Hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters easily broke through lines of overmatched police officers Wednesday and took control of parts of the U.S. Capitol, creating a stunning scene for a nation that prides itself on its Democratic institutions and peaceful transfers of power.
Trump, the defeated president, had been encouraging his followers to gather in Washington as Congress convened for a joint session to certify Joe Biden’s win in November’s presidential election. Last month, Trump targeted Jan. 6 as the crucial date. “Be there, will be wild!” Trump tweeted.
Over the last several days, local officials had warned of the likelihood of violence with large numbers of Trump supporters, many of them armed, planning to come to Washington to demand that November’s election be overturned.
During the riots, buildings were evacuated while Trump supporters rampaged through the Capitol. Many members of Congress and their staff members sheltered in place for their safety.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in Arlington and Alexandria. He also declared a state of emergency in Virginia in response to the violence.
“The violence we saw at the U.S. Capitol today was nothing short of an armed insurrection and a humiliating assault on American democracy,” Northam said in a statement. “The President incited this mob with his refusal to accept the lawful results of a fair and secure election.And the members of Congress who have enabled him — and who continue to encourage and praise his efforts — bear just as much responsibility.”
Northam added in a statement that he has been working closely with leaders in Washington, D.C., the Virginia National Guard, Virginia State Police, and others in the federal government to bring order to the nation’s capital.
“I am sad and angry but not surprised,” said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large). “President Trump should be impeached and removed from office tomorrow. He is a clear and present danger to our country and to our democracy.”
U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.-10th) was one of the lawmakers forced to shelter in place.
“I’m sheltering in place as protestors storm the Capitol in a violent and fanatical attempt to interrupt Congress,” Wexton, who represents all of Loudoun County, tweeted Wednesday. “We’re witnessing the consequences of the radical disinformation campaign created by the President, his allies, and some of my colleagues.”
In a statement issued later Wednesday afternoon, Wexton said Trump “has been encouraging these domestic terrorists since before the election.”
“He could have stopped them at any moment, but instead he whipped them into a frenzy and sicced them on the Capitol,” she said. “The Cabinet must remove him today or the House must impeach.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also issued a statement saying he was safe and sheltering in place with other senators when the Trump supporters took control of parts of the Capitol complex.
Barbara Comstock, the Republican congresswoman who Wexton defeated in 2018, noted that Twitter had temporarily locked Trump’s account. “Now the Cabinet needs to lock him down for the next 14 days,” Comstock said in a tweet.
As the Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, one woman was reportedly shot and killed by police.
Many rioters, wearing Trump hats and clothes and waving Confederate flags, smashed windows and ransacked offices. The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was taken over by the rioters.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said members of Congress were told that chemical irritants had been released in the Capitol. “This is what we see in failing countries,” she said. “This is what leads to a death of democracy.”
After Congress reconvened Wednesday night to complete the process of counting electoral votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) described the actions of the Trump supporters as an “attempted insurrection.”
Virginia Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd), who represents Loudoun County, issued a statement Wednesday night saying that questions raised about the presidential election have not been answered to his and other citizens’ satisfaction.
“Unfortunately, there was a small element who likely infiltrated this patriotic group for the purpose of inciting violence,” LaRock said. “It is highly likely that reports of people who had the audacity to forcefully enter the Capitol building were paid provocateurs sent in to taint an otherwise orderly protest." LaRock said he condemns “in the strongest possible terms those who forced entry into the Capitol, destroyed property, disrupted the meeting of Congress, and caused injuries and a death.”
“The actions taken by rioters during this summer’s riots across the country were wrong, and so were the actions taken by those who stormed the U.S. Capitol today,” LaRock said.
“What is missed in all of this is the ire and frustration of average Americans, who are not criminals, they’re not rioters, they’re not murderers or thieves,” he said. “They are very upset and utterly frustrated with what may prove to be the stealing of the presidency.”