Washington- A violent mob loyal to US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday and forced lawmakers into hiding, in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.
The nations elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and donned gas marks, while police futilely tried to barricade the building, one of the most jarring scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power.
A woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol, and Washington’s mayor instituted an evening curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.
US Capitol on lockdown as Trump demonstrators swarm the building during Biden certification debate
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) January 6, 2021
The rioters were egged on by Trump, who has spent weeks falsely attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to descend on Washington to protest Congress formal approval of Biden’s victory.
Some Republican lawmakers were in the midst of raising objections to the results on his behalf when the proceedings were abruptly halted by the mob.
Chaos swarmed Washington, D.C., as scores of President Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to force Congress to undo Trump’s election defeat https://t.co/PnRtbCETyu pic.twitter.com/uIfNEqmgWV
— Reuters (@Reuters) January 7, 2021
Together, the protests and the GOP election objections amounted to an almost unthinkable challenge to American democracy and exposed the depths of the divisions that have coursed through the country during Trumps four years in office.
Though the efforts to block Biden from being sworn in on Jan 20 were sure to fail, the support Trump has received for his efforts to overturn the election results have badly strained the nation’s democratic guardrails.
Congress reconvened hours later, vowing to finish confirming the Electoral College vote for Biden’s election, even if it took all night.
Vice President Mike Pence, reopening the session, directly addressed the demonstrators: “You did not win.”
The president gave his supporters a boost into action on Wednesday morning at a rally outside the White House, where he urged them to march to the Capitol.
He spent much of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching scenes of the violence on television. At the urging of his staff, he reluctantly issued a pair of tweets and a taped video telling his supporters it was time to go home in peace yet he still said he backed their cause.
I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2021
A somber President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, said American democracy was under unprecedented assault, a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans.
Former President George W. Bush said he watched the events in disbelief and dismay.
The domed Capitol building has for centuries been the scene of protests and occasional violence. But Wednesday’s events were particularly astounding both because they unfolded at least initially with the implicit blessing of the president and because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a free and fair presidential election.
Tensions were already running high when lawmakers gathered early on Wednesday afternoon for the constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232.
Despite pleas from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, more than 150 GOP lawmakers planned to support objections to some of the results, though lacking evidence of fraud or wrongdoing in the election.
Trump spent the lead-up to the proceedings publicly hectoring Pence, who had a largely ceremonial role in the proceedings, to aid the effort. He tweeted on Wednesday: “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2021
But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim unilateral authority to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.
Shortly after the first GOP objections, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls.
Lawmakers were told to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., told reporters he was in the House chamber when rioters began storming it. “Security officers made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault, it looked like. They had a piece of furniture up against the door, the door, the entry to the floor from the Rotunda, and they had guns pulled,” Peters said.
“And they just told us to take our pins off,” he added, referring to lapel pins members wear so Capitol Police can quickly identify them. Then the lawmakers were evacuated.
Staff members grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwise, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.
Trump supporters posting on internet forums popular with far-right fringe elements celebrated the chaos.
Messages posted on one turned from profane frustration over the content of Trump’s speech to glee when supporters stormed the building. At least one leading figure was livestreaming video from inside the Capitol during the siege.
The mob’s storming of Congress prompted bipartisan outrage, mostly from Democrats but from Republicans as well, as lawmakers accused Trump of fomenting the violence with his relentless falsehoods about election fraud.
Several suggested that Trump be prosecuted for a crime, which seems unlikely two weeks from when his term expires.
“I think Donald Trump probably should be brought up on treason for something like this,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., told reporters. “This is how a coup is started. And this is how democracy dies.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., whos at times clashed with Trump, issued a written statement saying: “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.
The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilised to help support law enforcement at the Capitol. More than a dozen people were arrested.
As darkness began to set in, law enforcement officials worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades to try to clear the area around the Capitol. Big clouds of tear gas were visible. Police in full riot gear moved down the steps, clashing with demonstrators.
Twitter suspends Trump after Capitol violence
Twitter blocked Trump on Wednesday and threatened a permanent ban for breaking platform rules as social media scrambled to respond to violence in the US capital.
In a rapidly evolving sequence of events, Facebook and YouTube took down videos posted by Trump, and Twitter followed suit as the platforms claimed he was inciting violent protests by his supporters, who stormed the US Capitol building.
Twitter said Trump’s messages were violations of the platform’s rules on civic integrity and that any future violations “will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account,” his social media handle followed by some 88 million people.
The messaging platform said Trump’s account would be locked for 12 hours and that if the offending tweets are not removed, “the account will remain locked”.
“This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen said in a tweet.
“We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”
YouTube also removed a Trump video that repeated his baseless attacks on the integrity of the election he lost in November, following its policy barring claims challenging election results.
“As the situation at the United States Capitol Building unfolds, our teams are working to quickly remove livestreams and other content that violates our policies, including those against incitement to violence or regarding footage of graphic violence,” said YouTube spokesperson Alex Joseph.
Facebook subsequently said it would search for and remove content which praised the storming of the Capitol or encouraged the violence.
The massive social network said it would also seek to take down additional calls for protests, including peaceful ones, if they violate a curfew imposed by the city of Washington, or any attempts to “restage” the storming of Congress.
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