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Pro-Trump mob’s siege of Capitol leaves four dead, 52 arrested

Pro-Trump mob’s siege of Capitol leaves four dead, 52 arrested
epaselect epa08923451 Supporters of US President Donald J. Trump in the Capitol Rotunda after breaching Capitol security in Washington, DC, USA, 06 January 2021. Protesters entered the US Capitol where the Electoral College vote certification for President-elect Joe Biden took place. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

Donald Trump called for a march and then incited a riot. History was made in Washington DC on Wednesday as the Senate was breached, overshadowing another historic first on the same day - when Democrat Raphael Warnock beat Republican Kelly Loeffler to become the first black Senator of the Peach State.

Hundreds of Trump supporters marched to the US Senate on Wednesday to protest against the confirmation of the Electoral College vote which would certify Joe Biden as president. The march turned to a riot when hundreds of people took over the steps of the Capitol before climbing walls and breaking their way into the building.

Secret Service members barricaded members of the House inside the upper chamber when the mob blocked the stairway and tried to force their way inside. On the Senate floor, Vice-President Mike Pence was whisked away when the rioters breached the chamber. A former CNN executive who used to be based in Washington told Daily Maverick

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021, in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“There are a number of tunnels and underground levels connecting all the buildings, and emergency procedures were improved after 911, so they would have gotten to Pence real quick and taken him to safety right away.”

Throughout the lawlessness Trump refused to say anything other than to politely, via Twitter, ask the mob to “support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement”. 

Civil rights and social justice activist, the Reverend Al Sharpton, tweeted that he had been part of a protest of 200,000 people in DC last August which had none of the chaos and lawbreaking perpetrated by the rioters breaking into the Capitol on Wednesday.

It was up to President-elect Biden to “be the adult in the room” and call the situation what it was – not a protest, not a demonstration, but an “insurrection”. Addressing Americans in a scheduled televised speech on Wednesday afternoon, which had been planned to be about the economy, he said: “Our democracy is under an unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times.”

Biden called on Trump to make a televised statement condemning the rioters and said the president should “defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege”.

Shortly after Biden’s call Trump delivered a short “speech” which seemed to be meant to calm the waters, but only while fanning the flames: “I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us… but you have to go home now, we have to have peace… ”

But the damage was done and there was one gunshot fatality – DC police said the woman had been shot in the chest by Capitol Police when the building was overrun. There are also reports of three other deaths, due to “medical emergencies”.

epa08923660 Pro-Trump protesters storm the grounds of the US Capitol, in Washington, DC, USA, 06 January 2021. Various groups of Trump supporters have broken into the US Capitol and rioted as Congress prepares to meet and certify the results of the 2020 US Presidential election. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation’s capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The Capitol Police were largely outnumbered and appeared ineffective when the mob pushed past them into the building. Their numbers were boosted by the Metro Police and National Guard who arrived close to two hours after the breach and shortly before the 6pm curfew announced by DC mayor Muriel Bowser when the situation erupted. Bowser also called for the National Guard to be sent to the Capitol. The curfew lasts until 6am on Thursday (1pm South African time).

Trump ‘resisted requests’ to call in extra law enforcement

The New York Times reported that Trump “initially rebuffed and resisted requests to call out the National Guard”, with Pence eventually signing the order – this may account for why it took them so long to get there. And it meant the Capitol Police took a beating. There seemed to be only a few hundred members of their security personnel present – out of an overall force of 1,879 sworn members as at September 2020. They could be seen totally outnumbered and being pushed around by the mob. Inside the Capitol itself they were also physically attacked by the people pushing into the building.

At least 14 policemen were injured in clashes with rioters and one was admitted to hospital. He was reportedly pulled into the crowd and attacked. 

Metropolitan Police Department chief Robert Contee told the media that 52 arrests had been made and more were expected. At least 26 were made on Capitol grounds. Five firearms were also confiscated as the law in DC does not allow open or concealed carry weapons for the public. Two pipe bombs were also recovered.

The charges against the arrested rioters (the event had officially been declared a riot “due to the violent behaviour toward the police officers there and their intent on gaining access to the Capitol”) included assault, destruction of property and crossing a police line.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Protesters enter the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Minutes after the 6pm curfew took effect the by then much larger numbers of law enforcement started moving people out of the area. It was not lost on many that quite a few Trump supporters were carrying pro-police flags and placards, while refusing to follow police requests for them to move.

Many politicians blamed Trump, saying he had incited the mob. Trump had addressed his supporters hours before the chaos. Speaking at the “Save America” rally (#StopTheSteal #MarchForAmerica) on Wednesday morning at the Ellipse, a short way from the Senate buildings, Trump told the crowd to march to the Capitol and protest against the “stolen election”. He told them that “you will never take back our country with weakness”.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Protesters enter the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Electoral College vote confirmation goes ahead

Staff were able to keep the electoral ballots safe, getting them out of harm’s way before the Senate floor was breached and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced shortly after the 6pm curfew that the count would continue at about 8pm.

Pelosi’s office had also been broken into and rifled through – a rather threatening note was written on a folder, “WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN” – and one man even took a picture sitting behind her desk, with one booted foot resting atop the desk. He has since been identified and is thought to be from north-west Arkansas. 

When the House reconvened to finalise the confirmation of the Electoral College Vote, many of the original objectors – including Senator Kelly Loeffler who lost the Georgia runoff to Democrat Raphael Warnock – said they would no longer be objecting. 

Speaking in the house at about 10pm on Wednesday, Loeffler said: “The events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider and I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors. The violence, the lawlessness and siege of the halls of Congress are abhorrent and stand as a direct attack on the very institution my objection was intended to protect.”

The way was set for Congress to certify Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Law enforcement numbers and actions questioned

Politicians, activists and the public also commented in the media and on social media on the number of law enforcement personnel in position ahead of 2020’s Black Lives Matter march on the Capitol versus the lack of law enforcement present on Wednesday.

But the first burning question was: Would law enforcement have been as hands-off if the mob was of a different hue? Or if there was a different reason for the protest? 

Political commentators and politicians also noted on various platforms that in any other country what had happened at the Senate would be called a coup. Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger told CNN: “Anywhere else around the globe, we would call this a coup attempt – that’s what I think it is.” DM

An Wentzel is Night Editor and specialist reporter for Daily Maverick. She went to the US to visit family as the pandemic struck and is currently marooned in the land of the “free”.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    What we see in the US is an example of what happens when a known psychopath (since his election 4 years ago) is aided and abetted by a most in the Republican party. Even after this disgraceful ‘s…hole’ country episode, there are still Republicans pandering to this ‘swamp of backwardness’ is utterly astonishing. Turning him into a ‘cult worship’ figure makes the situation worse. The readily accessible tools of ‘social media’ to amplify the pyromaniac tendencies of the incumbent, made this scenario entirely predictable. That ‘security’ around the Capitol was as pathetic as it was when the assualt started, despite all the early notices given, is a not so subtle mystery. The particularly kid-glove dealing with this mob will remain a not so ‘white’ hot secret !

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