WASHINGTON (AP) — A violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. 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 nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and don 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.
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.
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 Trump’s 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.
Several local officials and individuals responded to the day’s events after being contacted by the Record-Herald.
“I’m generally disappointed with people and that they feel that’s their only option. It’s right-wing, and it’s left-wing,” said Fayette County Commissioner Tony Anderson. “There are forces in play that have agendas that are not clear and people have, I think rightly so, come to a tremendous lack of trust in their public leaders. Give me a magic-wand and I would have things a little different than they are, but that would create a lack of trust and probably put people in the streets too. As long as the country is split at 50-50 it’s going to be difficult to get any political person, leader or otherwise to give you the 100 percent truth. You’ll get versions of it, different shades of grey. I’m really disappointed that there’s an acceptance that if I call my Senator or Congressman or State Representative (etc.), and I don’t get my way, that I think I’ve been picked on, and that my only recourse is to go throw a rock at somebody. That’s not a civil society, yet that is what draws the press. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They only care about what it takes and think, ‘oh, I’ll get their attention by another way.’ It sounds like a petulant 2-year-old kid. We should be better than that.”
“It’s so sad. It’s okay to protest but not violently. It’s a disgrace that it’s happening,” said Fayette County Commissioner Jim Garland. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”
“First, I’d like to make the observation that it’s not the city manager’s place to express viewpoints on national, political issues. I would just hope that you can resolve that situation in a non-violent way so that the Constitutional processes can be completed in their legally appropriate ways,” said Washington C.H. City Manager Joe Denen. “It puts the law enforcement officer or National Guard person that has to deal with that on the front-line in an incredibly difficult position. I don’t envy them having to deal with the practical issues at all because you get into a lot of situations where there is no good choice.”
Robin Beekman, a local Republican and chairperson of the Fayette County Board of Elections, said although she understands frustration from many Trump supporters, that violence is never the way to express those views.
“I had some friends that were traveling to Columbus and then to DC to go to the protest. I hope they are all okay. But whether it be from the right or the left, violence is not protesting. Everyone needs to grow up and act like adults. We need to go on with our lives and try to find a better way. This is not what we should be teaching our children.
“There was fraud in this election and that is why so many Trump supporters are frustrated. We think that Trump did a good job even though I don’t always agree with his methods. So many of the small business owners I have talked to these past four years are doing so much better. Trump did a great job for small businesses. He isn’t a career politician, so a lot of these career politicians wanted him out the entire time, including some Republicans. Even though there was fraud in some states, that never happens here in Fayette County because of our great staff and poll workers at the local board of elections. It doesn’t happen in Ohio either. We run a safe and fair election in Fayette County and in Ohio.”
Judy Craig, the chairperson of the Fayette County Democrats and member of the Fayette County Board of Elections, expressed sadness over the day’s events.
“I have never seen anything like this in my life and I was hopeful that I would never see anything like what happened at the Capitol (Wednesday),” she said. “I never thought I would live long enough to see our entire system upended and absolutely no attempt to uphold our Constitution. This was a fair election and the people engaging in these activities are part of a coup. That’s exactly what it is. It’s a sad day for our country.”
Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth said, “The Washington DC protesters have the Constitutional right to voice their grievances including peaceful demonstrations. Unfortunately, today’s events have disrupted our government to a degree that is unprecedented. It is now being reported at least one person has been shot and numerous law enforcement officers have been injured. Local residents are sheltering in place or have been evacuated from their homes. Violence, assaults, and property destruction cannot be tolerated. Our thoughts are with the law enforcement officers who have been called upon to restore order.”
Congress reconvened in the evening, senators decrying the protests that defaced the Capitol and vowing to finish confirming the Electoral College vote for Biden’s election, even if it took all night.
Vice President Mike Pence, reopening the Senate, directly addressed the demonstrators: “You did not win.”
The president gave his supporters a boost into action 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.
Hours later, Twitter for the first time time locked Trump’s account, demanded that he remove tweets excusing violence and threatened “permanent suspension.”
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 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!”
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.
In the aftermath, several Republicans announced they would drop their objections to the election, including Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who lost her bid for reelection Tuesday. She called the siege of the Capitol “abhorrent.”
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.” He said they had a piece of furniture up against the door, the entry to the House 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 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 seemed 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., who’s at times clashed with Trump, issued a 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 mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol. More than a dozen people were arrested.
As darkness fell, law enforcement officers worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades 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.