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Capitol Reels After Pro-Trump Mob Breaches Building; Woman Is Killed

Congress Electoral College
Julio Cortez
Protesters gesture to U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, near the Ohio Clock. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Despite the violent breach, congressional leaders were looking to continue the process of officially recognizing the results of the presidential election.

Updated at 7:19 p.m. ET

The U.S. Capitol was the scene of chaos on Wednesday, as supporters of President Trump responded to his call to head to the complex and then breached it, leading to unprecedented violence in the seat of America's federal government.

A woman was shot and killed during the assault on the Capitol, according to Washington, D.C., police. Her identity was not made public.

A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation tells NPR's Carrie Johnson that the alleged shooter of the woman was a senior Capitol Police officer, and that the woman who was killed was unarmed.

The insurrectionists interrupted proceedings in the House and Senate, as members of Congress were tallying President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory. The counting of the votes is normally a relatively pro forma session.

But for two months, Trump has falsely and continuously claimed the election was stolen from him, and dozens of fellow Republicans had planned to object to slates of electors from various states they considered contested.

APTOPIX Congress Electoral College
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Lawmakers were debating an objectionto Arizona's results — a state Trump lost narrowly — when the sessions were recessed as the U.S. Capitol Police attempted to put the complex on lockdown.

Violent protesters were seen smashing windows and occupying the House and Senate floors and various offices. Police were seen with guns drawn in the House chamber, pointing their firearms at windows that were smashed.

People inside the building were told to shelter in place, and congressional leaders were taken offsite. Members of Congress were told that tear gas was being used in the Capitol rotunda and that they should get ready to put on masks on.

Trump urges peace but doubles down on election falsehoods

On Twitter, Trump asked people to remain peaceful. He then posted a video on Twitter, asking people to go home — but not before reiterating his baseless claims about the election being stolen and saying: "You're very special."

Twitter and Facebook moved to remove the video, and Twitter said it locked Trump's account for 12 hours.

His response to the violence came just a few hours after a midday address to supporters outside the White House, in which he repeatedly denied the results of the election, claiming without evidence that it was rigged against his campaign.

"This election was stolen from you, from me, from the country," he said in the earlier remarks. He also urged his supporters to head to the Capitol, adding: "You'll never take back our country with weakness."

Vice President Pence more forcefully condemned the chaos, saying that the violence was an "attack on our Capitol" and tweeting that people involved must "immediately leave the building" and would be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Federal and local authorities scrambled to send forces to help secure the Capitol after it was overrun by the pro-Trump extremists. Reinforcements were also being deployed from the nearby states of Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

In a tweet, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany wrote that the National Guard had been called in at Trump's direction.

"We reiterate President Trump's call against violence and to remain peaceful," she wrote.

Law enforcement eventually gained control of the scene, ushering people out of the Capitol. The House Sergeant at Arms informed lawmakers and staff after 5 p.m. that the Capitol had been cleared.

Washington, D.C. instituted a 12-hour curfew that went into effect at 6 p.m. ET.

"It's insurrection"

In mid-afternoon televised remarks, Biden called on Trump to "go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege" at the Capitol.

"Let me be very clear," Biden added, "the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not reflect who we are," he said, calling the violent protestors a "small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness."

"It borders on sedition and it must end now," Biden said. "It's not protest; it's insurrection."

Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Members of congress run for cover as protesters try to enter the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

"The President bears responsibility"

The events came as thousands of pro-Trump and far-right protesters congregated in downtown D.C. to contest the results of the presidential election.

Many Republicans, who spent the summer castigating the mostly peaceful protests against racial police violence, had previously encouraged demonstrations calling to overturn the election results.

But Republicans and Democrats blasted those who breached the Capitol, with many — including some in his own party — also blaming Trump for inciting the mob through his repeated claims of a stolen election.

"President Trump incited his followers to violence," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said. "They stormed the Capitol and stopped the House and Senate in session."

"The President bears responsibility for today's events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories that have led to this point," Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement. "It is past time to accept the will of American voters and to allow our nation to move forward."

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a frequent critic of Trump, described the breach of the U.S. Capitol as "an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States."

Electoral College Protests
Julio Cortez/AP
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska, in a statement described the Capitol as being "ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard."

He continued: "Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President's addiction to constantly stoking division."

"This is banana republic crap that we're watching happen right now," Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin said in a video message from lockdown in his congressional office. "This is the cost of countenancing an effort by Congress to overturn the election and telling thousands of people that there is a legitimate shot of overturning the election today, even though you know that is not true.

"We have got to stop this. Mr. President, you have got to stop this," he said. "The election is over. Call it off."

"Finish the work"

Despite the violent breach, congressional leaders were looking to continue the process of officially recognizing the results of the presidential election.

"Today, a shameful assault was made on our democracy," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to members. "It was anointed at the highest level off government. It cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden."

A senior Senate aide told NPR the Senate is aiming to reconvene around 8 p.m. ET to continue the electoral vote count and "finish the work."

Earlier Wednesday, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., wrote on Twitter that the Electoral College ballots had been "rescued from the Senate floor. If our capable floor staff hadn't grabbed them, they would have been burned by the mob."

NPR's Deirdre Walsh and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.

Elena Moore is an editorial assistant for NPR's Washington Desk working as the researcher for the 2020 campaign. She previously worked at NBC News and is also a proud former Washington Desk intern. Moore is a graduate from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ben Swasey is a deputy editor on the Washington Desk, covering the 2020 presidential campaign through the inauguration.
Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.Prior to joining WAMU, Wise was a politics and later companies news reporter at Reuters, where she covered the 2016 presidential election and the U.S. airline industry. Ever the fan of cherry blossoms and unpredictable weather, Alana, an Atlanta native and Howard University graduate, can be found roaming the city admiring puppies and the national monuments, in that order.
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