Pro-Donald Trump rioters overwhelmed the Capitol Police and stormed Congress on January 6, interrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College win and throwing the US Capitol into a spiral of chaos and violence. Shortly after 2:30 p.m., lawmakers, staff, and reporters were forced to shelter in place, and several House office buildings were evacuated due to potential bomb threats. Vice President Mike Pence was pulled from the Senate chamber. But the situation quickly spun out of control. Protesters breached the Capitol, entering the Senate chamber and streaming through Statuary Hall. They broke windows, and one man sat in the very seat Pence had been sitting in just a few minutes before, while another was in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Lawmakers, reporters, and staffers sheltered throughout the building as pro-Trump rioters banged on doors and shouted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) were quickly whisked away to undisclosed locations as the violent protesters broke through the Capitol, busting through secure doors, shattering windows and even scaling scaffolding outside of Senate leadership offices. One person was injured when they fell more than 30 feet from the scaffolding. By mid-afternoon, the National Guard was called up to help suppress the unrest, nearly two hours after the first reports of a breach.
What unfolded at the Capitol was the culmination of months of President Donald Trump’s tweets and statements pushing his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election based on baseless claims of fraud. Lawmakers, helpless amid the chaos, tweeted urgently at the president to call off his supporters and described, in real-time, the violence and destruction they were witnesses to. Some immediately called President Trump’s conduct impeachable, while others, Republicans and Democrats alike, described it as a “coup” attempt and an insurrection. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), a Trump critic, described the violence as “the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.” Utah Senator and 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who also frequently calls out Trump, directly blamed the President, saying, “What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the United States President.” “There’s no question the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob. He lit the flame,” said Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY).
Shortly after both chambers were evacuated, President Donald Trump tweeted: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful.” But he did not tell the demonstrators to leave the Capitol. He followed that with a recorded message, saying, “You have to go home now. We have to have peace, we have to have law and order,” President Trump said while still falsely insisting the election was “stolen from us.” President-elect Joe Biden also called on the rioters to stop, saying “This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now.” The security was in stark contrast to Trump’s impeachment trial or even Black Lives Matter protests last year, when police presence was more pronounced and restrictive. Before rioters were cleared from the complex, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer called for them to exit the Capitol. “We are calling on President Trump to demand that all protestors leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Grounds immediately,” Schumer and Pelosi said.
At 5:30 p.m., three hours after rioters breached the Capitol, the sergeant at arms informed members that the building was finally again secure. Minutes before a 6 p.m. curfew began, an announcement was made warning that anyone who did not leave would be arrested. Shortly before 6 p.m., Senators reconvened behind closed doors to process President-elect Joe Biden’s win and House leaders also vowed to continue their work. Inside the House chamber, the atmosphere was frantic. Capitol Police were warning people they may need to go behind their seats. The House floor quickly turned into chaos. Some top lawmakers, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Whip Jim Clyburn, were pulled from the chamber. Minutes later, police rushed members from the floor to be evacuated. Police and floor staff handed out protective hoods as police warned that tear gas had been dispersed outside the chamber. The House evacuation effort was interrupted, however, and roughly two dozen members and reporters huddled in upper gallery, crouching behind seats, as multiple armed officers barricaded the main chamber door. Loud banging noises could be heard, as members exchanged prayers and made calls to loved ones. As the last group of members and staff was escorted from the chamber, multiple protesters appeared to be restrained by police on the House floor.
Lawmakers and staff had already been on high alert as crowds of Trump allies descended upon the Capitol and local DC officials braced for violence. Then around 1 p.m., offices in both the Cannon and Madison buildings were urgently instructed to leave and move to another building. In some hallways, Capitol Police officers ran door-to-door, instructing staff to leave, according to several of those evacuated. The lockdowns and evacuation orders fueled further anxiety inside the Capitol, as staff were told to stay away from windows and doors. Staff in some office buildings were also instructed to take “escape hoods,” reserved for some kind of chemical attack in the building, and head to the tunnels in Longworth. “All of the members of Congress are just texting each other and trying to make sure that everyone is safe,” said Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin on MSNBC as the chaos was unfolding. “I understand as you just reported that in the chamber they’re now trying to don some gas masks. I dug one out of my storage. We’re sheltering in place. I’m glad to see that the president is now putting out a message that this has gone way too far.”