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An unprecedented breach on the Capitol

Rioters overtaking Congress make history in a move against lawmakers attempting to certify election results


Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol on Wednesday. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

An unprecedented breach on the Capitol
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Following a rally with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., to protest the election results, rioters breached the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in an unprecedented domestic attack on the seat of the U.S. government. As rioters forced their way into the building, outnumbered Capitol Police evacuated lawmakers, staff, and media, including WORLD reporter Harvest Prude.

The Capitol hasn’t faced such a security breach since the British stormed and burned it in the War of 1812. But that attack wasn’t from American citizens. Police have evacuated the building several times over the years for suspicious packages, and shooting incidents have previously occurred inside the Capitol. In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists shot and injured five lawmakers on the House floor, but police, visitors, and congressional staff quickly subdued them. A man in 1998 shot and killed two Capitol Police officers.

But historians believe Capitol Police have never been overwhelmed by a mob like the one on Wednesday.

It was an extraordinary day from morning to evening, beginning with Trump’s own vice president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, repudiating the president’s efforts to overturn the election. By nightfall, many Republicans were condemning the president for encouraging a march on the Capitol. Globally, leaders were shocked by the chaotic images from Washington, prompting statements of concern even from the head of NATO.

Just as rioters were amassing outside the Capitol, McConnell spoke against an effort from Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and others to challenge the certification of the Electoral College.

“We’re debating a step that has never been taken in American history, whether Congress should overrule the voters and overturn a presidential election,” McConnell said. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.” Vice President Mike Pence, too, said he was unable to unilaterally halt the certification of the Electoral College, infuriating the president.

Rioters, including some QAnon leaders and at least one carrying the Christian flag, broke through to enter the Capitol and take control of the House and Senate floors, halting the certification of the election results. Security rushed Pence out of the room. Rioters entered abandoned offices that lawmakers and staffers had fled. They appeared to have looted congressional property and posted videos on social media.

After several hours of mobs seemingly in control of the building, National Guardsmen and additional law enforcement arrived, and the crowd outside the building began to disperse. But lawmakers remained in secure locations into the evening.

One civilian died after being shot inside the Capitol, according to police. Authorities discovered and detonated a pipe bomb at Republican National Committee headquarters near the Capitol, as well as another suspicious device at Democratic National Committee headquarters. The Washington, D.C., mayor instituted a 6 p.m. curfew.

Per federal statute, Congress’ certification of the electoral results must happen on Jan. 6. As the sun began to set, lawmakers in safe, undisclosed locations, committed to continuing the process.

“At this hour our democracy is under an unprecedented assault,” said President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday afternoon. “This is not dissent, this is disorder. … It borders on sedition and it must end now.”

Trump eventually spoke to the protesters in a video recorded late in the afternoon.

“We had an election that was stolen from us … but you have to go home now. We have to have peace, we have to have law and order,” he said. He added, “We love you.”

Some congressional Republicans condemned the violence and blamed Trump, who had encouraged protesters at the rally to march on the Capitol.

“We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and … we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” Trump said, although he did not join the protesters walking from the White House to the Capitol.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called the Capitol breach an “insurrection incited by the president.” Others also critiqued Trump.

“President Trump is responsible now for unleashing mayhem,” tweeted Southern Seminary President Al Mohler, a WORLD board member who had endorsed Trump in the 2020 election.

The swift realignment of some Republicans against the president, the apparent Republican loss of control of the Senate overnight, combined with the unforgettable images from the Capitol, made for a remarkable day in American history.

“This is not how we peacefully transfer power,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., in a statement.


Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City.

@emlybelz

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