The Capitol Riots
By Rajsi Jagtap | Feb. 22, 2021
Change is the torque that keeps evolution mobile and growing up, progress has always been the dream of every child raised in emphatically traditional countries. What they cannot change overnight, they replace with hope, looking at other nations that are perhaps, doing a little better. “The land of the free” was just that, hope, to people. But as Robert Frost had once pointed out, “Nature’s first hue is gold; but nothing gold can stay.” November 9th of 2016 came as a shock to Americans right after their endeavour of voting; when, following his win in the 58th quadrennial election, Donald J Trump was announced president-elect. Their dismay got established as reality when Trump was sworn as the next US President on January 20th 2017.
Over the years, Trump has become quite the symbol of bigotry - blatant prejudice that has seldom caused hysteria. Throughout his presidency, he has produced an array of ill effects that have affected not only America as a nation, but also the rest of the world. The Trump government bred hatred and social divide in various forms, the results of which became visible in the form of a violent showdown at the Capitol on January 6th.
History of the Capitol
The construction of the U.S. Capitol Building began on September 18th, 1793, started off by President George Washington laying the first cornerstone, the construction being done by Black slaves. Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the "Capitol" rather than "Congress House" based on the Latin word Capitol, a name tied to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. The architecture itself was based on 19th-century neoclassical style, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. For over a century, the Capitol was the singular building used by America’s legislative bodies, including the Congress, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the district courts, and other offices. The Capitol’s construction was in progress until the British burned it in retaliation to the American Army burning the British Empire’s Capital in Canada. The fire damaged the Capitol but didn’t completely destroy it. Its construction was resumed and as the number of states and their representatives in the Congress grew, so did the Capitol. It was eventually expanded and reached its current size and appearance by 1892. Despite the expansion, the Capitol was still crowded because it still housed the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court apart from the House and Senate.
In 1897, a separate building was made for the Library, presently known as the Thomas Jefferson Building. Separate buildings for the House and Senate were soon constructed. The House Office Building, as it was known originally, now called the Cannon House Office Building opened in 1908, while the Senate Office Building, now named the Russell Senate Office Building, opened the following year. Both buildings were provided power in the form of electricity and steam from the new Capitol Power Plant.
The U.S. Botanic Garden's conservatory, director's residence, and Bartholdi Park were completed in 1933. Followed by which the Senate Office Building's First Street wing, was added; previously left out due to funding issues. The Longworth House Office Building, an additional House Office Building was soon set up. The Supreme Court’s own building was completed in 1935. The last building to be constructed on Capitol Hill in the 1930s was the Library of Congress Annex, now named the John Adams Building, which opened in 1939.
The Dirksen Senate Office Building, a second building for the Senate was completed in 1958 to provide more space in the congressional office. The third building for the House, the Rayburn House Office Building, opened in 1965. Two more buildings were made available for the House in the 1970s - the former Congressional Hotel which got named the O'Neill Building, and a larger building originally constructed for the FBI, now the Ford Building. Library of Congress and the Senate also got their third buildings called the James Madison Memorial Building, and the Hart Senate Office Building respectively. The Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building opened in 1992 and served the Supreme Court.
The Botanic Garden's Production Facility was constructed in 1989 in the Anacostia neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. The Capitol Visitor Centre opened to the public in 2008 and was the last major addition to the Capitol.
January 6 Riots
The storming of the United States Capitol took place on January 6th 2021. A mob of Pro-Trump protestors entered the Capitol, vandalised various politicians’ offices and brutalised democracy in more than one way. This attack was orchestrated against the 117th United States Congress, in an attempt to change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The Associated Press reasoned that the COVID-19 pandemic and successive lockdowns lead to a build-up of frustration and rebellion that fuelled the need for violent demonstrations amongst Trump’s supporters, amidst what Trump called “theft” of votes and the nation’s government.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden won the 2020 United States presidential election on November 7, defeating Trump. Ever since the polls started showing the possibility of Biden winning, Trump had been apprehensive and tried to portray the situation as fraud. Trump kept pushing his baseless claim that he had been robbed off votes, and that there were “irregularities" in the results of the election. Along with other Republican politicians, Trump filed sixty lawsuits which aimed to nullify the election certifications, two of which ended up being brought to the Supreme Court. He also pressured the authorities of Republican lead states to void the votes cast to Biden, and manufacture evidence that the elections had been corrupt. Trump also inquired about using martial law to "re-run" the election in the states that Biden won. Leading up to the counting and certification of the votes, Trump kept suggesting that Vice President Mike Pence should stop Biden from being inaugurated.
