Trump supporters storm Congress, halting electoral vote certification debate

David Knowles, Hunter Walker and Jana Winter
·17-min read

WASHINGTON — A violent, armed mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday, entering the House and Senate chambers and forcing legislators and staff to take shelter. The astonishing turn of events came an hour after President Trump exhorted a Washington rally to protest the congressional certification of the Electoral College vote, a process that would seal President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

The unprecedented violent protest brought a halt to the debate on the futile attempt by some Republican lawmakers to decertify the results from a number of states.

After a “Stop the Steal” rally that police say was attended by 25,000 to 35,000 people, thousands of angry Trump supporters surrounded the Capitol building, bounded up the steps and set up barricades using a ladder. Standing on top of an entrance, one man looked down and said, “This is epic. We’re taking the Capitol back.”

Protesters overpowered Capitol Police, smashed windows and forced open doors, then streamed into the building where both chambers of Congress were debating whether to certify the Electoral College votes in Arizona.

The surprise intrusion caught lawmakers off guard, sending many scurrying for safety.

“The president invited us here, and we’re not leaving,” another protester shouted.

Multiple shots were fired, and CNN reported that a female protester identified as Ashli Babbit was killed after being shot in the chest. Capitol Police also reported that three other people had died of medical complications stemming from the clashes and that several officers had been injured. Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham said protesters deployed “chemical irritants on police” as they stormed the Capitol, the Associated Press reported.

Protesters at the U.S. Capitol
Protesters supporting Trump break into the U.S. Capitol. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the proceedings in the Senate, was taken to a secure location by the Secret Service out of fear for his safety.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were also placed in secure locations. With the Capitol complex in lockdown, Trump issued a belated plea for calm.

Notably, Trump did not instruct his supporters to disperse, and his tweet was met with angry responses from Democrats and some Republicans who said the president’s words had led to the day’s developments.

Minutes later, Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement.

“We are calling on President Trump to demand that all protesters leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol grounds immediately,” the statement read.

With Trump steering clear of television cameras since attending his rally earlier in the day, Biden delivered a stern message.

Trump supporters
Trump supporters take over the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

“I call on this mob to pull back and allow democracy to go forward,” Biden said, adding, “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.”

By the time the president strengthened his calls for cooperation with the police, his protesters, many of whom were armed and had not passed through a metal detector, had already broken through a police barricade and entered the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. An improvised explosive device was found on the Capitol grounds, NBC News reported, and at least two IEDs were discovered on the 300 and 400 blocks of Canal Street, according to a law enforcement document obtained by Yahoo News.

An improvised explosive device recovered discovered in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021.
An improvised explosive device recovered in Washington on Wednesday.

Approximately 1,100 members of the National Guard were activated to help put down what Democrats said was a coup attempt. In a statement to the press, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said he had spoken with Pence, Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Schumer about the plan.

“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,” Miller said in his statement.

The Department of Homeland Security set up a virtual situation room to facilitate interagency communication and coordination, a DHS spokesperson told Yahoo News.

Yet with the former heads of the Justice and Defense departments fired or having resigned after clashes with Trump, the statements from their replacements came hours after the mob had descended.

“The violence at our Nation’s Capitol Building is an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy. From the outset, the Department of Justice has been working in close coordination with the Capitol Police and federal partners from the Interior Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Guard, as well as the Metropolitan Police and other local authorities,” Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement. “Earlier this afternoon, the Department of Justice sent hundreds of federal law enforcement officers and agents from the FBI, ATF, and the U.S. Marshals Service to assist the Capitol Police in addressing this unacceptable situation, and we intend to enforce the laws of our land.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: A member of a pro-Trump mob bashes an entrance of the Capitol Building in an attempt to gain access on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
A member of a pro-Trump mob bashes an entrance of the Capitol in an attempt to gain access. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

With the siege continuing, Trump finally relented, issuing a video from the White House that, while it urged his supporters to leave the Capitol, also seemed to justify their behavior.

“I know your pain, I know your hurt,” Trump told his supporters. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side.”

