The House of Representatives and the Senate gathered on Wednesday, Jan. 6 to count the Electoral College votes and confirm Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. During debate, chaos exploded outside the Capitol Building. In an assault against democracy, maskless protesters flying Trump flags and bearing signs that read “Stop the Steal” and “Don’t Tread on Me” violated regulations barring the public from occupying Capitol grounds. The rioters stormed the barricades to break windows, scale walls and scaffolding, and engage in armed standoffs with Capitol police.
Following invasions of the Capitol Building, congresspeople were required to shelter in place and provided gas masks in the face of further violence and on-going threats. Staff members were required to barricade the House chamber door with whatever furniture was available to prevent armed protestors from invading. Following a standoff outside the Senate chamber, rioters invaded the chamber and broke into many offices.
One man left a threatening note on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk: “WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN.”
A 35-year-old woman, now identified as military veteran Ashli Babbit, was shot on the Capitol grounds and was in critical condition upon arrival at a local hospital. She was later pronounced dead. According to D.C. Police Chief Robert Contree, three others at the riot died from "medical emergencies."
Donald Trump responded to initial threats to the Capitol with requests for protestors to continue peacefully and respect law enforcement. The violent rioters came directly from a “Save America” Trump rally held on the Ellipse, where the president continued to falsely assure his supporters that the election was fraudulent and that it was up to them to take it back.
“We do not want to see our election victory stolen by radical left Democrats,” said Trump. “We will never give up and never concede. We’re going to walk to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give...our Republicans—the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help—we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
The president’s lies about election fraud have fueled these protestors, giving false legitimacy to their narrative against democracy. What happened yesterday is the culmination of Trump’s incessant refusal to concede and charging of his supporters with the responsibility to overturn the election results. This was not in any way a peaceful demonstration against the inauguration of the president-elect but rather an attempted coup and a challenge to the legitimacy of American democracy.
As reports roll out, Americans are being forced to consider the fragility of a country facing the threat of political violence. From the lack of preparedness for such attacks to the inefficacy and complicity of Capitol police in responding to the attack, many question where the American narrative will lie moving forwards.
D.C. officials’ calls for the Department of Defense to deploy the National Guard were initially denied but finally approved just before 5 p.m. as the sun set and tensions heightened. The Maryland and Virginia State Police were also deployed and continued to clear the Capitol Building and grounds through sundown. A series of pipe bombs were reported across D.C. and, although unconfirmed, are being treated as active threats following one confirmed pipe bomb safely identified and detonated at the Capitol.
Many have compared the police response to the rioting crowd with that of Black Lives Matter protests. While the latter’s peaceful protesters were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and brute force from police and the National Guard, the former was able to break into the Capitol Building, threatening the people inside and destroying federal property, with little reported police violence.
Videos shared to social media of Capitol police moving aside barricades and escorting the protestors out of the building and the delayed deployment of the National Guard to this planned, violent insurrection highlight the political and racial discrepancies in the policing system. The irony of the physical conflict between rioters donning Blue Lives Matter flags and police officers has not been lost, and the double standard exposed by these events speaks volumes to the racism ingrained in America’s institutions.
Additionally, many have argued that these rioters should be treated as domestic terrorists because of their politically-motivated and threatening actions against government officials, laws, and property.
In response to the protests, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a citywide curfew extending from 6 p.m. on Wednesday through 6 a.m. on Thursday.
“During the hours of the curfew, no person, other than persons designated by the Mayor, shall walk, bike, run, loiter, stand, or motor by car or other mode of transport upon any street, alley, park, or other public place within the District,” said Bowser.
The mayor added that public testing sites for COVID-19 would be closed and essential workers and credited journalists covering the protests would be exempt from the curfew. Her announcement inspired new debate about the complications COVID adds to these attacks on the Capitol following Tuesday, the nation’s deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.
While the country waited for Donald Trump to condemn the insurrection in Washington, it was Joe Biden who first responded publicly by video. Biden called for a respectful and peaceful transfer of power in the face of this “unprecedented assault,” calling repeatedly for President Trump to “step-up” and call back the crowds destroying the Capitol in his name. Several current and former representatives have even considered calling on the 25th Amendment to allow the Cabinet to remove Trump from power.
After Biden’s call for presidential action, Trump urged “very special” protestors to go home, supporting their cause but not their means of expression. He continued to spew his narrative that this was a fraudulent election and refused to condemn the protestors destroying public property and threatening our Congresspeople.
“Go home. We love you,” the president addressed protestors via video Wednesday evening.
Twitter administrators flagged his Tweet containing this video with the warning, “This claim of election fraud is disputed, and this Tweet can’t be replied to, retweeted, or liked due to a risk of violence.”
Trump’s account was temporarily suspended on Wednesday afternoon after three of his Tweets were removed by Twitter. At 7 p.m. @TwitterSafety account reported: “As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump Tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy.”
Twitter’s actions in working to prevent further incitement of civil violence from the president over Twitter are welcome in the fight against his tyranny but would have been much more effective if put into action earlier during the storming of the Capitol.
Even after Trump’s strongest political supporters—namely Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—began officially accepting the election results, Trump continued to push his narrative of this past election as fraudulent.
Congress was back in session at 8 p.m. on Wednesday to count and confirm the electoral votes.