Friday, September 17, 2021

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Lawmakers return to Capitol after mob riot that left woman dead


WASHINGTON - Lawmakers returned to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday night after hundreds of President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building in what amounted to an attempted coup that they hoped would overturn the election he lost, egged on by the president who egged them on and said they should never accept defeat, .

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Supporters of President Donald Trump gather Wednesday near the White House with a spillover crowd extending to the Washington Monument. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain ---

Photo by: The Washington Post — The Washington Post

The day's chaotic, violent scene - all of it incited by the president's incendiary language - was like none other in modern American history, bringing to a sudden halt the congressional certification of Joe Biden's free and fair electoral victory.

With poles bearing blue Trump flags, the mob bashed through Capitol doors and windows, forcing their way past police officers unprepared for the onslaught. Lawmakers were ushered away shortly before an armed standoff at the House doors. Canisters of tear gas were fired across the Rotunda's white marble floor, and on the steps outside the building, rioters flew Confederate flags. At least one person, a woman, was shot and rushed to an ambulance outside the building. She later died. 

"USA! USA!" chanted the would-be saboteurs of a 244-year-old democracy. 

The Senate halted its proceedings, and the House doors were closed. In a notification, U.S. Capitol police said no entry or exit was permitted in the buildings as officers struggled to regain control. "Stay away from exterior windows, doors. If outside, seek cover," police warned.

All 1,100 members of the D.C. National Guard were activated, and Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, imposed a citywide curfew. From 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday, Bowser said no one other than essential personnel would be allowed outdoors in the city. The governors of Maryland and Virginia also activated state troopers and members of their Guards to help respond to the situation.

What appeared to be two realistic-looking homemade bombs were found near the Republican National Committee headquarters and the Democratic National Committee headquarters in downtown Washington, officials said, adding to the danger and disorder.

The suspected bomb outside the RNC was found next to a trash container, and was a metal pipe with metal end caps, with wires running from inside the pipe to a plastic kitchen timer, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations.

FBI explosives experts responded to both devices, and they were "rendered safe by the FBI and our law enforcement partners," the bureau said in a statement. "The investigation is ongoing."

In a statement, the RNC called the suspicious package outside their building an "explosive device that was successfully detonated."

At 6 p.m., police were pushing the mob away from the Capitol and authorities said the interior of the Capitol had been secured, fully cleared of rioters.

Police announced to those still outside the Capitol shortly after 6 p.m., "A curfew is now in effect. All individuals must leave the U.S. Capitol grounds or be subject to arrest." Hundreds of people slowly walked toward the mall as police in riot gear marched forward.

Scattered catcalls and curses met the police advance. "We'll be back, traitors," a man yelled. Chants of "U-S-A" continued to break out as the rioters dispersed.

Protesters were far outnumbered by law enforcement, whom one man on a loudspeaker blamed for starting "the United States civil war." "This is China," said one man leaving the grounds, echoing shouts of "Tiananmen Square" that came when police cleared the grounds.

Congress returned to work late Wednesday to complete the process of tallying the electoral college votes and confirming Biden's win.

In a show of defiance and resolve, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had consulted with House leaders, the Pentagon, the Justice Department and Vice President Mike Pence before concluding that Congress should move ahead with the ceremony interrupted earlier in the day by rioters provoked to action by Trump at a morning rally.

"Today, a shameful assault was made on our democracy. It was anointed at the highest level of government. It cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden," wrote Pelosi, D-Calif.

The mob had arrived hours earlier, charging past the metal barricades on the property's outer edge. Hundreds, then thousands, followed them. Some scaled the Capitol's walls to reach the entrances; others climbed over one another.

On the building's east side, police initially pushed the pro-Trump demonstrators back, but were soon overpowered and fell back to the foot of the main steps. Within a half-hour, fights broke out again, and police retreated to the top of the steps as screaming Trump supporters surged closer. After the police perimeters were breached, the elated crowd began to sing the national anthem. 

For an hour, they banged on the doors, chanting, "Let us in! Let us in!" Police inside fired pepper balls and smoke bombs into the crowd but failed to turn them away. After each volley, the rioters, who were mostly White men, would cluster around the doors again, yelling, arguing, pledging revolution.

Dozens soon broke their way inside, where they smashed windows and vandalized offices. 

"MURDER THE MEDIA," read a message written on one door.

"WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN," read another left in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.

Just before 3 p.m., Trump supporters began running out of the southeastern entrance.

"They shot a girl!" someone yelled.

Paramedics with a gurney soon arrived and a Capitol police officer stepped aside to let them pass. "White female, shot in the shoulder," the officer said as they hurried past. They emerged minutes later.

