Immediately after an extraordinary rally by US President Donald Trump seeking to overturn the election, a flag-waving mob broke down barricades outside the Capitol and swarmed inside, rampaging through offices and onto the usually solemn legislative floors.
A session of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s election win was the scene of unprecedented chaos and violence at the heart of American democracy. Thousands of Trump supporters were in Washington at his urging in recent days, with downtown businesses boarding up in fear of violence.
One woman died in unclear circumstances after being shot inside the Capitol and others were injured, police said, with lawmakers evacuated and handed protective masks as police fired tear gas. One Trump supporter was pictured propping a leg up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, where a threatening note had been left, as others held a banner that read: “We the people will bring DC to its knees/We have the power.”
President-elect Joe Biden called the violence an “insurrection” and demanded that Trump immediately go on national television to urge his supporters to lift the siege of the Capitol. “Our democracy’s under unprecedented assault,” Biden said; “This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now.”
Trump soon afterward released a video in which he called on his supporters to leave but stood by his unfounded claims of election fraud. “We have to have peace, so go home, we love you – you’re very special,” he said. “We will never give up. We will never concede,” Trump had told the cheering rally crowd, few wearing masks despite a spike in COVID-19 cases.
In a rare step, social media companies restricted or pulled down the president’s video, saying it could encourage violence.
Historians said it was the first time that the Capitol had been taken over since 1814 when the British burned it during the War of 1812. For more than two centuries, the joint session of Congress has been a quiet, ceremonial event that formally certifies the election winner.
Former president George W. Bush denounced fellow Republican lawmakers for their “reckless behavior” and said, “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic – not our democratic republic.”
Republican Senate leader Senator Mitch McConnell, closely aligned with Trump throughout his presidency, denounced the challenge in an impassioned address, noting that the results were not even close.
“The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them, it will damage our republic forever,” said McConnell. If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” said McConnell.
Vice President Mike Pence was rushed out of the Capitol urged Trump’s supporters – some of whom have begun chanting against him – to “stop now.”
Former U.S. President Barack Obama said the storming of the U.S. Capitol was incited by President Trump. “History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation.”
MEANWHILE, WORLD LEADERS EXPRESSED THEIR SHOCK AS THE EVENTS UNFOLDED
- Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in a tweet described the scenes as “an attack on democracy”. “President Trump and many members of Congress bear significant responsibility for what’s now taking place. The democratic process of electing a president must be respected.”
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a tweet called the events in the U.S. Congress a “disgrace”, saying the United States stood for democracy around the world and that was it was “vital” now that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.
- German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the violence had been caused by inflammatory rhetoric. “Trump and his supporters must accept the decision of American voters at last and stop trampling on democracy.”
- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the scenes in Washington as “distressing.” “We condemn these acts of violence and look forward to a peaceful transfer of Government to the newly elected administration in the great American democratic tradition.”
- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the violent protests in Washington “shocking scenes” and said the outcome of the democratic U.S. election must be respected.
- New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said “Violence has no place in thwarting democracy. We look forward to the peaceful transition of the political administration, which is the hallmark of democracy.”
- Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a statement: “The attack on Capitol Hill in Washington DC is a very serious and worrying matter. It shows how important it is to firmly and strongly defend democracy at all times.”
- French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “The violence against the American institutions is a grave attack on democracy. I condemn it. The will and the vote of the American people must be respected.”
- Charles Michel, chairman of EU leaders, expressed his shock at the scenes in Washington. “The US Congress is a temple of democracy…We trust the US to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to JoeBiden”
- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “I believe in the strength of US institutions and democracy. Peaceful transition of power is at the core.”
- Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted: “Venezuela expresses its concern for the violent events that are taking place in the city of Washington, USA and condemns the political polarization.”
- Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg posted on Twitter: “This is an unacceptable attack on the U.S. democracy. President Trump is responsible for stopping this. Scary images, and unbelievable that this is happening in the United States.”
- Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney called the scenes in Washington “a deliberate assault on Democracy by a sitting President and his supporters, attempting to overturn a free & fair election! The world is watching!”
- Argentine President Alberto Fernandez tweeted: “We express our condemnation of the serious acts of violence and the affront to Congress that occurred today.”
CALLS FOR PRESIDENTIAL DISMISSAL
Members of President Trump’s cabinet has discussed the possibility of removing Trump from office. The discussions focused on the 25th amendment to the US Constitution, which allows for a president’s removal by the vice president and cabinet if he is judged “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.
Invoking it would require Vice President Michael Pence to lead the cabinet in a vote on removing him. CNN quoted unnamed Republican leaders saying the 25th amendment had been discussed, saying they had described Trump as “out of control”.
Trump’s encouragement of the protesters, his unfounded claims that he lost the Nov 3 presidential election due to massive fraud, and other bizarre behaviour have raised questions about his ability to lead.
While only two weeks remain before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, after the attacks on Congress Wednesday Democratic lawmakers called for invoking the 25th Amendment as well.
Democrats of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Pence urging him to act to remove Trump, saying he had stoked an act of insurrection and “sought to undermine our democracy”.
Pointing to a rambling speech Trump gave Wednesday, it said he “revealed that he is not mentally sound and is still unable to process and accept the results of the 2020 election”. Others accused Trump of fueling domestic terrorism.