Before the violence, Rudy Giuliani had told the morning crowd at Ellipse, ‘let’s have trial by combat’
Wednesday began as a day of reckoning for President Donald Trump’s futile attempt to cling to power as Congress took up the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. It devolved into scenes of fear and agony that left a prime ritual of American democracy in tatters.
Mr. Trump told his morning crowd at the Ellipse that he would go with them to the Capitol, but he did not. Instead, he sent them off with an incendiary rhetoric.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. “Let the weak ones get out,” he went on. “This is a time for strength.”
His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd, “Let’s have trial by combat.” And then, they went on and stormed the Capitol building.
What happened on Wednesday was nothing less than an attempted coup, said Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette. Senator Ben Sasse, Republican, a frequent Trump critic, said, “Today, the United States Capitol — the world’s greatest symbol of self-government — was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard.”
Mr. Sasse went on: “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and an ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
Police said they recovered two pipe bombs, one outside the Democratic National Committee and the other outside the Republican National Committee, and a cooler from a vehicle that had a long gun and Molotov cocktail on Capitol grounds.
But Mr. Trump, in a video posted 90 minutes after lawmakers were evacuated, told the insurrectionists, “We love you. You’re very special,” while asking them to go home.
Authorities eventually regained control as night fell.
Heavily armed officers brought in as reinforcements started using tear gas in a coordinated effort to get people moving towards the door, then combed the halls for stragglers, pushing the mob farther out onto the plaza and lawn, in clouds of tear gas, flash-bangs and percussion grenades.
Video footage also showed officers letting people walk out the doors of the Capitol despite the rioting and vandalism. Only about a dozen arrests were made in the hours after authorities regained control.
Early on, some inside the Capitol saw the trouble coming outside the windows. Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota surveyed the growing crowd on the grounds not long after Mr. Trump had addressed his supporters by the Ellipse, fuelling their grievances over an election that he and they say he won, against all evidence.
“I looked out the windows and could see how outmanned the Capitol Police were,” Mr. Phillips said.
Rep. Scott Peters, Democrat, told reporters he was in the House chamber when protesters began storming it.
“This is how a coup is started,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, Democrat. “This is how democracy dies.”
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