WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol descended into chaos and violence Wednesday as hundreds of pro-Trump rioters swarmed the building and at least one person was shot dead, forcing the Senate to evacuate and Vice President Mike Pence to be ushered to a secure location.
The frenzied scene after rioters broke through barricades forced Congress to evacuate parts of the building and abruptly pause a ceremonial event affirming that President-elect Joe Biden won the November election. In one dramatic moment, police officers drew guns as rioters tried to break into the House chamber.
Pence, who was presiding over the joint session of Congress, could be seen rushing out of the Senate chamber amid the sounds of throngs of Trump supporters who surrounded the Capitol. Pence and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the president pro-tem, were taken to a secure location, a senator told NBC News.
A woman was shot inside the Capitol by a member of law enforcement and later died, several law enforcement officials said
The doors of the Senate were closed and locked, and senators were told to stay away from the area. The doors to the House were barricaded, and some lawmakers were seen praying. District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a 12-hour curfew on the city that will begin at 6 p.m. ET.
Twitter and other social media channels were flooded with images of protesters skirmishing with police officers, and there were multiple reports of rioting inside the Capitol as some rioters broke windows, battered down doors and postured in the Senate chamber.
Improvised explosive devices were been found on the U.S. Capitol grounds, several law enforcement officials said. Officers were in the process of destroying the devices, and it was not clear whether they were functional. At least one was made of a small section of galvanized pipe.
Five weapons were recovered from the complex and around 13 arrests were made, the D.C. Metro police said. None of the people arrested were residents of the district.
Images from the clashes were rife with disturbing hate symbols: a photo of a noose that had been hung on the west side of the Capitol, while several protesters waved Confederate flags or used white power gestures.
Trump has directed the National Guard to head to the Capitol, the president said in a tweet, and the U.S. Capitol Police have requested additional support. The FBI has been deployed to the scene and the U.S. Marshals Service was assisting in the response, too.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, confirming on Fox News that shots had been fired inside the Capitol, called the mayhem “un-American” and said: “We can disagree but we should not take it to this level. … You do not do what is happening right now. People are being hurt. This is unacceptable.”
Biden called on Trump to go on national television to “fulfill his oath and defend the constitution and demand an end to this siege.”
“It’s not protest. It’s insurrection,” he said. “The words of a president matter, no matter how good or bad it is.”
The top Democrats in Congress echoed Biden’s message to Trump: “We are calling on President Trump to demand that all protestors leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Grounds immediately,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, said in a joint statement.
Attorney General Bill Barr, who was near Trump last summer as National Guard members sprayed tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters so the president could hold a Bible for a photo op, condemned Wednesday’s the violence.
He said in a statement: “The violence at the Capitol Building is outrageous and despicable. Federal agencies should move immediately to disperse it.”
Trump, who earlier Wednesday called on his supporters to march to the Capitol and even suggested he might join them before he ultimately returned to the White House, addressed the chaos and unrest in a series of tweets.
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!” Trump tweeted. He later added: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
In a video message, Trump again lied about the election results, falsely claiming he won in a “landslide” before directly addressing his supporters at the Capitol: “You have to go home now.”
The chaotic situation came after Trump spoke to a large crowd in front of the White House. He angrily vowed to never concede to Biden and baselessly asserted that the election results were fraudulent.
“We will never give up, we will never concede. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said to a crowd of supporters, some of whom chanted “USA!” or waved anti-Biden banners. He later falsely claimed that Biden would be an “illegitimate” president.
Trump’s groundless claims of voter fraud have been widely debunked, and his legal team’s efforts to challenge the election results in court have been rejected by a succession of judges. Trump has claimed Wednesday’s joint session of Congress represents a chance to overturn the election, even though state electors have already certified the results and the event inside the Capitol is ceremonial.
Trump has put pressure on Pence to intervene in the count. In his lengthy and digressive remarks, Trump called on Pence to “do the right thing,” even though Pence’s ceremonial role does not provide him with the power to intervene in the counting of votes. Pence sent a letter to Congress ahead of the ceremony stating he would not be doing what Trump has hoped.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. tweeted that she was drawing up articles of impeachment against Trump.
“We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath,” the progressive lawmaker tweeted.
Trump was impeached by the House in late 2019 and acquitted by the Senate in early 2020.
Jason Bjorklund, who flew to the nation’s capital from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said he did not know what to expect when Congress convened.
“I just felt compelled to be here because it seems like our republic is slipping away from us,” Bjorklund said. He added, baselessly, that there were “mountains of evidence of fraud” and detailed conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines.
When asked to account for the judges who have rejected the Trump legal team’s attempts to challenge the election results, Bjorklund said: “I think we’ve got corruption from the top to the bottom.”
Before the president’s speech, it appeared some senators were being approached by Trump supporters near the Capitol, including an apparently exasperated Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who said he would not vote against affirming Biden’s victory because he was bound to follow the law.
“I took an oath under God, under God!” Young said. “Do we still take that seriously in this country?”
Theresa Reilly and her husband, Bill, came to the nation’s capital from Michigan — a key Midwest swing state that fell into the Democratic column in November — to participate in the Wednesday protests because they believe Biden’s triumph over Trump was fraudulent.
“We don’t believe they’re honest, true voters,” Theresa Reilly said as Celine Dion’s theme song from the movie “Titanic” played on a speaker system in the background. “There’s a lot of cheating going on, and I think everybody knows that, including Democrats.”
Bill Reilly said that even without “doing too much research,” it was clear “something’s up” with the November election results
“The only thing I can say is, however many people are here, this isn’t going to go away,” he said. “If you thought 2020 was weird, 2021 is going to be ‘hold my beer,’ if you ask me.”
Allan Smith, Ginger Gibson, Pete Williams and Haley Talbot reported from Washington; Daniel Arkin and Tom Winter from New York; and Lauren Egan from Georgia.