WASHINGTON – An eerie quiet blanketed the area around the U.S. Capitol early Thursday, hours after thousands of protesters overwhelmed police and breached the building in an unprecedented assault on the Democratic process.
Four deaths and more than 50 arrests later, the Capitol lawn was nearly deserted and silent, a stark contrast from the cheering and chanting of Wednesday’s unrestrained boisterous crowd. There was little evidence of Wednesday’s riot except for debris, folding chairs and discarded signs.
The citywide curfew, which went into effect at 6 p.m. Wednesday, ended at 6 a.m. Mayor Muriel Bowser, however, announced a 15-day extension of the public emergency “to ensure peace and security” through the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
National guard members in what appeared to be bullet proof vests were posted along surrounding streets as news crews set up near where rioters destroyed camera equipment the day before.
Fencing formed a wide perimeter around the building, and at least two ambulances and several police cars were parked near the Capitol steps. But downtown road blocks were removed from most areas near the Mall.
The effort to identify more culprits was underway. The FBI said it was “seeking information that will assist in identifying individuals who are actively instigating violence in Washington, D.C.” The agency was looking for tips and recordings depicting the rioting and violence.
“If you have witnessed unlawful violent actions, we urge you to submit any information, photos, or videos that could be relevant at fbi.gov/USCapitol,” the agency said.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters had gathered to proclaim their undying devotion and vent their outrage as Congress prepared to formally declared Biden president-elect.
Trump himself was the headliner, pitching his repudiated case for election redemption in a futile, hourlong last stand against an inevitable outcome. His claims that a “landslide” victory had been stolen by the “fake news media,” “weak Republicans,” and tech giants fueled the crowd. What started as a peaceful protest turned into a riot as the mob crashed into the building Wednesday afternoon.
Congressional proceedings were suspended, where lawmakers had been meeting to certify the Electoral College votes, and lawmakers rushed into saferooms as rioters took over the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate and the offices of the House speaker. Finally, heavily armed officers fired tear gas in the hallowed halls of government to drive the insurgents out, combing the halls for stragglers. Police kept the pressure on, pushing the mob farther out onto the plaza and lawn with tear gas and percussion grenades.
D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee said the chaotic day included four fatalities: a woman who was shot by the U.S. Capitol Police, and two men and one woman who died in “separate medical emergencies.” Police made more than 52 arrests, including 26 on U.S. Capitol grounds, he said.
At least 14 of Contee’s officers were injured during the demonstrations, Contee said. Two pipe bombs — one from the DNC and one from the RNC — were recovered, he added.
Trump, as officers struggled to gain control of the Capitol, tweeted multiple times, including one tweet saying that “these are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
In an unprecedented move, Twitter locked President Trump’s account after freezing three of his tweets about the riots at the U.S. Capitol so they could not be liked or forwarded. Facebook followed with a 24-hour block.
When order was finally restored, Trump’s last pitch for Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College count – which Pence had no legal right to do – fell on deaf ears. At 3:41 a.m. EST Thursday, after much political wrangling, Pence signed off on the final count – 306 for Biden, 232 for Trump.
Trump released a statement pledging an orderly transfer of power “even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out.” But he also pledged to “continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.”
Trump has unsuccessfully tried to overturn election results in six battleground states through dozens of failed lawsuits, falsely claiming the election was stolen despite no evidence of widespread fraud.