Capitol riots: What happened and what happens next?

On the 6th of January 2020, a joint session of the United States Congress sat down to count the electoral college votes.

Meanwhile, across the National Mall, President Trump addressed a group of his supporters at a “Save America” rally. 

The president told the crowd: “We will never give up. We will never concede” and proceeded to state that, “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Fuelled by Trump’s rhetoric, groups of protestors advanced on the Capitol, galvanised by the president’s declaration that, “we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you”. 

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Whilst Trump did not follow up on this promise, hundreds of his supporters did.

Amidst chants of “stop the steal”, they descended on the east and west side of the Capitol building, unperturbed by barriers and armed police units. 

Protestors breached the barriers on both sides and gained access to the building. 

During the ensuing standoff, sporadic violence erupted, resulting in the injury of 50 police officers and five deaths. 

Officer Brian Sicknick was wounded after “physically engaging with protestors”, later dying in hospital from blows to the head from a fire extinguisher. 

US Air Force veteran, Ashli Babbitt, received a fatal gunshot wound whilst attempting to break through a set of locked doors, and three other protestors died due to fatal medical emergencies. 

Questions were raised over the failure of US Capitol police to secure the building and disperse rioters. 

Video footage on social media, largely filmed by the rioters themselves, showed the extent to which officers were outnumbered. 

Just before 4 p.m., the Washington DC National Guard was mobilized to support the floundering Capitol police.

Trump eventually backpedalled on his earlier incendiary comments, qualifying his demands for “No violence!” with further assertions of voter fraud. 

In a video message released during the storming of the Capitol, the president doubled down on his claims that 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.”

Many commentators were shocked by the unpreparedness of the 2000 strong police force, particularly given that the protests were not spontaneous, but announced by Trump on the 19th of December with the tweet: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” 

Accusations of incompetent handling increased after it was announced that only 52 people had been arrested. 

The general appearance of ineptitude led to calls for the resignations of those responsible. 

The Chief of Capitol Police, Steven Sund, has stepped down after Nancy Pelosi informed the press that he “hasn’t even called us since this happened”. 

Both the Sergeant-at-Arms for the Senate and the House of Representatives have resigned following demands for their removal. 

Comparisons are being drawn between police behaviour during the Black Lives Matter protests and the perceived ineptitude of the police response to the Capitol being stormed by Trump supporters.  

The day after the riots, Joe Biden tweeted: “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protestors yesterday that they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the mob that stormed the Capitol.” 

Kamala Harris echoed these concerns, noting the presence of “a justice system that is experienced differently depending on whether you’re white or Black.” 

Many viewers were outraged by videos of rioters being calmly ushered out of the building by officers, without detainment or arrest for acts of vandalism and violence. 

One video even appears to show an officer posing for a selfie with a rioter. 

A number of Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have called on Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment. 

This would enable him and a majority of the cabinet to remove the president from office. 

In lieu of this unlikely event taking place, Pelosi has said Congress “may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.”

Image: Ted Eytan