On perhaps the most fraught day in modern American politics, the internet became the center of chaos, emotion and expression. Twitter, for the first time ever, deleted some of President Donald Trump’s tweets on Wednesday evening, including one of a video in which he called the election "stolen" and referred to those involved in a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol as "special people." Twitter has now locked Trump’s Twitter account for at least 12 hours.
As insurgents forced their way into the building this afternoon—shutting down proceedings to certify the election of Joe Biden, thrusting members of Congress into lockdown, and leaving one woman dead—responses poured out. Leaders across the political spectrum condemned the action, with Democrats and many Republicans directly blaming Trump for inciting his supporters to commit violence.
"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—tweeting against his vice president for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution,” said Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, in a statement released on Twitter. “Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts made a similar declaration: “The violence at the Capitol today was an attempted coup and act of insurrection egged on by a corrupt President to overthrow our democracy.”
As Capitol Police and eventually the National Guard worked to get the situation under control on the ground, the subject of semantics—how we describe the people who overwhelmed security and stormed the U.S. Capitol building en masse for the first time in more than 200 years—became a hot debate online. Many press outlets, and Twitter itself, initially referred to members of the mob as “protesters,” before others pointed out that the more appropriate term was “insurgents” or “insurrectors.” Twitter updated its descriptor from “protesters” to “mob;” the Washington Post made “mob” their official word of choice. NPR is referring to them as “pro-Trump extremists” and calling their actions an “insurrection,” as is National Geographic.
"Those who performed these reprehensible acts cannot be called protesters," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. "No, these were rioters and insurrectionists, goons and thugs, domestic terrorists."
Statements about semantics, the violence, and the disintegration of democracy flew from elected officials, on Twitter, and towards each other. Here are some of the most unforgettable quotes so far:
1. “To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices, and to threaten the safety of duly elected officials is not protest. It is insurrection. The world is watching—and like so many other Americans, I am shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of light, hope and democracy, has come to such a dark moment.” - President-elect Joe Biden
2. “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!” - President Donald Trump
3. “This is what you’ve gotten, guys.” - Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), shouting at his Republican colleagues who had tried to delegitimize the election, as chaos and mayhem broke out in the Capitol.
4. “I am in the House Chambers. We have been instructed to lie down on the floor and put on our gas masks. Chamber security and Capitol Police have their guns drawn as protesters bang on the front door of the chamber. This is not a protest. This is an attack on America.” -Representative Dan Kildee, (D-Mich.)
5. “Disgraceful scenes in U.S. Congress. The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.” - Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
6. “I saw the confederate flag there. What will we do? How will we confront this shame?” -Senator Cory Booker, (D-N.J.)
7. “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic...I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement.” - Former President George W. Bush
8. “This is a coup attempt.” - Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)
10. “My colleagues, nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale—the massive scale—that would have tipped the entire election.…The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.” - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
11. “Enemies of democracy will be happy to see these unbelievable pictures from #WashingtonDC. Riotous words turn into violent acts—on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the #Capitol. The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating.” - Heiko Maas, foreign minister of Germany
12. "[Trump's] use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice" - Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis
13. “I am drawing up Articles of Impeachment. Donald J. Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives & removed from office by the United States Senate. We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath.” - Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)
14. “Donald Trump is responsible for today's coup at the Capitol and the attack on our government and democracy. He is a direct threat to our country. He needs to be impeached, removed from office, and barred from ever holding office again.” - Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
15. “This is a day that will live in infamy. The very people who believe they are protecting our democracy have succeeded in destroying it.” - Representative Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio)
16. “Electoral college ballots rescued from the Senate floor. If our capable floor staff hadn’t grabbed them, they would have been burned by the mob.” - Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), tweeting a photo of the salvaged ballots.
17. “While people in Palestine & in many other places in the world are struggling to achieve democracy, there are those in the US who are actively sabotaging theirs. Despots everywhere thrive on repression, oppression, & violence.” - Hanan Ashwari, former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee
18. “The fabric of our democracy and the principles of our republic are under attack by the President. Enough is enough. President Trump should resign or be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by the Congress.” - Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont
19. "We can now add January 6, 2021 to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy...The final, terrible, indelible legacy of the 45th president of the United States — undoubtedly our worst." - Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)