Note: A modified version of this post appeared in the daily newsletter published by the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer.
Less than an hour after Congress started ratifying the electoral college votes that gave Joe Biden a win in the presidential election, hundreds of camouflage-wearing Trump supporters — egged on by the president’s claims that the election was stolen from him — stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday and forced their way inside. As members of Congress left the Senate and House chambers, taking the electoral college votes with them, rioters in paramilitary gear and wearing QAnon symbols filled the room, taking photos of themselves standing on the dais by the Speaker’s chair, and sitting in her office with their feet on her desk. Amid the melee, a woman was shot, reportedly by police, and later died of her injuries — she was identified as Ashli Babbit, a 14-year veteran of the Air Force. According to CNN, it was the first time the Capitol building had been breached since the War of 1812. By 6 pm, Associated Press quoted authorities as saying the Capitol was secure, and the National Guard was on the scene. One report said shots were fired within the Capitol building at one point, but most of those who occupied the building appeared to have been allowed to leave peacefully, although DC police reported there were about a dozen arrests. Fighting between police and rioters continued near the Capitol through the night.
“We are watching an attempted sedition,” Jake Tapper said on CNN during the occupation. “We are watching an attempt at a bloodless coup in the United States.” Though police deployed smoke explosives to try to halt crowds, the demonstrators managed to push the police line up the steps on the east side of the Capitol. Then a small group broke into the building, according to the Washington Post. One video posted on TikTok appeared to show Capitol police encouraging demonstrators to enter the Capitol, and other videos posted to TikTok appeared to show members of the police taking friendly photos with those who illegally entered the building. Capitol Police briefly ordered evacuations of two buildings — the Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building and the Cannon House Office Building, both just across from the Capitol. Representative Elaine Luria, a Democrat whose office is in the Cannon building, tweeted: “I just had to evacuate my office because of a pipe bomb reported outside.” Luria also said she heard gun shots near her office.
“This is what you’ve gotten, guys,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney yelled as the mayhem unfolded in the Senate chamber, according to the New York Times live-blog of the events, apparently addressing his colleagues. The Times described “a scene of chaos and confusion seldom witnessed in the history of the capital,” with hundreds of protesters barreling past fence barricades. Just after 3 pm, MSNBC showed a woman being taken out of the Capitol on a stretcher, covered in blood, and a news report later said the woman had died of her injuries. “This is a coup attempt,” Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger said on Twitter. Washington Post reporter Aaron Davis said the Defense Department initially refused a request from DC officials to deploy the National Guard, but later relented (the Times said this was authorized by vice president Pence, not by Trump). “Amazing how the national guard gets deployed with the quickness in anticipation of protests when police kill someone but when Trump holds his fascist coup rally the national guard is nowhere in sight,” said Bree Newsome Bass. David Corn of Mother Jones wrote that Trump “is now a terrorist leader.”Continue reading “Shots fired inside the US Capitol as Trump supporters storm the barricades”