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, as the Congress works to certify the electoral college votes. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The U.S. Capitol went into lockdown on Wednesday afternoon as a pro-Trump mob, directed to Capitol Hill in a rally speech by the outgoing president, broke through police lines, entered the Capitol building and engaged federal guards in an armed standoff within the Senate chamber. It was an unprecedented outbreak of violence and an apparent revolt against Congress and the federal government. Multiple reports suggest that one woman was shot in the chest on the Capitol grounds and is now in critical condition, although the precise circumstances are unclear. NBC reported that as many as six people have been hospitalized, including one law enforcement officer.

The violence forced both chambers of Congress to halt their debate on ratifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory — the normally-routine event that attracted the mob in the first place — and go into emergency recess, with lawmakers sheltering in their offices. Authorities reportedly deployed tear gas in the Capitol rotunda and instructed lawmakers to don the gas masks stored below their seats, and to duck under their chairs if necessary. Vice President Mike Pence had already been evacuated from the building by the Secret Service, as had senators and legislative aides, amid reports of suspicious devices around the premises.

NBC News later reported that an improvised explosive device had been found in the Capitol, and the New York Times reported that a device had been discovered and safely detonated at Republican National Committee headquarters, two blocks from Capitol grounds. As of roughly 5 p.m. Eastern time, with darkness falling, Washington police and other law enforcement agencies were beginning to disperse the mob, although there are clearly large numbers of people inside the building

As protesters fought through federal police to storm the chamber doors, multiple journalists on the scene reported that law enforcement had drawn guns, and that shots had been fired. Some of the self-styled revolutionaries managed to take the Senate floor, with one person mounting the dais and proclaiming President Trump the winner of the election. (He is not.) One person was photographed being wheeled out on a stretcher, perhaps the woman who was reportedly shot and seriously injured.

Protesters raised a large wooden cross on the premises, and at least one person carried a Confederate battle flag into the Capitol. A group of protesters apparently reached the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which had been evacuated so rapidly that emails warning of the violence were still visible on office computers.

Reporters and protesters alike have shared video and photos documenting the events, which are without precedent in recent American history.

President-elect Biden denounced the events in a televised address, calling the attack "an insurrection" from "a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness," and demanded that Congress be allowed to finish its job.

"The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America. Do not represent who we are," Biden said. "What we're seeing are a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it's disorder. It's chaos. It borders on sedition, and it must end now. I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward."

"At this hour, our democracy's under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we've seen in modern times. An assault on the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself. An assault on the people's representatives and the Capitol Hill police sworn to protect them, and the public servants who work at the heart of our republic," he said. 

"Threatening the safety of elected officials, it's no protest. It's insurrection," said the former vice president.

"President Trump: Step up," he added.

Biden repeated the appeal to Trump on Twitter, writing: "I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution by demanding an end to this siege.

Thousands of Trump supporters had descended on Washington on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, hoping to bully lawmakers into disputing or overturning the results of the presidential election, which they and the president falsely claim has been stolen by an array of Democratic and Republican federal, state and judicial officials. The event, typically a passing formality, was rendered extraordinary this year by more than 100 GOP lawmakers who pledged to dispute the Electoral College votes, setting the stage for a showdown.

Many view the protest as a last stand for the outgoing president, who addressed the crowd ahead of the congressional debate, In a disjointed speech on the Ellipse, Trump urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. Republicans, Trump said, now need to "fight much harder" against "bad people," and "demand" that congressional officials "confront this egregious assault on our democracy" — i.e., his electoral defeat.

"You have to show strength and you have to be strong," Trump said, adding: "You will never take back our country with weakness."

After the violence broke out, Trump tweeted for peace.

"I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue," he wrote. "Thank you!"

In a brief video address to the nation, later locked by Twitter "due to a risk of violence," Trump reiterated his false claim to victory and told the rioters that he loved them.

"I know your pain. I know your hurt," Trump said to his supporters who had just attempted a piecemeal insurrection against the government he nominally leads. "We had an election stolen from us . . . this was a fraudulent election," he lied, invoking the reason they stormed Congress to begin with. The president then told the mob, "we love you, you're very special," before asking them to remain peaceful and "go home."

The National Association of Manufacturers, a historically conservative industry trade group, has called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office.

Capitol Police have reportedly called for reinforcements, including federal personnel, and the city has implemented a 6 p.m. curfew. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared to announce on Twitter that after considerable confusion, Trump has called out the National Guard to restore order. Since the District of Columbia has special federal status, Guard troops in the nation's capital are directly under the president's control, rather than local authorities.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., reportedly declared, to bipartisan applause, that both chambers would reconvene to ratify Biden's victory after the protesters were cleared. In an interview with CNN at about 5 p.m., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said that Democratic senators were urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to reconvene the Senate as well and conclude the day's business.

According to Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Senate staff members secured the mahogany boxes containing the Electoral College votes, which might otherwise have been seized or burned by the invading mob.

This is a rapidly developing story and will be updated.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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