Right-Wing Extremists Storm U.S. Capitol
Tear gas in the Rotunda after Trump-incited insurrectionists overwhelm Capitol Police, disrupts election certification.
Updated: 5:18 p.m.
Hundreds of Donald Trump supporters breached security measures and entered the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, forcing law-enforcement personnel to evacuate members of Congress gathered to certify the president’s electoral defeat.
Several hours after the mob broke windows and entered the Capitol, the White House announced that President Trump had activated the D.C. National Guard to respond to the unfolding chaos inside the building, where at least one person has been shot. The president has tweeted that the rioters should “Stay peaceful!”, but has not condemned the violence. In a video message posted several hours later, Trump called the rioters “special” and sympathized with “how you feel” about an election he falsely claimed was “stolen,” but urged them to “go home and go home in peace.”
As of 5 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, Guardsmen still had not arrived on the Capitol grounds, but riot police were beginning to move the mob away from the building. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on the city amid concerns of potential violent clashes after dark.
The task of clearing the Capitol complex of rioters is likely to prove a painstaking and potentially risky one. The Capitol complex is a massive and labyrinthine set of buildings with lots of nooks and crannies in which an enterprising person could hide.
Thousands of protestors had begun to gather in downtown Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, and returned for rallies on Wednesday morning, all in support of Trump’s calls to overturn the election.
The president addressed one such rally just south of the White House about 11 a.m., repeating false claims about election fraud and telling supporters: “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol...You’ll never take back our country with weakness.”
Around 1 p.m., as the House and Senate opened a joint session to certify the results of the Nov. 3 election, a mob of hundreds moved onto the Capitol grounds. Video posted on Twitter showed them tearing down security fences.
By 1:15, the mob had advanced up the Capitol steps. In some places, they clashed with law enforcement personnel. In others, video appears to show Capitol Police allowing the mob to move forward into previously off-limits areas.
Within the hour, video shows, the mob had pushed past the police, broken windows, and forced their way into the seat of the U.S. legislature. At 2:17 p.m., Capitol Police told lawmakers, staff, and media to hold in place, HuffPost reporter Matt Fuller reported. Moments after that, House lawmakers were being evacuated.
“We are calling on President Trump to demand that all protestors leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Grounds immediately,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement.
As of 4 p.m., rioters were still swarming the Capitol complex, including on the Senate floor. Videos and photos posted to Twitter showed a Trump supporter standing at the dais in the upper chamber, shouting that Trump had won the election. Elsewhere on the grounds, rioters sprayed a fire extinguisher. Earlier in the day, several Capitol Hill office buildings were evacuated after a suspicious package was found, which one lawmaker identified as a “pipe bomb.”
Despite the pushing and shoving, and video showing guns drawn by law-enforcement officers inside the Capitol, the response to the Trump-fired insurrectionists paled in comparison to the violence that met last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests. Noted Politico’s Ryan Lizza: “I covered a lot of BLM protests in D.C. last year (tear gassed several times, hit with a rubber bullet) and the difference here in terms of the police response to property damage and violence is astounding.” Video appears to show at least some Capitol Police officers posing for selfies with extremists inside the building.
The entire D.C. National Guard was activated, but the parameters of the deployment were not immediately clear, including whether or not Guardsmen have been authorized to conduct law enforcement operations.
Unlike a state, whose governors have the power to mobilize the National Guard, the mayor of Washington, D.C., must request troops through the U.S. deputy attorney general who then sends the request to the Army secretary, a former senior Army official said. The requests are sent by fax machine. Once called up, the Guard typically serves as a backup to civilian law enforcement.
At 3:48 p.m., the Pentagon released a statement from top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman: “The D.C. Guard has been mobilized to provide support to federal law enforcement in the District. Acting [Defense] Secretary Miller has been in contact with Congressional leadership, and [Army] Secretary [Ryan] McCarthy has been working with the D.C. government. The law enforcement response will be led by the Department of Justice.”
In a later statement, Hoffman pushed back on reports that the Pentagon had denied D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowster’s request to activate the Guard.
Miller himself added an hour later: “[Joint Chiefs] Chairman [Gen. Mark] Milley and I just spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol. We have fully activated the D.C. National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation. We are prepared to provide additional support as necessary and appropriate as requested by local authorities. Our people are sworn to defend the constitution and our democratic form of government and they will act accordingly.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that he would send members of the Virginia National Guard and 200 Virginia state troopers to help city and congressional leaders to contain the situation.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted at 3:47 p.m. that he had directed the Maryland State Police to help MPD and Capitol Police as well, and to call up a Maryland National Guard rapid response force “to support law enforcement and restore order.”
A small, unarmed contingent of the D.C. Guard, which is under the command of the president through the Secretary of the Army, was already present in the city helping local law enforcement with traffic control.
“Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss: “This is a coup d’etat attempted by the President of the United States.”
Brian Klass, associate professor in Global Politics at University College London: “Incalculable damage being done to America's reputation and soft power at the moment. This is an enormous gift to America's adversaries. The damage will be lasting.”
Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.