On the gurney was a woman in jeans, gazing vacantly to one side, her torso and face covered in blood. As the gurney was loaded into the back of the ambulance, pro-Trump protesters swarmed around it, screaming, "Murderers!"

Capitol police officers with long guns pushed them back, and the ambulance drove off.

The woman's name was not released. 

Dustin Sternbeck, spokesman for the District of Columbia police, said Wednesday evening that the woman had died. He provided no further information as to the circumstances of the shooting.

At 3:30 p.m., more law enforcement in riot gear arrived at the Capitol.

"Traitors," Trump supporters shouted. "What's your oath?"

Biden condemned what he called an "unprecedented assault" on American democracy, "unlike anything we've seen in modern times."

"This is not dissent. It's disorder. It's chaos," he said. "It borders on sedition, and it must end now."

For hours, the president made little effort to quell the violence he had instigated, sharing a video at 4:17 p.m. in which he told people to "go home" - while continuing to promote the lie that he had won the election.

"We love you," he told them. "You're very special."

D.C. police said they arrested 13 people from Tuesday afternoon through 6 p.m. on Wednesday, including three who authorities said had firearms.

People who made it inside the Capitol took on a celebrity status when they came back out. A woman who said she had footage on her phone of Capitol police pointing guns at rioters was circled by dozens who wanted to see it. People traded what information they had about the woman who was shot inside. Some called her a "martyr."

After she was taken away, the mood soured, though many remained joyous. "We're making history," one woman said as she strolled down Independence Avenue with friends. 

Beneath streaming flags, including some that read "F--- Biden" and that depicted Trump as the movie character Rambo, people loudly exhorted Jesus and chanted "USA."

Many called friends and family and took videos.

"We weren't violent before, but we are now," a middle-aged White man said, talking into his cellphone. "There's no going back."

Their compatriots online celebrated the chaos, cheering the violence across a wide array of social media sites and calling for bloodshed in the days ahead.

Trump, who has stoked fury over baseless allegations of a stolen election, called for calm on Twitter as the riots halted a process to tally the electoral college votes certifying Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. But Trump's plea came in a video that was itself laced with disinformation, and he shared the message only after most of the mob had been pushed outside the building - leaving a trail of online and offline discord in his wake.

Twitter locked Trump out of his account for the first time late Wednesday, the most punitive step the company has taken against the president. The 12-hour timeout also included the removal of three tweets and a warning that Trump could be subject to a ban if he continues tweeting baseless conspiracies about the election and inciting violence.

Facebook took the rare step of removing Trump's video after hours of internal debate about his actions. 

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said Congress would need to investigate how the Capitol was so vulnerable to a seemingly disorganized and lightly armed mob, especially given Trump's incitement and abundant signs that the demonstration would be volatile if not violent.

"I was surprised to learn this morning that the National Guard was not preemptively deployed, given the threats that had been made and the president's incitement," Malinowski said. "I'm in no position to judge the response from my limited vantage point, but we're going to have to do a very serious after-action look at what went wrong and how to make sure that this never happens again."

Malinowski said there should have been no element of surprise.

Some House Democrats on Wednesday night called for impeaching Trump for a second time in response to the siege of the Capitol they accuse him of fomenting.

"I am drawing up Articles of Impeachment," Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., wrote on Twitter. "We can't allow him to remain in office, it's a matter of preserving our Republic."

Omar is one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress. But the sentiment was shared in other corners of the party as well - including by members of Pelosi's leadership team.

"This is outrageous, and the president caused it," Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said on Twitter. "We should impeach him tomorrow."

Trump is scheduled to be in office for two more weeks, and has already been impeached once, in December 2019, on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate the Biden family. But that waning tenure does not appear to have dissuaded Democrats from reserving impeachment as an option to be exercised in his final days in office.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the head of the House Democratic Caucus, was asked Wednesday by ABC News whether impeachment was an option. "When I say all options are on the table," he answered, "I mean all options are on the table."

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., on Wednesday afternoon said she would no longer object to Biden's electoral college victory.

"What happened today and continues to unfold in the nation's capital is disgraceful and un-American," she said in a statement.

"We must have a peaceful transfer of power," she said. "What we have seen today is unlawful and unacceptable. I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results."

She also urged the president to "condemn and put an end to this madness."

Published : January 07, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Rebecca Tan, Peter Jamison, Rachel Chason, Marissa J. Lang, John Woodrow Cox ·NATIONAL, POLITICS, COURTSLAW, CONGRESS, WHITEHOUSE