Four dead after Trump supporters storm Congress

US Capitol secured after hours-long operation: Biden says it’s chaos

By: News Desk      Published: 10:42 AM, 7 Jan, 2021
Four dead after Trump supporters storm Congress

The US Capitol was once again secured but four people were dead -- including one woman who was shot -- after supporters of President Donald Trump breached one of the most iconic American buildings, engulfing the nation's capital in chaos after Trump urged his supporters to fight against the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes that will confirm President-elect Joe Biden's win.

Hundreds of pro-Trump protesters pushed through barriers set up along the perimeter of the Capitol, where they tussled with officers in full riot gear, some calling the officers "traitors" for doing their jobs. 

Later, police said demonstrators got into the building and the doors to the House and Senate were being locked. Shortly after, the House floor was evacuated by police. Vice-President Mike Pence was also evacuated from the chamber, he was to perform his role in the counting of electoral votes. 

An armed standoff took place at the House front door and police officers had their guns drawn at someone who was trying to breach it. A Trump supporter was also pictured standing at the Senate dais earlier in the Wednesday afternoon. 

The woman who was fatally shot was Ashli Babbitt, a "strong supporter" of the president who had served in the United States Air Force, according to press reports. "The woman is Ashli Babbitt, a 14-year veteran, who served four tours with the US Air Force," San Diego TV station KUSI reported, citing the woman's husband.

"She was a strong supporter of President Trump," the report added, saying the woman was from the San Diego area in southern California.

She was shot amid chaotic and violent scenes inside the Capitol building, where some security personnel drew their guns as protesters advanced. She died shortly after being wounded, Washington police said without elaborating.

TV channel Fox 5 reported Babbitt owned a business in San Diego with her husband, who did not come with her to Washington. "I really don't know why she decided to do this," her mother-in-law reportedly told the station.

Police said of the three other deaths at the Capitol grounds, one was an adult female and two were adult males. All three involved unspecified, separate medical emergencies.

At least 14 members of the Metro police department were injured. Two were admitted to hospital, one with serious injuries after being dragged into the crowd, and the other was hit by a projectile in the face.

Lawmakers resume business

Vowing not to be deterred, lawmakers resumed business after dark and the Senate soundly rejected the first of several expected challenges to Biden's win, with several Trump loyalists reversing course in the wake of the violence that drew condemnation around the world.

Egged on in an extraordinary rally across town by an aggrieved Trump, a flag-waving mob broke down barricades outside the Capitol and swarmed inside, rampaging through offices and onto the usually solemn legislative floors.

Security forces fired tear gas in a four-hour operation to clear the Capitol.

One Trump backer in jeans and a baseball cap was pictured propping a leg up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk, where a threatening note had been left, as throngs of others climbed onto risers set up for Biden's inauguration on January 20, holding a banner that read: "We the people will bring DC to its knees/We have the power."

Biden called the violence an "insurrection" and demanded that Trump immediately go on national television to tell the rioters to leave. "Our democracy's under unprecedented assault," Biden said in his home state of Delaware.

"This is not dissent. It's disorder. It's chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end now."

Trump soon afterward released a video in which he called on the mob to leave but stood by his unfounded claims of election fraud. "We have to have peace. So go home. We love you -- you're very special," he said.

Sonya Fitzgerald, a 43-year-old Trump supporter from Florida, said on the Capitol steps: "You'll hear about this in the history books."

In a major step, social media companies pulled down Trump's video on charges it aggravated violence and Twitter temporarily suspended his account, warning the tweet-loving tycoon of a permanent ban if he does not conform to rules on civic integrity.

- Democracy 'death spiral' -

The chaos at the Capitol came a day after Biden enjoyed a new triumph, with his Democrats projected to win two Senate runoff seats in Georgia -- handing the party full control of Congress and dramatically increasing Biden's ability to pass legislation, starting with new Covid-19 relief. 

Historians said it was the first time that the Capitol had been taken over since 1814 when the British burned it during the War of 1812.

For more than two centuries, the joint session of Congress has been a quiet, ceremonial event that formally certifies the election winner -- but Trump urged members of his Republican Party to reject the outcome.

The Senate rejected the first challenge, to Biden's win in Arizona, with only six Republicans still objecting and an equal number having a change of heart.