Trump’s remarks were littered with false and unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and social media companies quickly flagged the video on their platforms as containing disputed information. In fact, it was those same claims that inspired a mob of his supporters to travel to Washington to protest in the first place.

“This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people,” Trump added.

Ultimately, Twitter and Facebook concluded that they had reached an inflection point, deciding for the first time to remove messages, including the video, from Trump’s accounts. Facebook added an additional punishment, banning Trump from posting for 24 hours, a move that was quickly followed by Instagram.

Snapchat blocked Trump from making new posts and Twitter also locked Trump’s account for 12 hours.

At least one prominent Democratic Senator said Twitter’s penalty was not stern enough.

Pence, who had been criticized by Trump and his followers for not attempting to overturn the results of the Electoral College vote – something the vice president does not have the power to do – issued his own statement as the violence continued.

“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now. Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building,” Pence tweeted. “Peaceful protest is the right of every American but this attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Trump had urged his followers to travel to Washington to attend the rally, and he addressed them at the Washington Ellipse shortly before Congress began the electoral vote count.

A protester inside the Senate chamber
A protester inside the Senate chamber after the Capitol was breached. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” Trump said, adding, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much some of them.”

Instead, Trump returned to the White House while many in the crowd did just as he asked and began laying siege to the Capitol. Several buildings were evacuated as protesters clashed with police.

As the chaos unfolded, instead of issuing a call for calm and urging his supporters to cooperate with Capitol Police, Trump lashed out at Pence in a tweet deleted by Twitter. Minutes later, the president issued a second tweet urging the same supporters he’d whipped up into a frenzy over bogus claims of election fraud to “Stay peaceful!”

As members of Congress took shelter in the basement of the Capitol, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a 6 p.m. ET curfew.

Armed protesters stormed the Senate chamber and the offices of several lawmakers, with one climbing the dais and proclaiming, “Trump won that election!”

While some of the Trump supporters inside the Capitol said their intention was to stay there overnight, others began dispersing as darkness fell. One man with a megaphone called out to the mob that the National Guard was coming and that the group “needed to go to CNN and MSNBC instead, because that’s where it all started.”

At the “Stop the Steal” rally, Trump had gone after the news media with particular vigor, and soon his supporters had attacked a news crew.

A woman leaving the Capitol in tears said she had been sprayed with Mace by the police when she attempted to force her way inside the building. Asked why she wanted to get in, the woman, who identified herself as Elizabeth from Knoxville, Tenn., said, “We’re storming the Capitol, it’s a revolution!”

Predictably, some of Trump’s backers in Congress blamed the violence on left-wing provocateurs from antifa.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., meanwhile, announced she was introducing a new set of articles of impeachment against Trump.

Other Democrats also called for Trump to face swift consequences for what transpired Wednesday.

“He must be impeached and removed from office immediately,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement.

Trump’s predecessor also pointed the finger at the 45th president.

“History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation,” former President Barack Obama said in a written statement.

Former President Bill Clinton also had harsh words for the current White House occupant.

“The match was lit by Donald Trump and his most ardent enablers, including many in Congress, to overturn the results of an election he lost,” Clinton said in a statement.

Democrats weren’t the only ones lashing out at the soon-to-be-former president, however.

“Today, the United States Capitol — the world’s greatest symbol of self-government — was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard — tweeting against his Vice President for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a written statement. “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”

Without mentioning Trump by name, former Republican President George W. Bush put the blame for the event on those who had fostered “falsehoods and false hopes” about the election results.

“The violent assault on the Capitol — and disruption of a Constitutionally mandated meeting of Congress — was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes,” Bush said in a statement.

As Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, gathered other lawmakers at a secure location, he was equally pointed in who was to blame.

“This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Romney said, according to the New York Times.

National Guard troops clear a street from protestors outside the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. - Donald Trump's supporters stormed a session of Congress held today, January 6, to certify Joe Biden's election win, triggering unprecedented chaos and violence at the heart of American democracy and accusations the president was attempting a coup. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
National Guard troops clear a street from protestors outside the Capitol. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also didn’t mince words.

