Rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to evacuate and suspend counting the Electoral College votes to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Earlier in the afternoon, President Donald Trump encouraged tens of thousands of people gathered on the White House Ellipse to march to the Capitol as both houses of Congress assembled to begin counting the votes. Soon after, a large mob breached the Capitol perimeter and entered the building, an unprecedented episode in American history.
Police officers placed several buildings around Capitol Hill on lockdown as they halted operations and evacuated lawmakers while working to regain control of the Capitol building as thousands of insurrectionists climbed the staircases and the partially constructed inauguration platform.
The confrontation quickly escalated into an extraordinary clash between law enforcement and rioters, leaving at least one person fatally shot and hundreds of others at the receiving end of tear gas and stun grenades.
The pro-Trump mob, most of whom did not wear masks despite a surge in COVID-19 cases, broke down fences and swarmed police, chanting “this is our house” and “oathbreakers.” Hundreds entered the Senate side of the Capitol from an entrance on the western facade, while others shattered windows and climbed to the top of exterior balconies typically restricted to the public.
Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a curfew in D.C. from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday to quell the uprising. As cell phones in the District received an emergency alert about the curfew at roughly 2:45 p.m., hundreds of rioters gathered on the western side of the Capitol and chanted “fuck the curfew.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam later issued a curfew in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, for the same timeframe and issued a State of Emergency for the Commonwealth. Federal officials activated D.C. National Guard troops in full riot gear to support law enforcement officers on the ground.
GW administrators closed the Foggy Bottom Campus except for residential students and designated on-site employees during the D.C. curfew and brought additional security to “maintain a safe environment.” Men’s basketball postponed their game with Massachusetts for Wednesday night as a result of the curfew.
“I want to assure you that our Foggy Bottom campus has been quiet with limited activity throughout the day,” University President Thomas LeBlanc said in an email to the University community Wednesday evening.
Rioters who entered the Capitol said police occasionally attempted to resist the mob’s movement, but they generally did not obstruct them once inside.
Brad Weeks, who traveled to the District from Florida for the demonstration, said he used the bathroom once inside the Capitol building.
He said members of his family were concerned about his decision to attend, but he felt compelled to travel to D.C. to raise concerns over election fraud. U.S. election officials have said the November election was the most secure in American history.
“Our country is being stolen from us,” Weeks said. “Our liberty is being stolen from us. Our freedom is being stolen from us.”
Jonathan Carlton, who also visited D.C. from Florida, said he entered the Capitol for roughly 20 minutes. The halls were “packed” with people who had broken through the perimeter, he said.
“I am here to certify the fraud that occurred without a reasonable doubt in seven states during the election,” Carlton said.
GW College Democrats condemned law enforcement’s response at the Capitol compared to racial protests last summer.
“This is also a glaring, disgusting display of a law enforcement system that often lets White people act with impunity while unleashing violence upon people of color,” the group said. “Peaceful protestors in Black Lives Matter Plaza were tear-gassed this summer for demanding racial equity – but White insurrectionists were able to infiltrate the floor of the U.S. Congress with seemingly no pushback.”
GW College Republicans also condemned the rioters, adding that the violence is a “flagrant contradiction” of American values.
“Employing force and violence in an attempt to coerce our government officials and achieve political goals is a clear act of domestic terrorism, and the perpetrators of these heinous acts should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the group said.
On the east front, some climbed on top of police vehicles while others swarmed the main exterior staircases, many carrying large flags indicating support for the president and conservative political positions. At around 3:45 p.m., rioters played songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on the main staircase as U.S. Capitol Police donning riot gear stood feet away.
The scene on the east front of the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/e5cP8UbC4n
— Zach Schonfeld (@ZachASchonfeld) January 6, 2021
About 15 minutes later, police officers deployed tear gas on hundreds of rioters on the north side of the Capitol surrounding a building entrance.
Amy Kremer – the chairwoman of Women for America First, which organized the rally on the Ellipse – said in an email to press attending the rally that she was “disappointed” at the violence at the Capitol.
“What is truly sad, is that the misdeeds of a handful of people will overshadow the overwhelming success of the peaceful event – attended by hundreds of thousands of Americans – that we sponsored today,” she said. “The movement that was launched by President Donald J. Trump is one that respects the rule of law, supports our law enforcement and believes that violence has no place in politics today.”
At the rally earlier in the day, speakers had praised the demonstrators for remaining peaceful and not turning to looting and trespassing.
“I’m looking at the crowd here and the tens of thousands of people, probably 100,000 plus people, and you did it all without burning down buildings,” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, said at the rally. “You did it without ripping down churches, without looting. I didn’t know that was possible.”
The speakers – which included Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Guiliani, multiple lawmakers and other members of the president’s family – repeatedly made trumped-up accusations of election fraud in the presidential and Georgia Senate runoff elections – claims that fueled many pro-Trump demonstrations over the past three months.
The president spent much of his remarks criticizing the media for its coverage of his presidency and its projection of Biden as the winner of the election. Electors have cast their votes in all 50 states and D.C., providing Biden with a majority of the electoral votes.
“We don’t have free and fair elections,” Trump said. “And you know what else, we don’t have a free and fair press. It suppresses thought, it suppresses speech and it’s become the enemy of the people. It is the biggest problem we have in this country.”
The president’s remarks were met with enthusiasm from the crowd, chanting “USA” and “four more years.”
“We will never give up,” Trump said at the rally. “We will never concede.”
My cell signal got spotty once the crowd filled in, hence the lapse.
President Trump spoke for roughly an hour following members of his family and other speakers.
The crowd is now marching toward the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/Oc0wsztS2q
— Zach Schonfeld (@ZachASchonfeld) January 6, 2021
As the scene at the Capitol grew violent, Trump tweeted multiple times throughout the afternoon.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful,” Trump tweeted as hundreds roamed the Capitol hallways. “No violence! Remember, WE are the Part of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
Twitter suspended Trump’s account for 12 hours and removed three of his tweets for “repeated and severe” violations of the company’s civic integrity policy. Facebook announced Trump will be blocked from posting on the platform for 24 hours.
In a now-deleted video posted to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook Wednesday afternoon, Trump told rioters to go home, but he once again stated baseless conspiracy theories about the November election results.
“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,” Trump wrote in a tweet removed by Twitter. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”