Bedlam erupted in the nation’s capital Wednesday afternoon.
An angry mob of Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol as congressional lawmakers were certifying results of the presidential election.
It was supposed to be a formality, the final step in solidifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over outgoing President Donald Trump.
But thousands of Trump’s faithful, fueled by false claims of massive election fraud, descended upon Capitol Hill to stage protests. Hundreds of the protesters pushed through security barriers surrounding the Capitol perimeter just after 1 p.m. and brushed their way past Capitol police in full riot gear, CNN reported.
Chaos ensued from there.
The demonstrators rushed the Capitol steps, clashed with police, scaled walls and climbed through windows. Shortly before 3 p.m., the mob made their into the building, forcing Capitol Hill to be locked down and members of Congress to be evacuated from the House floor.
Moments later, an armed standoff unfolded at the doors of the House chambers, with police officers drawing and aiming their weapons at a suspect trying to break in.
They breached the building as lawmakers were in debate, certifying the election results. An Associated Press photo showed several members of the House hiding under chairs “sheltering in place” as the mob stormed the building.
Photos showed some of the protesters posing triumphantly inside an empty Senate floor. Others were pictured carrying items that appeared to be stolen from the Capitol building. Several lawmakers, such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had their offices ransacked and looted, according to The New York Times.
The images unfolded on television screens across the nation. One woman was reportedly shot in the neck and critically wounded as the building was engulfed. She had to be rushed to a local hospital, CNN reported. By late Wednesday afternoon reporting emerged that the woman had died.
“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt,” Trump told his supporters in a pre-taped response from the White House lawn. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a 6 p.m. citywide curfew and federal agents responded to reports of possible pipe bombs scattered at multiple locations throughout the Capitol building, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was slated to preside over Wednesday’s certification, also had to be evacuated.
For days leading up to Wednesday’s Electoral College certification, Trump had encouraged Pence to reject all of the votes and send them back to their respective states. But on Wednesday took to Twitter to criticize Pence.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,” the president tweeted just before 2:30 p.m. “USA demands the truth!”
Fourteen minutes later, after the protesters had breached the Capitol, Trump tweeted again.
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” he wrote. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
One man responded to Trump’s tweet with a video showing throngs of protesters fighting police officers inside the building.
Trump sent a third tweet at 3:13 p.m. again calling for peace, although he did not criticize the mob or rioters.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful,” he pleaded. “No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
In his videotaped message released late Wednesday afternoon, the president responded with sympathy for the rioters, even going as far as calling them “very special” as he continued to stoke his baseless claims that the election had been stolen from him.
“There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us, from me from you from our country,” he said. “This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home and peace.”
Trump was far less diplomatic in July as national protests against police brutality erupted. He spoke in forceful terms denouncing demonstrators for vandalizing federal monuments and called for harsh consequences against them.
That difference in tone and response was not lost on several Twitter users.
“Lets get real,” wrote actor Rainn Wilson “If the ‘protestors’ and ‘concerned citizens’ storming the Capitol were BLM or people of color, the National Guard would have tanks on the streets, dozens would be dead and hundreds being beaten in prison.”
Another user cited the rubber bullets used by riot police to disperse Black Lives Matter protestors during several summer rallies.
“Insane to see the contrast in treatment.”
CNN commentator Van Jones evoked some of that disgust, calling the display an act of treason.
“THIS is what it looks like when you don’t have a peaceful transfer of power,” he fumed on Twitter. “This is treason. This is insurrection. This is rebellion. This is lawlessness. This is unacceptable. PERIOD.
Biden made a statement just after 4 p.m. condemning the mob as a “small number of extremists.” He also demanded Trump to go on national television to demand the “siege” to end.
“At this hour, our democracy’s under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” Biden said.
“This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It’s chaos, it borders on sedition. And it must end now,” Biden went on. “I call this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward. You heard me say before in a different context, the words of a president matter no matter how good or bad that president is. At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite. Therefore, 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.”
Some minutes later, Trump released his decidedly less forceful message aimed at the instigators of the chaos his rhetoric had incited.