"The events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider. And I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification," said Senator Kelly Loeffler, one of two Georgia Republicans projected to have lost their seats Tuesday.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, closely aligned with Trump throughout his presidency, had tried to prevent the challenges and noted that the election results were not even close.

"The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them, it will damage our republic forever," McConnell said shortly before the violence.

"If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral," he added.

But Senator Josh Hawley, who has taken the lead on the effort and is seen as a future Republican presidential aspirant, insisted on going ahead even after the mob attack.

"Violence is not how you achieve change," the 41-year-old senator said, insisting that he wanted to offer a "lawful process" to Trump supporters to assess their unfounded claims of fraud.

- 'Everlasting shame' -

Senator Mitt Romney, one of Trump's most vocal critics inside the Republican Party, pointedly said that the best way to respect voters "is to tell them the truth."

"Those who continue to support this dangerous gambit," Romney said, "will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy."

With Democrats already in control of the House of Representatives, there was never any chance that Congress would overturn Biden's victory.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who is set to become majority leader after Tuesday's election victories, described the violence as an attempted coup and said it would be remembered in US history much like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"This mob was in good part President Trump's doing, incited by his words, his lies," Schumer said, adding that Trump would bear "everlasting shame."

Former president Barack Obama called the violence "a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation."

"But we'd be kidding ourselves if we treated it as a total surprise," Obama said, adding that it was "incited" by Trump, "who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election."

Former president George W. Bush also did not mince words, denouncing lawmakers' "reckless behavior" and saying: "This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic -- not our democratic republic."

US allies also voiced shock, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denouncing the "disgraceful scenes" and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urging Trump backers to "stop trampling on democracy."

- Call to remove Trump -

Trump has only two weeks left in office but, with little on his public schedule for weeks and multiple reports he is losing his grip on reality, lawmakers renewed talk that his cabinet should remove him as unfit for office under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

"President Trump's willingness to incite violence and social unrest to overturn the election results by force clearly meet this standard," all Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence.

In an angry, rambling speech outside the White House before the violence, Trump urged his supporters to march to the Capitol and demanded that Pence, who ceremonially led the session, intervene to reverse their loss.

But Pence -- dutifully loyal to Trump for four years and quiet since the election -- said in a last-minute statement that he did not believe he had authority to intervene.

Thousands of Trump supporters headed to Washington at his urging in recent days, with downtown businesses boarding up in fear of violence and Mayor Muriel Bowser ordering a curfew Wednesday night.

"I can't say I respect our election process anymore," said Gail Shaw, 76, who drove down from New Jersey. "We will take our nation back."

Biden won in excess of seven million votes more than Trump in the November 3 election and leads him 306-232 in the state-by-state Electoral College count that determines elections, with Republicans unable to prove in court a single allegation of fraud.

The stunning display of insurrection was the first time the US Capitol had been overrun since the British attacked and burned the building in August of 1814, during the War of 1812, according to Samuel Holliday, director of scholarship and operations with the US Capitol Historical Society.

The shocking scene was met with less police force than many of the Black Lives Matter protests that rolled across the country in the wake of George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last year. While federal police attacked peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square outside the White House over the summer, clearing the way for Trump to take a photo in front of a nearby church at the time, protesters on Wednesday were able to overrun Capitol police and infiltrate the country's legislative chambers.

Multiple bombs detonated safely

Federal and local law enforcement responded to reports of possible pipe bombs in multiple locations in Washington, DC, according to a federal law enforcement official. It's unclear if the devices are real or a hoax, but they're being treated as real. 

A pipe bomb was found at the Republican National Committee's headquarters earlier Wednesday, an RNC official told CNN. The device was found on the ground outside, along the wall of the headquarters. It was safely detonated by the police, the RNC official said.

At least two suspected pipe bombs were rendered safe by law enforcement, including the one at the building that houses RNC offices and one in the US Capitol complex, a federal law enforcement official told CNN. The official said these were real explosive devices and they were detonated safely.

The Democratic National Committee was also evacuated after a suspicious package was being investigated nearby, a Democratic source familiar with the matter told CNN. The party had pre-emptively closed the building ahead of the protests, the source said, but a few security and essential personnel were evacuated.

Near the scene where one of the pipe bombs was found Wednesday, police found a vehicle and detained a suspect, and found a rifle and as many as 10 Molotov cocktails, according to a federal law enforcement official. Investigators are working to determine whether there's a connection to the bombs found earlier.