Tear gas in the Rotunda after Trump-incited insurrectionists overwhelm Capitol Police, disrupt election certification.
Updated: 7:29 p.m.
Hundreds of Donald Trump supporters breached security measures and entered the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, forcing law-enforcement personnel to evacuate members of Congress gathered to certify the president’s electoral defeat.
Several hours after the mob broke windows and entered the Capitol, the White House announced that President Trump had activated the D.C. National Guard to respond to the unfolding chaos inside the building, where at least one person was shot. Although Trump tweeted during the afternoon that the rioters should “Stay peaceful!” and urged them to “go home in peace,” he also praised them as “special” and continued to falsely claim that the election had been “stolen.”
At 6 p.m., when a curfew ordered by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took effect, the president appeared unrepentant in the face of a hailstorm of criticism that he had incited mob violence.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he tweeted. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"
By 7 p.m., Guardsmen had arrived on the Capitol grounds and police officials declared the building secure. Lawmakers began to return to the chamber to finish certifying the electoral college vote. Still, the task of clearing the Capitol complex of rioters is likely to prove a painstaking one. The complex is a massive and labyrinthine set of buildings with lots of nooks and crannies in which an enterprising person could hide.
The insurrectionists and protestors had begun to gather in downtown Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, and returned for rallies on Wednesday morning, all in support of Trump’s calls to overturn the election.
The president addressed one such rally just south of the White House about 11 a.m., repeating false claims about election fraud and telling supporters: “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol...You’ll never take back our country with weakness.”
Around 1 p.m., as the House and Senate opened a joint session to certify the results of the Nov. 3 election, a mob of hundreds moved onto the Capitol grounds. Video posted on Twitter showed them tearing down security fences.
By 1:15, the mob had advanced up the Capitol steps. In some places, they clashed with law enforcement personnel. In others, video appears to show Capitol Police allowing the mob to move forward into previously off-limits areas.
Within the hour, video shows, the mob had pushed past the police, broken windows, and forced their way into the seat of the U.S. legislature. At 2:17 p.m., Capitol Police told lawmakers, staff, and media to hold in place, HuffPost reporter Matt Fuller reported. Moments after that, House lawmakers were being evacuated.
“We are calling on President Trump to demand that all protestors leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Grounds immediately,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement.
As of 4 p.m., rioters were still swarming the Capitol complex, including on the Senate floor. Videos and photos posted to Twitter showed a Trump supporter standing at the dais in the upper chamber, shouting that Trump had won the election. Elsewhere on the grounds, rioters sprayed a fire extinguisher. Earlier in the day, several Capitol Hill office buildings were evacuated after a suspicious package was found, which one lawmaker identified as a “pipe bomb.”
Despite the pushing and shoving, and video showing guns drawn by law-enforcement officers inside the Capitol, the response to the Trump-fired insurrectionists paled in comparison to the violence that met last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests. Noted Politico’s Ryan Lizza: “I covered a lot of BLM protests in D.C. last year (tear gassed several times, hit with a rubber bullet) and the difference here in terms of the police response to property damage and violence is astounding.” Video appears to show at least some Capitol Police officers posing for selfies with extremists inside the building.
The entire D.C. National Guard was activated, but the parameters of the deployment were not immediately clear, including whether or not Guardsmen have been authorized to conduct law enforcement operations.
Unlike a state, whose governors have the power to mobilize the National Guard, the mayor of Washington, D.C., must request troops through the U.S. deputy attorney general who then sends the request to the Army secretary, a former senior Army official said. The requests are sent by fax machine. Once called up, the Guard typically serves as a backup to civilian law enforcement.
At 3:48 p.m., the Pentagon released a statement from top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman: “The D.C. Guard has been mobilized to provide support to federal law enforcement in the District. Acting [Defense] Secretary Miller has been in contact with Congressional leadership, and [Army] Secretary [Ryan] McCarthy has been working with the D.C. government. The law enforcement response will be led by the Department of Justice.”
In a later statement, Hoffman pushed back on reports that the Pentagon had denied D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowster’s request to activate the Guard.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, at an afternoon press conference, said she requested the National Guard “two or three days ago” to support the Metropolitan Police Department. That request was approved by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, she said.
The U.S. Capitol Police made a request for additional National Guard support today, Bowser and McCarthy said. That was approved at 3 p.m., McCarthy said at the same press conference.
“For us to truly understand the specifics behind their request and how we would support the operations,” McCarthy said. “A lot of questions were asked, a little bit of confusion, but as we worked through it, we ultimately made the determination about a half hour later to mobilize the entire DC National Guard. This has been incredibly fluid, but I have to go through the secretary of defense to ultimately get the final approval to mobilize personnel as well as to conduct operations in cooperation and coordination with local authorities.”
Miller in a statement said that “[Joint Chiefs] Chairman [Gen. Mark] Milley and I spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol” — a list that notably did not include the president.
“We have fully activated the D.C. National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation,” Miller said. “We are prepared to provide additional support as necessary and appropriate as requested by local authorities. Our people are sworn to defend the constitution and our democratic form of government and they will act accordingly.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that he would send members of the Virginia National Guard and 200 Virginia state troopers to help city and congressional leaders to contain the situation.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted at 3:47 p.m. that he had directed the Maryland State Police to help MPD and Capitol Police as well, and to call up a Maryland National Guard rapid response force “to support law enforcement and restore order.”
A small, unarmed contingent of the D.C. Guard, which is under the command of the president through the Secretary of the Army, was already present in the city helping local law enforcement with traffic control.
“Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss: “This is a coup d’etat attempted by the President of the United States.”
Brian Klass, associate professor in Global Politics at University College London: “Incalculable damage being done to America's reputation and soft power at the moment. This is an enormous gift to America's adversaries. The damage will be lasting.”
Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.