WASHINGTON, D.C — A violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and forced lawmakers into hiding in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election.
Democrat Joe Biden’s inauguration is Jan. 20.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers were resuming the counting of electoral votes Wednesday evening after the Capitol was cleared of the pro-Trump occupiers and the process was put on hold.
Earlier in the day, the nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and don gas masks while police futilely tried to barricade the building in what many called one of the most jarring scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power.
An unidentified woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol, and the mayor of Washington, D.C., instituted an evening curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.
The rioters were encouraged by Trump, who has spent weeks falsely attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to descend on Washington on Wednesday 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.
Together, the protests and the GOP election objections amounted to an almost unthinkable challenge to American democracy and exposed the depths of the divisions that have coursed through the country during Trump’s four years in office.
The president spent much of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching scenes of the violence on television.
Shortly after Biden urged Trump to call for an end to the violence, Trump 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.
Hours later, Twitter for the first time locked Trump’s account, demanded that he remove three tweets excusing violence and threatened “permanent suspension.”
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.”
“What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States,” said Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.
There were harsh words from major business organizations and the Republican National Committee, too.
“Our soldiers have died carrying the American flag into battle for our freedom,” tweeted RNC communications director Michael Ahrens.
“To see that flag used in the name of unfounded conspiracy theories is a disgrace to the nation, and every decent American should be disgusted by it.”
Trump had tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.”
“Remember this day forever!”
The domed Capitol building has for centuries been the scene of protests and occasional violence, including a 1954 shooting involving Puerto Rican nationalists.
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.
Tensions were already running high when lawmakers gathered early Wednesday afternoon for the constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232.
Despite pleas from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, more than 150 GOP lawmakers planned to support objections to some of the results, though lacking evidence of fraud or wrongdoing in the election.
Trump spent the lead-up to the proceedings publicly hectoring Vice President Mike Pence, who had a largely ceremonial role in the proceedings, to aid the effort. He tweeted on Wednesday: “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
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.
Shortly after the first GOP objections, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls.
Lawmakers were told 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.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., told reporters he was in the House chamber when rioters 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.
Staff members grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwise, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.
Trump supporters posting on far-right internet forums 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