WASHINGTON — Hundreds of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, aggressively breaching the legislative chambers in an effort to derail the joint congressional session where the 2020 election results were to be formally certified.
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Capitol office buildings were evacuated, members of Congress sheltered in place, and the Capitol went on lockdown as Trump-supporting extremists clashed with law enforcement officials protecting the seat of the United States government.
At least one person was fatally shot, though the circumstances of the shooting are unclear.
Over the course of a chaotic and at times surreal afternoon, protesters made their way through barricades, scaled walls, broke windows and entered legislators’ empty personal offices, many of them yelling about the false conspiracy theory that Trump rightfully won the 2020 election. The president had held a rally on the National Mall earlier that day, where he repeated to a crowd of supporters the lie that President-elect Joe Biden stole his victory in November.
Many politicians, members of the press and international leaders reacted with horror and incredulity to images from the Capitol. Trump eventually ordered the National Guard to the scene, and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a curfew to start at 6 p.m. and end at 6 a.m. Thursday.
In a video message posted to Twitter late in the afternoon, Trump urged the protesters to “go home in peace,” though he again repeated the lie that the election was stolen. “We love you,” the president told the rioters in the video. “You’re very special.”
There were reports of multiple injuries at the Capitol, though details were scarce. Police confirmed one woman had been shot, but the circumstances of the shooting weren’t immediately clear. D.C. police later confirmed to HuffPost that the woman had died.
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who took over the Justice Department after former Attorney General William Barr’s resignation, said DOJ sent “hundreds of federal law enforcement officers and agents from the FBI, ATF, and the U.S. Marshals Service” to assist the Capitol police. He said the “laws of our land” would be enforced.
“The violence at our Nation’s Capitol building is an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy,” Rosen said Wednesday evening.
Vice President Mike Pence was quickly brought off the floor when the rioters first made their way into the Capitol. Trump supporters set off a fire extinguisher just off the floor of the Senate.
The crowd, sporting a mix of Make America Great Again gear and Confederate flags, charged up the Capitol steps and rushed at police, as multiple videos from the scene show. They ripped down fencing and swore at members of law enforcement whom they mocked as “traitors.” Police fired pepper spray at the crowd, and later deployed flash-bang devices to get them to disperse.
“I’m sheltering in place in my office,” Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) tweeted. “The building next door has been evacuated. I can’t believe I have to write this.”
“This is a coup attempt,” tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
The rioters roamed the halls searching for legislators, screaming, “Where the fuck are they?”
The rioters also made it into the Senate chamber itself. One person stood at the dais and screamed, “Trump won that election!”
Multiple rioters posted photos or videos of themselves inside legislative offices. One man entered the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and took a seat at what NBC10 Boston’s Nia Hamm identified as the desk of Pelosi’s assistant.
As the House chamber was evacuated, HuffPost witnessed Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) instruct fellow lawmakers on how to use a gas mask.
The rioters eventually started banging on the main entrance of the House chamber. Cops barricaded the door with a bench, but the rioters continued banging on the door until the glass shattered. Someone then yelled “Gun!” and cops drew their firearms, aiming them at the door.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) tried to reason with with the insurrectionists, putting his safety at direct risk. About 10 minutes later, police removed everyone from the chamber and took them to a secure location. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) didn’t leave the chamber until everyone else was out.
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The president tweeted for the protesters to remain peaceful, but initially did not tell them to stop demonstrating.
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” Trump tweeted shortly after 2:30 p.m. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump had spoken to a crowd on the National Mall. At the end of a rambling speech, the president urged his supporters to march on the Capitol building.
For months, Trump and his strongest supporters have been fanning the flames with false claims of election fraud, convincing millions of believers that November’s presidential election was somehow stolen. Trump, in his speech, egged on his supporters and urged the crowd to march to the U.S. Capitol.
Those storming the Capitol were part of a familiar coalition of MAGA extremists that Trump has cultivated over the past five years. Neo-Nazis and white nationalists, some belonging to groups like America First, were spotted at the Capitol building Wednesday, along with members of the violent neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys, militiamen, and followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement.
As one right-wing law enforcement informant told HuffPost, “really bad shit” happens when people who believe they’re acting as patriots defending the United States delude themselves into believing conspiracy theories about stolen elections.
“You have the president of the United States taking these people to the edge, and the second that something happens he’s going to turn around and go, ‘Well, I didn’t tell them to do that,’” Bill Fulton, a former FBI informant, told HuffPost in November. “It gives him that plausible deniability, and that’s what’s scary.”
Sebastian Murdock contributed reporting.
This story has been updated.
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