WASHINGTON: Hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed and occupied the US Capitol in a bid to overturn his election defeat and forcing Congress to suspend a session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Police evacuated lawmakers and struggled for more than three hours after the invasion to clear the Capitol of Trump supporters, who surged through the hallways and rummaged through offices in shocking scenes of chaos and disorder. One woman died after being shot during the mayhem, Washington police said. The FBI said it had disarmed two suspected explosive devices.
The assault on the Capitol was the culmination of months of divisive and escalating rhetoric around the Novermber 3 election, with Trump repeatedly making false claims that the vote was rigged and urging his supporters to help him overturn his loss.
The chaotic scenes unfolded after Trump, who before the election refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost, addressed thousands of supporters near the White House and told them to march on the Capitol to express their anger at the voting process. He told his supporters to pressure their elected officials to reject the results, urging them “to fight.”
Police deployed tear gas inside the Capitol to disperse the rioters. Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said members of the crowd used chemical irritants to attack police and several had been injured.
Police declared the Capitol building secure and lawmakers reconvened to resume the election certification. “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today – you did not win,” Vice President Mike Pence, who presided over the session, said as it resumed. “Let’s get back to work,” he said, drawing applause.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the invasion a “failed insurrection” and promised that “we will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation.” He added “We are back in our posts. We will discharge our duty under the Constitution, and for our nation. And we are going to do it tonight”
Lawmakers were debating a last-ditch effort by pro-Trump lawmakers to challenge the results, which was unlikely to succeed. But some who had planned to object said they would cut their effort short, or perhaps only challenge the results in one state instead of multiple states.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a citywide curfew starting at 6PM. National Guard troops, FBI agents and US Secret Service were deployed to help overwhelmed Capitol police, and Guard troops and police pushed protesters away from the Capitol after the curfew took effect.
“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election,” former President George W. Bush, a Republican, said in a statement, without mentioning Trump by name.
Biden, a Democrat who defeated the Republican president in the November election and is due to take office on January 20, said the activity of the protesters “borders on sedition.”
The former vice president said that for demonstrators to storm the Capitol, smash windows, occupy offices, invade Congress and threaten the safety of duly elected officials: “It’s not a protest, it’s insurrection.”
Capitol Police told lawmakers in the House chamber to take gas masks from beneath their seats and ordered them to drop to the floor for their safety.
Officers drew their guns as someone tried to enter the House chamber. Several hundred House members, staff and press were later evacuated to an undisclosed location. Pence said in a statement he could not accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally.