The Most Fragile Day in American Democracy


AP Photos/Jon Minchillo

Wednesday’s confirmation of the Electoral College results was interrupted by pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol Building around 2:30 PM.

The presence of protesters in Washington, D.C., is no surprise to many, with President Trump encouraging his supporters earlier this week to convene in the city at a Save America Rally. He spoke to supporters, promising that he “will never concede” and once against alleging fraud in the 2020 presidential election. 

At his direction, following this rally, Trump supporters moved towards the United States Capitol, overtaking the barricades and Capitol Police in order to breach the building. As rioters poured in, both the House of Representatives and the Senate announced a recess in the confirmation of Electoral College results and entered a lockdown. Certain people in the building were asked to evacuate, while others, like those in the House chamber, were told to lie on the floor and shelter in place. The Associated Press reports that staff members took the boxes of Electoral College votes during the evacuation to protect them, as a member of the Senate expressed fear that the violent crowds might destroy the physical votes. 

Instead, the rioting Trump supporters entered the Senate chamber and certain Congressional offices, including that of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pictures from the scene on Wednesday show individuals rummaging through files, sitting in the seat of Senate President Mike Pence, and leaving messages for the lawmakers. “We will not back down,” a rioter wrote to Pelosi, leaving the note in her office. Others broke windows and climbed the scaffolding on the exterior of the Capitol Building. 

Tear gas and paintballs fired at the crowd proved largely ineffective in keeping back the crowds. In response, Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser called the National Guard to aid the Capitol Police in retaking the Capitol Building, but her initial request was denied by the Department of Defense. She also imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on the District of Columbia in an effort to limit rioting and further violence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was also brought in to address bomb threats at both the Capitol and Republican National Convention building. 

These acts of domestic terrorism resulted in the death of a woman who was attempting to break down doors to a barricaded room. Officials believe the shot was fired by a member of law enforcement but say they will continue to investigate. Three others, all participants in the riot, died of medical emergencies that occurred while on Capitol grounds. 

In a live address to the nation, President-elect Joe Biden condemned the riot as “an assault on the rule of law.” He repeated earlier sentiments that “the words of a president matter,” and that “at their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.” He then called on President Trump to appear on national television and ask his supporters to end the violence at the Capitol Building. 

President Trump did address the rioters in a recorded video message, which has since been taken down from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for violating company rules. In the video, he tells his supporters to go home peacefully while repeating baseless allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. “I know your pain,” he told his audience, later adding, “We love you. You’re very special.”

Other Tweets posted by the President have since been removed, and Twitter announced it would be locking his account until he deleted the Tweets himself, adding a 12-hour freeze on his account after he did so. Facebook announced that it would ban the President’s account until the end of his term. 

Congress reconvened at 8 p.m. to finish the confirmation of Electoral College results. Prior to the events of January 6th, multiple Senators and Representatives promised to challenge the Electoral College results in several key swing states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia. However, some changed their minds in the aftermath of the riots at the Capitol Building. 

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell— soon to be Senate minority leader after Georgia elected Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock to the U.S. Senate at the January 5th runoffs— reopened the discussions by saying that the Senate “will not bow lawlessness or intimidation.” 

What followed was an hours-long session in which members of the House and the Senate were given time to either challenge the confirmation of the Electoral College votes or object to such challenges. Multiple members of the Republican party, including those who have supported Trump previously, used this time to criticize other GOP politicians for creating doubts about the validity of the 2020 elections.

Former presidential nominee and Republican Senator Mitt Romney stated that “no Congressional audit will ever convince these voters… the best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.”

“The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost,” he continued, jokingly adding, “I’ve had that experience myself. It’s no fun.” Senator Romney lost the presidential election to President Barack Obama in 2012.

After hours of debate and ceremonial confirmation of electoral votes, Congress confirmed Joseph R. Biden as the elected President of the United States. It was nearly 4 a.m., 15 hours after they had initially convened to affirm the 2020 presidential election results.

In response to the bipartisan backlash he received in the wake of the riots, President Trump announced in a statement released this morning that there will be “an orderly transition on January 20th,” despite the fact that he still “totally disagree[s] with the outcome of the election.” However, he did not address accusations by the Biden transition team that certain essential information was being withheld from the incoming White House presidential staff. 

Several world leaders, including Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were quick to condemn the rioters, and put blame for this attack on President Trump, who has consistently cast doubt on the results of the now-certified free and fair election. Meanwhile, many of America’s adversaries are seizing upon this opportunity to use this as a justification against democracy and freedom. 

Investigations are underway as to the extent of the damage done during the riots, and law enforcement is continuing to arrest individuals involved. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress are calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, which gives the Cabinet the authority to remove the President. Though the chaos has, for the moment, dissipated, questions remain as to the long-term effects of this sudden and violent attack on democratic processes and what it means for the future of the United States.