Hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election, pro-Trump rioters breached the U.S Capitol in a display of force (Image from Shutterstock)
In a violent display of force, pro-Trump rioters breached the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Their actions were likely motivated by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric that voter fraud plagued the 2020 Presidential Election and thus rendered President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory illegitimate. Beyond desecrating the hallowed building by destroying property, they attempted to halt the counting of electoral ballots, which Vice President Mike Pence presided over. A week after the breach, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach President Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” marking the first time a president was impeached twice. Ten GOP members voted against party lines to impeach the 45th President, reflecting a burgeoning party divide.
To enter the Capitol, protestors scaled walls, smashed windows, and used assault weapons, calling officers who defended the building “traitors.” Members of the House were forced to evacuate to Fort McNair, a nearby military base, or shelter under desks. Vice President Pence was also removed from the Chamber, as protestors objected to his counting of the electoral votes; the phrase “Hang Mike Pence” trended on Twitter. The Maryland police force, Virginia police, and the National Guard assisted the Washington D.C. police to quell the violence. At approximately 3 p.m., an armed standoff between police officers and protestors occurred at the entrance to the Senate chambers, after which the rioters were cleared from the Capitol’s floor. Police Chief Robert Contee reported that one woman was shot to death during the removal of the protestors, while two men and one woman died from sustained injuries. After further violent altercations between the police and the protestors, the protestors were removed from the Capitol at around 5:40 p.m., and at around 6 p.m., the violence dissipated. At 9:30 p.m., 52 rioters were reported to have been arrested. Later, members of the D.C. police force found a pipe-bomb planted at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. Law enforcement safely destroyed the bombs.
Members of Congress returned to the Capitol at around 8 p.m. Vice President Pence certified the results of the 2020 election early on January 7. His actions went against Trump’s behest, therefore carving a dramatic cleavage and marking a sharp turn from his tendency to consistently vouch for the President.
On January 7, Trump called for an “orderly transition” of power. Yet his statement was marred by a video Trump released on Twitter during the Capitol breach. Though he urged the rioters to “go home now” because “we have to have peace, we have to have law and order,” sympathetic undertones pervaded the video, indicating a failure to unequivocally condemn what transpired. For example, beyond telling the rioters, “We love you, you’re very special,” he continued to fan the flames of political polarization by reiterating that the “landslide election” was “stolen from us.”
The fact that members of “Proud Boys,” a far-right extremist group, were present at President Trump’s “Save America March” before the storming of the Capitol raises concerns over the implications and legacy of America’s history with white supremacy. For example, a man, later identified as Kevin Seefried, marched with the Confederate flag in the Capitol during the riot. According to William Blair, professor emeritus of history at Penn State, “The Confederate flag made it deeper into Washington on January 6, 2021, than it did during the Civil War.” Moreover, symbols of anti-semitism penetrated the building; a protestor was pictured wearing a shirt that read “Camp Auschwitz.” Others were seen wearing a red “Q” on their apparel, believed by experts to be promoting QAnon, a deeply anti-Semitic group.
There have been reports of planned armed protests at all 50 U.S. State Capitals. The police and military have tightened security in light of the possibility of armed insurrection on January 20, President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration day.