Multiple rallies and events were organised by Trump supporters before the results of the election were officially announced. The "Rally to Revival" took place at Freedom Plaza during the afternoon and evening of January 5th and the "Save the Republic Rally" was organized by Moms for America and took place across from the Russell Senate Office Building. Other rallies that took place included the "One Nation Under God" rally organized by Virginia Women for Trump, the "The Silent Majority" rally, the “Wild protest” rally organised by Stop the Steal, the American Phoenix Project, the Jericho March, which took place near the United States Supreme Court and the "Freedom Rally", which was organized by Virginia Freedom Keepers, Latinos for Trump, and United Medical Freedom Super PAC, that also took place across from the Russell Senate Office Building.
Hours before the riots at the capitol took place, Trump appeared at a rally called the “Save America Rally” where members of Trump’s family, his advisors, and Trump himself addressed the audience of protestors, a lot of whom had camped outside overnight to witness the event. The rally took place in a park near the White House called the Ellipse, for which Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said his media company paid $500,000. Supporters of Women for America First were invited to join a caravan of vehicles en route the capitol Event Strategies, a company founded by Tim Unes, who worked for Trump's 2016 presidential campaign managed the event.
In his speech, Trump professed that he would never concede and claimed that Biden would be an illegitimate president. Trump urged his supporters to fight, or they could “not have a country anymore” and told the crowd they were allowed to go by “very different rules." He sympathised with the apparent plight of his supporters and promised to walk down to the Capitol by their side.
After speaking for an hour, Trump said, "I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard," following which the Capitol was stormed.
How They Planned It
Most of the planning of the Capitol siege happened online across various social media platforms and forums. One of the most prominent platforms used was Parler, a microblogging and social networking service similar to Twitter. Polls were created to ask followers which politician should be killed first. The Donald forum had discussions about the strength of the Capitol police, the ease with which they could be overthrown, which tools to bring to help pry open doors, how to smuggle weapons into Washington D.C. along with floorplans of the building. The rioters called for violence against Congress, the speaker of the House of Representatives and law enforcement and openly schemed to disrupt the counting of votes.
GoFundMe accounts were set up to collect money a month prior to the event to cover transportation expenses. Money was also received from a French national who donated $500,000 in bitcoin payments and killed himself a day after the transaction.
The advance on the Capitol started at roughly 1:15 pm EST, as two men ripped down a preliminary barrier leaving officers baffled.
Senator Josh Hawley, one of the politicians who vowed to challenge the Electoral College vote, greeted protesters as they clashed with the police in huge numbers. At least sixteen Republican current and former state legislators were present at the event. Various methods were used to overwhelm the officers, including the use of bear spray, a highly concentrated form of pepper spray stronger than the tear gas typically carried by officers, stun guns and lead pipes, trampling and stampeding them; pushing them downstairs or against statues, and shining laser pointers in their eyes.
Improvised explosive devices were found near the Capitol grounds offices in the Capitol and in a nearby vehicle. Most rioters chose to simply walk into the building, with some using rope ladders to scale its walls, smashing windows, or unhinging doors.
Politicians inside became aware of the chaos that had ensued but couldn’t contact the National Guard right away. Upon security being breached, the Senate was adjourned and evacuated, as was the House of Representatives after being recessed. Several members carried the boxes of Electoral College votes and documentation out of the chamber to hidden safe rooms within the building to safeguard the outcome of the election. The politicians had to resort to locking themselves up in offices, closets or any other safe place out of the rioters’ reach, along with emergency equipment. They were instructed to wear gas masks. Panic buttons in some offices were found torn out.
Meanwhile, the on-scene Capitol Police commander declared a riot. The sheer numbers in which the rioters came left the police overwhelmed and helpless. There were many instances where the police were mobbed, captured on camera including one where an officer was being beaten up mercilessly. The police also didn’t have riot shields at the time and seemed unprepared. Some police officers took part in the insanity by taking selfies with the rioters and deliberately letting them pass through. The officers were initially instructed to engage with the intention of crowd management and self-defence.
The empty senate chamber was ransacked by the rioters and the offices of various politicians suffered a similar fate. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives’ office, was a common spot visited by the rioters from where a letter was stolen amongst other things. This spot was used as a victory symbol by the rioters, a display of their power. Several confidential laptops got stolen while they were booted, giving outsiders access to classified information. The House of Representatives barely made it as the federal law enforcement officers drew handguns to defend it. The rioters chanted "Hang Mike Pence", blaming him for not rejecting the Electoral College votes.
The rioters inflicted damage by breaking glass windows, spreading the debris, breaking wooden furniture, smearing faeces on the walls, looting art, scrawling hateful messages like “murder the media” on walls, and damaging the press’s equipment. At one point, a camerawoman got held at gunpoint by the police because the rioters had stolen her press badge. A display honouring the life of congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis was also destroyed. Since the Capitol is not insured against loss, taxpayers will be required to pay for the restoration.
