On Jan. 6, a riotous mob of Trump supporters protesting the results of the 2020 Presidential election breached the U.S. Capitol, leaving smashed windows, busted doors and multiple people dead, including a Capitol Police officer and an Air Force veteran. The nation watched in shock as our most important civic building was swiftly stormed and occupied by protesters-turned-rioters. It was surreal, stunning and tragic.
How did this happen?
After weeks of contesting the results of the 2020 election amid unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, President Trump on Dec. 19 endorsed a rally set to be held Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., which was dubbed the “Save America Rally.”
“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
And wild it was.
By 6 a.m. on Jan. 6, thousands of Trump supporters had gathered in the Ellipse, a patch of the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the White House.
Fired up by blaring music and chants, the crowd roared when Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, took the stage around 10 a.m. The former New York City mayor riled up the crowd when he said he was “willing to stake my reputation” that election fraud handed the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden, the now officially certified president-elect
“And if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of,” Giuliani said. “But if we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. So let’s have trial by combat.”
Just before noon, the president showed up.
Claiming that the “emboldened radical left Democrats” and the media had conspired against him, Trump declared, “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about.”
After President Trump said he’d lost the election because of an “explosion of bulls***,” the crowd responded by chanting, “Bulls***!”
The president delivered a stemwinder speech for more than an hour. Near the end, pointing toward the Capitol down Constitution Avenue, Trump said: “After this, we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women.”
The crowd went nuts. In the end, the president didn’t join his supporters — but they went anyway, in the thousands.
Meanwhile, at 1 p.m., lawmakers from the House and Senate gathered in the House chamber for a joint session, set to — eventually — certify Biden’s election win. And that’s when it all started.
Protesters clashed with heavily outnumbered members of the Capitol Police, and within minutes had swept up the West Front of the capitol after pulling down barriers. They hit from the other side of the building, too. In an abundance of caution, police ordered the evacuation of the Library of Congress, the Madison Building and Cannon House Office Building — where a suspected bomb had been found — at 1:26 p.m.
At 1:40 p.m., Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a 12-hour curfew in the city, beginning at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, mayhem reigned inside the Capitol as protesters ran amok, entering the two chambers, ransacking lawmakers’ offices and vandalizing the ornate halls.
About 1:45 p.m., Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) tweeted that she was being evacuated after reports of a pipe bomb outside. “Supporters of the President are trying to force their way into the Capitol and I can hear what sounds like multiple gunshots,” she wrote.
Around 2:15 p.m., all hell broke loose. The protesters — now rioters — scaled the walls of the Capitol complex and flooded past police officers. Lawmakers, who had been warned about the goings-on outside, were evacuated from the House chamber just as the rioters were smashing windows, making their way into Statuary Hall, home to dozens of valuable sculptures and paintings.
At this time, Trump took to Twitter, writing: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
About 2:30 p.m., police inside the Capitol used tear gas to try to break up the mob. Trump supporters responded by blasted fire extinguishers at officers, filling the halls with clouds of powder.
Thus far, Trump hadn’t made any statement on the violence. Nor had anyone in his inner circle. Trump was “cocooned at the White House and listening only to a small coterie of loyal aides,” all while resisting calls from advisers to condemn the rioters, The Washington Post reported.
“He kept saying: ‘The vast majority of them are peaceful,'” an administration official told the Post. “‘What about the riots this summer? What about the other side? No one cared when they were rioting. My people are peaceful. My people aren’t thugs.’ He didn’t want to condemn his people.”
At 2:37 p.m., Rep. Jim Hines (D-CT) wrote on Twitter that police had asked them to get gas masks because tear gas had just been released in the rotunda.
At 2:38 p.m., Trump weighed in, tweeting, “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
But the scene in the Capitol had already exploded into chaos. Five minutes later, TV screens lit up with horrifying still photos from inside, showing men aiming guns at the doors to the House chamber as rioters bashed away outside. Reports emerged that shots had been fired inside the chamber.
The mob had taken over the Capitol. Minutes later, the gun-wielding officials also abandoned the chamber, and soon, more pictures emerged of rioters inside, with some sitting in the seat normally occupied by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“They’re in the chamber,” Huffington Post reporter Igor Bobic tweeted. “One is up on the dais yelling ‘Trump won that election!’ This is insane.”
Then things got worse. Just before 3 p.m., an officer fatally shot Ashli Babbitt, an unarmed Air Force Veteran, as she reportedly tried to climb through a broken window into a protected area.
The mob ran wild in the Capitol, eventually ransacking Pelosi’s office. One rioter left a note for the speaker, scrawled in magic marker on a manila envelope: “We will not back down.”
At 3:13 p.m., Trump again called for calm, tweeting, “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!”
Vice President Mike Pence — who had been presiding over the Electoral College vote in the House chamber before being evacuated to safety — tweeted, “The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now. Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”
Finally, at 3:50 p.m., over 1,000 National Guardsmen were ordered to the Capitol.
At 4:05 p.m., the president-elect addressed the nation, calling the actions of Trump supporters “an insurrection.” “Our democracy is under unprecedented assault,” Biden said.
His pair of tweets having gone unheeded, at 4:17 p.m., Trump issued a short statement on video — in which he urged peace, while continuing to claim the election was stolen.
To the rioters, he said, “I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. … So go home. We love you, you’re very special. … I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.”
Twitter quickly slapped a “disputed claim” warning on the tweet, then took it down altogether. The social media site blocked his account for 12 hours, citing “repeated and severe” violations of its rules.
At 5:30 p.m., senators were moved to a hearing room on the Capitol campus. At the time, the Capitol remained occupied by protesters, but members of the National Guard soon regained control of the building, pushing the rioters down the stairs and into the streets. At 6 p.m., the curfew went into effect, and the crowd began to disperse quickly.
At 8 p.m., peace restored, Congress reconvened to resume counting Electoral College votes, and in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the smell of tear gas still in the halls of the Capitol, lawmakers certified Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election.