Vice President Mike Pence made Joe Biden’s electoral win as the 46th president of the United States official in the early hours Thursday morning, presiding over a historic joint session of Congress that lasted through the night after violent mobs overran the U.S. Capitol, seeking to upend the Electoral College and popular vote results, egged on by President Trump in a 70-minute speech.
The normally solemn atmosphere at the Capitol Building was transformed into a scene of chaotic violence unprecedented in modern times on Wednesday afternoon, as a mob of insurgents waving Trump flags, Confederate symbols, pro-Nazi messages, and other symbols of right-wing extremist groups breached the building’s security, halting proceedings to certify Trump’s defeat and forcing lawmakers to take cover as they were evacuated to safety with gas masks, as violent protesters roamed hallways, smashed windows, and destroyed Congressional property.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Pence said, in a rebuke to Trump, who had urged on his supporters during a defiant speech while Congress met to certify Biden’s victory. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house.”
Abandoned by Congressional allies and in the midst of several resignations from his staff, Trump released a statement early Thursday morning: “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.” (Trump’s statement contradicts numerous state courts that rejected lawsuits because of a lack of evidence of electoral fraud.)
Hours after the riot began, Trump had repeated baseless claims that he had won and that the election results were fraudulent in a one-minute video, but finally told his supporters to “go home,” adding, “We love you, you are very special.”
Four people died in the violence, including a female Trump supporter who was shot in the chest, as well as two men and one woman who died in separate medical emergencies, according to Washington, D.C.’s police chief. A pipe bomb was found and defused at the nearby headquarters of the Republican National Committee, and a suspicious package was found at the Democratic National Committee, which was evacuated; a cooler of Molotov cocktails were also found nearby, police said. The D.C. National Guard was deployed to contain the chaos, and flash bangs were heard at the Capitol during the melee. (Watch a National Geographic photographer document the mob at the U.S. Capitol.)
In a rare break from President Trump during these last four years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, called the mob violence a “failed insurrection” that underscored the importance of the democratic process. “They tried to disrupt our democracy,” McConnell said. “They failed.”
Some Republican senators who had intended to dispute Biden’s victory on Wednesday, including outgoing Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, reversed course, giving full support to certifying Biden’s victory. Longtime Trump loyalist Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, angrily declared, “Count me out, enough is enough,” adding it was vital for lawmakers to make people understand the vote results were fair and legal.
During the breach of the Capitol building, the mob rampaged and vandalized the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Trump campaign flag was flown from a Capitol’s gallery, and a Confederate flag was unfurled outside the Senate chambers. Tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda.
Both Republicans and Democrats had implored Trump to direct the protesters to quit. Former President George W. Bush compared Trump’s refusal to accept Biden’s win as behavior in a “banana republic,” while Trump’s first Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the president had “fomented” mob rule and become “a man without a country.” Trump’s former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who has been serving as the president’s envoy to Northern Ireland, urged Trump to call an end to the violence, and later said he resigned Wednesday night.
Biden, in a nationally televised speech, also had urged Trump to end this. “Think of what the rest of the world is looking at,” Biden said.
The Capitol has been the site of violence over the years. It was the target of 9/11 bombers, but the hijacked jetliner flying toward it was downed in rural Pennsylvania. In 1971, the antiwar group the Weather Underground exploded a bomb on the Senate side of the Capitol, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, but no casualties. In 1954, four armed Puerto Rican nationalists fired from the House gallery, wounding five House members.