Hill chaos turns deadly after rioters storm Capitol
Pro-Donald Trump rioters overwhelmed the Capitol Police and stormed Congress on Wednesday afternoon, interrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College win and throwing the U.S. Capitol into a deadly spiral of chaos and violence.
Shortly after 2:30 p.m., lawmakers, staff and reporters were forced to shelter in place and several House office buildings were evacuated due to potential bomb threats. Vice President Mike Pence was pulled from the Senate chamber. But the situation quickly spun out of control.
Protesters breached the Capitol, entering the Senate chamber and streaming through Statuary Hall. They broke windows and one man sat in the very seat Pence had been sitting in just a few minutes before, while another was in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. A handwritten message was left on the speaker’s desk, saying, “We will not back down.” Lawmakers, reporters and staffers sheltered throughout the building as pro-Trump rioters banged on doors and shouted.
At one point, gunfire was heard inside the Capitol as Capitol police officers barricaded the doors to the House chamber, guns drawn and blocking rioters from entering. D.C. Police later confirmed one person was shot and killed, although the specific circumstances of that shooting have yet to be released. Tear gas was deployed in the rotunda and an improvised explosive device was found on the Capitol grounds. The FBI later said that an investigation into the IED was “ongoing.”
Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) were quickly whisked away to undisclosed locations as the violent protesters broke through the Capitol, busting through secure doors, shattering windows and even scaling scaffolding outside of Senate leadership offices. One person was injured when they fell more than 30 feet from the scaffolding.
By mid-afternoon, the National Guard was finally called up to help suppress the unrest, nearly two hours after the first reports of a breach.
What unfolded at the Capitol was the culmination of months of Trump’s tweets and statements pushing his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election based on baseless claims of fraud. Lawmakers, helpless amid the chaos, tweeted urgently at the president to call off his supporters and described, in real time, the violence and destruction they were witnesses to. Some immediately called Trump’s conduct impeachable, while others — Republicans and Democrats — described it as a “coup” attempt and an insurrection.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a Trump critic, described the violence as “the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, who also frequently calls out Trump, directly blamed the president, saying, “What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
“There’s no question the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob. He lit the flame,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), the No. 3 House Republican.
McCarthy, a close ally of the president, said on ABC News that, “We all have some responsibility here … What has gone on has gone too far. He also said he “begged” Trump to “talk to the nation” — not on social media.
“People are being hurt, there’s been shots that have been fired, this is unacceptable,” McCarthy said on Fox News.
Shortly after both chambers were evacuated, Trump tweeted: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful.” But he did not tell the demonstrators to leave the Capitol. He followed that with a recorded message, saying, “You have to go home now. We have to have peace, we have to have law and order,” Trump said while still falsely insisting the election was “stolen from us.”
President-elect Joe Biden also called on the rioters to stop, saying “This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now.”
The security was in stark contrast to Trump’s impeachment trial or even Black Lives Matter protests last year, when police presence was more pronounced and restrictive.
Before rioters were cleared from the complex, Pelosi and Schumer called for them to exit the Capitol.
“We are calling on President Trump to demand that all protestors leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Grounds immediately,” Schumer and Pelosi said.
At 5:30 p.m., three hours after rioters breached the Capitol, the sergeant at arms informed members that the building was finally again secure. Minutes before a 6 p.m. curfew began, an announcement was made warning that anyone who didn’t leave would be arrested. Shortly before 6 p.m., senators reconvened behind closed doors to process Biden’s win and House leaders also vowed to continue their work.
Inside the House chamber, the atmosphere was frantic. Capitol Police were warning people they may need to go behind their seats.
The House floor quickly turned into chaos. Some top lawmakers, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Whip Jim Clyburn, were pulled from chamber.
Minutes later, police rushed members from the floor to be evacuated. Police and floor staff handed out protective hoods as police warned that tear gas had been dispersed outside the chamber.
The House evacuation effort was interrupted, however, and roughly two dozen members and reporters huddled in upper gallery, crouching behind seats, as multiple armed officers barricaded the main chamber door. Loud banging noises could be heard, as members exchanged prayers and made calls to loved ones.
As the last group of members and staff was escorted from the chamber, multiple protesters appeared to be restrained by police on the House floor.
Masks were being distributed to members and the press after tear gas was dispersed.
“I’ll tell you it’s a mess out here. I hear a lot of rounds of ammunition going off. This is a disaster,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) on Fox News. “It’s insane. The president’s tweets have been insane. And the president needs to show leadership right now. Bring out the D.C. Guard, bring order to this so we can go forward with our constitutional responsibility.”
Lawmakers and staff had already been on high alert as crowds of Trump allies descended upon the Capitol and local D.C. officials braced for violence. Then around 1 p.m., offices in both the Cannon and Madison buildings were urgently instructed to leave and move to another building. In some hallways, Capitol Police officers ran door-to-door, instructing staff to leave, according to several of those evacuated.
The lockdowns and evacuation orders fueled further anxiety inside the Capitol, as staff were told to stay away from windows and doors. Staff in some office buildings were also instructed to take “escape hoods” — reserved for some kind of chemical attack in the building — and head to the tunnels in Longworth.
“All of the members of Congress are just texting each other and trying to make sure that everyone is safe,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin on MSNBC as the chaos was unfolding. “I understand as you just reported that in the chamber they’re now trying to don some gas masks. I dug one out of my storage. We’re sheltering in place. I’m glad to see that the president is now putting out a message that this has gone way too far.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew 6 p.m. on Wednesday, January 6, until 6 a.m. on Thursday and urged residents to stay away from downtown.
“I just had to evacuate my office because of a pipe bomb reported outside,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) tweeted. “Supporters of the President are trying to force their way into the Capitol and I can hear what sounds like multiple gunshots.”
“Just evacuated my office in Cannon due to a nearby threat. Now we’re seeing protesters assaulting Capitol Police,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said. “This is wrong. This is not who we are. I’m heartbroken for our nation today.”