On Wednesday, as the Senate voted to certify Joe Biden’s presidency, furious hordes of Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol. In some cases heavily armed, in some cases waving Confederate flags, overtly aggressive members of the mob made their way inside the Senate chamber, forcing lawmakers to evacuate to a secure location. They have reportedly broken into offices and commenced looting; according to accounts from the Capitol, at least one person has been shot and has now died, per MSNBC.
As one protester clarified to the Washington Post outside, these people do not align with either party but a single man: “Nobody’s listening to us, Republicans or Democrats. We’re Trumpers.”
It is a scene of utter chaos and violent rage, and with reporters and lawmakers alike scrambling to get themselves out of harm’s way, it is also hard to know exactly what is going on. Still, one thing is clear: Law enforcement, usually so quick to clear demonstrators from government property during peaceful protests, seemed slow to counter the pro-Trump militia.
Trump took his time addressing the situation. Roughly an hour after pandemonium broke out, he tweeted a bid for his followers to “please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” and to “stay peaceful!” Hours later, he released a video assuring the mob that, although they were “very special” and loved, and although he “won” the election, they should “go home, and go home in peace.”
As Black Lives Matter protests unfolded across the nation this summer, Trump deployed the National Guard to Washington, D.C., and his own special forces to select cities, threatening participants with “MINIMUM TEN YEARS IN PRISON” should they vandalize public property. According to Washington Post reporter Aaron Davis, the Defense Department initially “denied a request by D.C. officials to deploy the National Guard to the U.S. Capitol” today.
As activist Linda Sarsour observed, that decision sends the message that the Guard is “only to be deployed for Black- and brown-led protests.”
Police inside appeared outnumbered at first, and NBC reports that the National Guard will now be activated.
Still, all summer, protesters for racial justice reported that police officers and members of the National Guard — who showed up to rallies outfitted as if for combat — escalated nonviolent marches and vigils into violent conflicts. In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, demonstrators reported being assailed by rubber bullets — in some cases, being permanently blinded — tear gas, batons, and other “less lethal” weapons.
Over the course of those protests, law enforcement made more than 14,000 arrests, according to Public Citizen. Meanwhile, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee reportedly counts 13 arrests made so far today.
According to one report, some police are taking selfies with the insurrectionists, rather than pushing them back.
When asked why they weren’t expelling the mob, one Capitol Police officer told the New York Times, “We’ve just got to let them do their thing now.”
One tweet includes footage of police opening the gates for the insurrectionists.
In another clip, an officer in riot gear appears to be holding hands with a far-right protester, escorting them safely down the Capitol steps.
The response also stands in stark contrast to the sit-ins outside Mitch McConnell’s office in 2017, which saw police physically remove protesters — some of them in wheelchairs — legally voicing their discontent with a draft of Republicans’ health-care bill.
But it is, perhaps, exactly what happens when a president encourages his extremist disciples to “stand back and stand by.” They listen, they prepare, and they pick their moment.
This is a rapidly developing situation and we will be updating as needed.