While this was all happening, first lady Melania Trump was elsewhere in the White House, overseeing a photoshoot of decorative objects for a coffee table book she’s working on. After pressure mounted, Trump made a feeble attempt to hold off the attacks by tweeting, "I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue," but did not explicitly ask the crowd to disperse.
Backup finally arrived in the form of all 1,100 troops in D.C. National Guard and 650 from Virginia’s Natural Guard despite Trump’s resistance to send them in. This larger contingent first worked on securing smaller areas like Statuary Hall, following which the force went through each floor and room to find and expel remaining rioters. It took the police over three hours to regain control. Smoke grenades were deployed on the Senate side of the Capitol, and batons were used. Throughout the encounter, Black officers were repetitively on site reported being subjected to harsh racial slurs throughout.
The National Guard arrived later that evening, and had to take to physically handling the rioters and pushing them out with force. The certification of election results was able to continue after a perimeter was secured around the Capitol. In addition to the resources promised by other states, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo offered to deploy a thousand members of the New York National Guard to D.C. The following day, it was announced that a fence would be built around the Capitol and remain in place for at least 30 days.
Trump responded by tweeting, “But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time, there’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us. From me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home, we love you, you’re very special. You’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home and go home in peace.”
Pressured by his administration, the threat of a second consecutive impeachment, and numerous resignations, Trump conceded the presidency and claimed to have initiated efforts for the smooth transition of power.
As soon as the violence subsided, members of the Congress announced their intentions of drafting an article to impeach Trump. Nancy Pelosi also declared that she would mobilise the House to impeach Trump if he didn’t resign immediately. Five days later, the article stating Trump’s impeachment came out, stating, “Incitement of insurrection” as the reason.
By the end of the day, police had arrested 61 people protesters, with about half of these arrests occurring on the Capitol grounds. So far, more than 120 people who were involved in storming the Capitol have been arrested with many more under the scrutiny of the FBI. The public is being urged to help identify any suspects with the help of social media. One such identification was made when an employee was found to have participated in the attacks while wearing his company ID, which resulted in him being fired. Researchers and private citizens alike are leading crowd-sourcing efforts to identify more of rioters.
Five people, four rioters, including a woman, Ashli Elizabeth Babbitt, and one Capitol Police Officer, Officer Brian D. Sicknick, a fifteen-year veteran of the force, died due to the riots. Officer Brian D. Sicknick died as a result of head injuries he sustained after being hit by a rioter with a fire extinguisher in his head. Another officer, Howard B. Liebengood, died by apparent suicide over the weekend. Sixty Capitol Police officers were injured in the riot, fifteen of whom were hospitalized and one was in critical condition. All have since been released. Rioters also injured fifty-eight D.C. metro officers during the attack. One D.C. Metro officer was hit six times with a stun gun and suffered an apparent heart attack. Despite Trump’s initial resistance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the flags at the Capitol lowered to half-staff in Sicknick's honour and offered condolences to Sicknick's family along with Biden and Pence. Trump however, did not.
The blatant difference in the treatment of the protestors did not slip the public eye. Compared to the three hundred and sixteen protestors arrested during the first day of the Black Lives Matter protests, the first day arrests made during the Capitol riots were only sixty-one. They were also charged with less serious crimes. Trump and the White House had used terms such as "thugs," "agitators," and "looters," for racial injustice protestors, but professed his love for the very “special” Capitol rioters. In June 2020, during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, 5,000 National Guard members guarded the White House; but their involvement itself was restricted by Trump during the January 6 riots. Despite prior warnings from the FBI and political consultants alike, the police were not prepared to handle the scale of the event. Politicians and officials commented on the hypocrisy as well. Joe Biden said, "No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, there wouldn't have been – they would have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol".
Trump later said that he was, “outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem, like all Americans.” His supporters replied by displaying their disbelief in their leader’s behaviour, after having called for them to march to the Capitol. Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter, and from Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram till the transition of power was completed. Parler, used as one of the main sites to plan the attack, was removed from both the Google Play Store and the Apple app store. Parler's website and apps ceased to be operational on January 10. New York City’s mayor terminated all business contracts with the Trump organisation. Lehigh University and Wagner College revoked the honorary degrees they had presented Trump with. The board of the SAG-AFTRA voted for Trump’s removal from the Entertainment Union.
Conservative talk radio programs directed their employees to stop questioning the outcome of the election on-air lest they be fired. Airbnb cancelled all reservations in Washington, D.C. for the week of January 20 and deactivated accounts of any users who it found affiliated to any pro-Trump hate groups. Members of the Congress were harassed at airports requiring additional security during travel. The Washington Metro closed lines bringing people into the area near Capitol Hill. Public Health experts called the attack a potential COVID19 super spreader event.
Despite the criticism received for the Capitol riots, protestors planned the “Million Militia March” for Inauguration day. Such is the destructive power of hatred.