With 2020 having been such an unpredictable, and frankly unprecedented year, many Americans realized that 2021 would certainly bring its own twists. Few could have predicted, however, that just six days into the new year an insurrection would occur in the halls of congress unlike anything seen since the War of 1812.
After now-former-President Trump and his allies echoed false conspiracy theories about massive voter fraud for months, some sort of clash in the nation’s capital was predictable. In the days leading up to January 6, when congress would certify the election, however, the rhetoric grew much more intense. In dark corners of the internet, right-wing extremists began to plan their actions. Meanwhile, Trump began to pin the blame for the coming end of the administration on Vice President Mike Pence, asserting that Pence had the authority to unilaterally reject the election results when he presided over the electoral college count, an authority the Vice President does not have.
As clouds rolled in over Washington on that cold morning, Trump’s “Save America” rally was already underway, and with each speaker came new conspiracy theories, raucous chants, and worrisome calls to violent action. Trump’s top lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, yelled, “let’s have trial by combat!” to dizzying applause.
Mere hours later, they would follow through on that call.
Expecting the crowd to remain on the National Mall, the Capitol Police had only 500 officers on duty out of a possible 2,000. But just after 1 p.m., the crowd of 30,000 began making their way toward Capitol Hill. The marchers began forcefully overwhelming police lines in front of the capitol and reaching the steps of the building.
In the joint session of congress, the first sign of significant trouble was when Vice President Pence was abruptly rushed away by Secret Service agents. He would be taken via underground tunnel to an Army post about two miles away. Shortly thereafter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also removed from the building by her security detail. The other members of congress were left behind in confusion, waiting for orders from police.
After about a 45-minute standoff, some of the protestors turned to rioters and began to overwhelm police around the building. Backup from the National Guard was on the way, but it was too late. Within minutes of the first people getting through the police lines, windows were broken, doors were pried open, and the insurrectionists began flooding into the Capitol by the hundreds.
Immediately, the members of congress still in the chamber were evacuated using a vast system of underground tunnels and bunkers constructed after 9/11. As they were exiting, Capitol Police began holding back the rioters at the door of the chamber, with guns drawn.
During the chaos, one woman who came from California to participate in the march was shot and killed by police as she attempted to breach an area of the building where some members of congress were evacuated to. Four other rioters died of medical problems while inside.
Tragically, one Capitol Police officer died after being bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher by the mob.
Congress returned later in the evening to certify the results for Joe Biden, but the events of that afternoon made it one of the darkest days in the nation’s history, with extremists storming a sacred institution and posing a serious threat to democracy.
Although Trump was impeached a second time following the attack, he exited office before the trial could take place. Joe Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20.