“The President bears responsibility for today’s events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories that have led to this point,” Burr said in a statement. “It is past time to accept the will of the American voters and to allow our nation to move forward.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., also urged Trump to move on from the election.

“It’s past time for the president to accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people, and repudiate mob violence,” Cotton said in a statement. “And the senators and representatives who fanned the flames by encouraging the president ... should withdraw those objections.”

Longtime Trump ally and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie issued another scathing assessment of Trump’s role in the melee to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

“Those people today who had been lied to consistently by the president about a fraudulent election acted out, and acted out not just on their own George, but through his encouragement, and I did listen carefully to what he said this morning at that rally,” Christie said.

In the afternoon, hours after the mob took control of the Capitol, rumors swirled in Washington about the 25th Amendment, which contains a provision whereby the vice president and a majority of the cabinet can rule that a president has become incapable of doing his job, could be used to remove Trump from office.

Momentum for the 25th Amendment built throughout the day until all the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Pence asking him to invoke it, saying “President Trump revealed that he is not mentally sound and is unable to process and accept the results of the 2020 election.”

Numerous officials inside the Trump administration were said to be considering resigning in disgust. The first person to make that announcement was first lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham. The second was White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews.

White House social secretary Rickie Niceta and deputy national security advisor Matt Pottinger has resigned in the wake of the riot at the Capitol.

At 5:56 p.m., nearly four and a half hours after the insurrection had begun, the sergeant-at-arms announced that the Capitol had been cleared of the mob, eliciting cheers from the lawmakers who had remained inside the building. One hundred and thirty-six National Guard troops took up positions on the Capitol grounds, according to an update sent to law enforcement and obtained by Yahoo News.

While thousands of Trump supporters took part in the violence at the Capitol, by 9:30 p.m, Washington police said they had made slightly more than 52 arrests, most on charges of violating curfew.

But the incident itself would have broader repercussions. For starters, some of the Republicans who said they would protest the certification of the Electoral College vote announced they had reconsidered in light of the attack on the Capitol.

As the Senate resumed its business, outgoing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke sternly about the mob.

“The United States Senate will not be intimidated,” he said, adding, “They tried to obstruct our democracy. They failed.”

Schumer, the man in line to lead the Senate, was more precise. “This mob was in good part President Trump’s doing,” the New York Democrat said.

One by one, Senate Republicans who had planned to protest the Electoral College certification, including James Lankford of Oklahoma and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, stepped forward to say they were dropping their objections.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: In this screenshot taken from a congress.gov webcast, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during a Senate debate session to ratify the 2020 presidential election at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress has reconvened to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump, hours after a pro-Trump mob broke into the U.S. Capitol and disrupted proceedings.  (Photo by congress.gov via Getty Images)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during a Senate debate session to ratify the 2020 presidential election at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Photo by congress.gov via Getty Images)

One of the president’s most dependable supporters, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, delivered an especially stinging rebuke of the plan to deny certification.

"If you're a conservative, this is the most offensive concept in the world — that a single person could disenfranchise 155 million people," Graham said, adding, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected.”

Back at the White House, Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani continued to pressure senators to protest the certification. When the vote came up to challenge the electors in Arizona, Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., Roger Marshall, R-Ks., Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and John Kennedy, R-La., obliged, less than half of those who initially committed to doing so.

Georgia, the next state challenged by members of the House, did not receive the support of a single Senator, killing debate before it began. The same pattern held in Michigan and Nevada.

But Sen. Hawley joined the challenge to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes put forth by Republican House members, delaying Biden’s inevitable victory even further.

As was clear before they began, the final votes on the challenges, however, did not go in Trump’s favor, and when Hawley was asked by CNN’s Manju Raju whether Trump bore responsibility for the violence in Washington on Wednesday, even he gave an answer the president was sure to dislike.

“I don’t think urging people to come to the Capitol was a good idea,” he said.

A bigger question that remains, however, is what lasting damage the mob takeover will have on the party of the man who beckoned his supporters to Washington to stage Wednesday’s uprising.

Caitlin Dickson contributed reporting to this story.

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