The US Capitol riots – an in-depth look

capitol riots
A red cap, marked 'Make America Great Again', became a symbol of Trump support. Source: Gage Skidmore (via. Wikimedia Commons)
On January 6, Trump supporters stormed the US Congress building. Gair Rhydd takes a closer look at what happened, and why.

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

On January 6, protesters supporting Trump became violent rioters, attacking police and storming the Capitol building.

Five people died and dozens were injured during the riots, with over 80 rioters arrested so far.

Blame for the events has been attributed by many to US President Donald Trump, who is accused of inciting violence as social media companies deplatform him and legislators consider impeaching him for a second time.

Why did the riots happen, and how did they progress?

Ever since the 2020 US election, President Trump has been spreading accusations that the election was in some way ‘stolen’.

Launching legal challenges and tweeting regularly, Trump has told his supporters on many occasions that he won the 2020 election – a theory that has so far had no corroborating evidence.

On January 6 Congress was set to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Trump had been publicly encouraging his Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of the result, but Pence said he did not have the “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted”.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnel also refused to ally with Trump on this issue, stating: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”

Despite no evidence, some Trump supporters have echoed ideas that the election was stolen or rigged, and around midday on the day of the certification proceedings, thousands gathered in Washington, DC for a ‘Save America’ march, at which Trump spoke.

Following his address, the Trump supporters made their way to the Capitol building. After a standoff with police, the mob forced their way into the East entrance, some attacking police with chemical irritants.

The rioters made their way through the building towards the House and Senate chambers, occupying the building for several hours.

The Capitol was put into lockdown, as police barricaded the doors to the House of Representatives and drew their weapons to prevent protesters from entering.

Within an hour, protesters had broken into the building on its opposite side, breaking windows and forcing open doors to the building.

One rioter was shot as she attempted to enter the barricaded doors of the Speakers’ Lobby, dying from the wound.

Trump supporters were pictured having broken into the Senate, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Following pressure to denounce the rioting, Trump told the protesters:

“Go home. We love you, you’re very special.”

The rioters were pictured exiting the building cheering, and by 17:40 local time the building had been cleared. Outside the building, pro-Trump protests continued, with footage showing some of them attacking journalists and their equipment, until they were dispersed by police.

More than six hours after the storming of the building, Congress resumed its activity, and Biden’s January 20 succession was confirmed at 03:41.

The mayor instated a citywide curfew, and thousands of National guard, FBI and US Secret Service members were called in during the day’s events.

Aside from the shot rioter, one US Capitol Police (USCP) officer died, as well as three other rioters.

One arrested rioter had a “military-style automatic weapon and 11 Molotov cocktails (petrol bombs)”, Washington DC’s federal attorney said.

Suspected explosives were found outside the Republican and Democrat National Committee buildings, and were destroyed by bomb technicians.

What have been the consequences of the riots?

The official in charge of security for the House of Representatives, as well as the USPC Chief, will resign their posts.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime ally of Trump, has resigned, telling Trump: “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”

Transport Secretary Elaine Chao also quit Trump’s cabinet, saying she was “deeply troubled” by the events of January 6.

Leading Democrats are pushing for an early removal of Trump from office, saying he incited the violence.

They have called for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the US constitution, which could allow him to replace Trump if he and eight cabinet members supported the motion. This eventuality is unlikely though, especially given the resignation of DeVos and Chao.

In the event that the 25th Amendment is not invoked, House Democrats have threatened, they will move to impeach Trump. This would be the first time in history a US president has been impeached twice.

However, even if the House of Representatives impeached Trump, it would need a two-thirds majority in the Senate to pass. So far, no Republican senators have said they would vote to impeach Trump, so this is likewise unlikely to actually happen.

Another consequence of the riots was the suspension – and subsequent banning – of Trump’s twitter profile.

Following some of his comments on the riots, Trump’s account was suspended for allegedly inciting violence.

Upon his return to the platform, he made two tweets deemed to undermine the transition process to President-elect Biden and the legitimacy of his election victory, and was banned by twitter “due to risk of further incitement of violence”.

Following the ban, he tweeted from the POTUS account: “We will not be SILENCED! Twitter is not about FREE SPEECH. They are all about promoting a Radical Left platform where some of the most vicious people in the world are allowed to speak freely”.

Facebook and Google have also moved to remove Trump from their platforms following the riots.

How have politicians responded?

On the day, Trump told his supporters: “I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace.”

Biden meanwhile said: “This is not dissent; it’s disorder, it’s chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end”.

He called on the supporters of Trump to “allow the work of democracy to go forward”, adding:

“At their best, the words of a President can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.”

Biden later called January 6 “One of the darkest days in the history of our nation”, and labelled the riots “an unprecedented assault on our democracy”

He also pointed out something a number of activists have been stating – that the police response to the rioters storming the Capitol was in contrast to police treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters using nonviolent methods.

Trump went on to state: “Now Congress has certified the results, a new administration will be inaugurated on January twentieth. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition to power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation”.

Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler, who narrowly lost the runoff Senate election for the Republican party, said she could not vote against Biden’s certification as she had originally planned, due to the “abhorrent” invasion of the Capitol.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the rioters:

Former US President Barack Obama said history would rightly remember the day as “a moment of great dishonour and shame for our nation”.

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

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