The U.S. Capitol descended into chaos Wednesday, January 6th, 2021 as hundreds of pro-Trump rioters swarmed the building and at least one person was shot dead, forcing the Senate to evacuate, and abruptly pausing a ceremonial event affirming that President-elect Joe Biden won the November election.
Thousands of Trump supporters gathered in Washington, DC, for what Trump dubbed a “Save America Rally,” a two-day protest meant to demonstrate support for the false conspiracy theory that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and that Trump was the rightful winner of the election. Before the event, websites and social media platforms popular with far-right groups were filled with threats to start killing people after the rally if Congress refused to make Trump president.
The riots initiated as protests against the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, quickly turned violent as protesters clashed with police, infiltrated and vandalized the U.S Capitol building, and looted various artifacts from the building. Many consider Trump’s speech on the morning of January 6th to a crowd of his supporters at the Ellipse to be a major factor in the attacks on the Capitol, as Trump addressed a crowd of several thousand rally attendees near the White House and encouraged them to take their protest to the Capitol following his remarks.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. “Let the weak ones get out,” he went on. “This is a time for strength.”
His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd, “Let’s have trial by combat.”
Though Trump promised we would go to the capitol with them, he did not do so, and instead, several hundred of his supporters began to march to the Capitol area before the conclusion of the president’s speech. On Tuesday night, pro-Trump demonstrators engaged in violent clashes with DC police. On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Capitol building’s barricades and fought with police in an effort to enter the U.S Capitol building, eventually overpowering them and entering the building.
Vice President Mike Pence, who had been presiding over the count of Electoral College votes, was rushed out of the Senate as the Capitol complex went into lockdown when Trump supporters began entering the building. Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who are all in the line of presidential succession, were quickly taken to secure locations. Congress members were ordered to take shelter in the complex, where at least one improvised explosive device was found. Another pipe-bomb-like device was found at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, and a mysterious package that has yet to be identified was found at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
Despite the urgency of the situation, police were massively unprepared to protect the U.S Capitol, shown with a lack of riot gear and weapons, with video footage showing officers letting people calmly walk out the doors of the Capitol, showing officers running from a larger mob of Trump supporters, and another showing a lone officer protecting the Senate Chamber with a stick. Authorities eventually regained control as night fell, as heavily armed officers and the National Guard, activated by Vice President Mike Pence brought in as reinforcements started using tear gas in an effort to get rioters moving the outside of the building, then combed the halls for stragglers, pushing the mob farther out onto the plaza and lawn, in clouds of tear gas, flash-bangs, and percussion grenades.
Only about a dozen arrests were made in the hours after authorities regained control. Police have said a woman was shot in the chest inside the building by police, was taken to a hospital where she later died. Two other men and a woman also died after suffering medical emergencies on Capitol grounds. Fourteen police officers were also injured, and several reporters were threatened and chased off the premises, the mob of Trump supporters then destroying the reporter’s cameras and gear.
Various politicians and government officials from both political parties have condemned both the riots and Trump’s incitement and handling of the riots. In a speech addressing the rioters, Trump not only re-emphasized the claim that the election was stolen, but failed to condemn the violence and vandalism the rioters caused, telling them to “go home” and calling them “loved” “very special” people. Trump failed to activate the National Guard, resulting in Vice President Mike Pence activating it.
Currently, various politicians from both political parties are working towards bringing consequences to President Trump’s actions or lack thereof, with current and former White House and GOP Hill aides, Republican lobbyists and political consultants, pressuring the President’s current cabinet to take measures including censure, impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment, in which Vice President Pence would step in if Trump were found to be unable to perform his duties. On the side of the Democrats, Rep. Ilhan Omar has stated that she is currently drafting papers for Trump’s impeachment, Rep. Cori Bush drafted a resolution calling for the expulsion of the Republican congressmen that pledged to object to the results of the Electoral College in an attempt to overturn the results of the Election, and various Democratic Congress members calling for the use of the 25th amendment as well.
The effects that these violent demonstrations have had on both the current political climate and American democracy as a whole have yet to be fully seen, and Americans wait anxiously for both the future of the presidency and future updates on this situation.