What Happened at the Capitol?

What Happened at the Capitol

Events Leading Up to Jan. 6

Leading up to the November 2020 election, President Donald Trump had often made unfounded claims saying that the large scale of mail-in ballots would lead to a “rigged election.” This was widely disputed by election officials, and even the FBI Director Christopher Wray. However, groups and individuals throughout the country still began to believe in these claims, particularly as conspiracy theories spread online.

The night of Nov. 3, a right-wing Facebook group known as “Stop the Steal” immediately emerged when the polls showed Biden having a substantial lead. It was initially made of local tea party activists, QAnon supporters, and long time “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) supporters. They came together and started collecting what they believed as evidence on voter fraud, and began gaining momentum as a movement on Facebook.

Facebook took about two days to watch the group and shut it down, but in those two days Trump supporters were already united. They branched out to alternative social media platforms, such as MeWe, where they spoke without fear of moderation. Leaders emerged and made the group a more effective and credible movement – influential people such as Ali Alexander, a far-right personality who was a staffer for the John McCain 2008 presidential campaign and involved with the Black Conservatives Fund.

They continued to rally in key court cases looking into voter fraud in the election and towards days when the election could have been overturned but never did. Over time, the movement only grew at a phenomenally fast rate.

Near the end of 2020 when Trump had exhausted almost all of his legal options, the group focused their efforts on Jan. 6, when Congress would officially certify Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. They joined online forums to discuss ticket prices to D.C. for transportation, hotel rooms, restaurants that they could gather at. They casually mentioned ways to get a weapon into D.C., and numerous Twitter threads are created.

In the two days leading up to the insurrection, the event that they were planning was discussed on the Internet openly, and even the words “occupying the Capitol” were repeated more than a hundred times amongst various Twitter threads. This insurrection was foreseen.

social media and the insurrection
Photo courtesy of WBUR

Jan. 6 and Aftermath

On Jan. 6, before noon, President Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters in front of The Ellipse in Washington, D.C., promoting his false claims that the November 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. Congress was originally assembled to finalize the count of Electoral College votes that would confirm President-elect Biden’s win over President Trump, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the count.

Thousands of Trump supporters were assembled in D.C., ready for a fight they believed was owed to them. Under the President’s commands at approximately 1 p.m., they marched to the Capitol. “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Shortly after, pipe bombs were discovered at both the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Democratic National Committee (DNC) buildings. Both were successfully dismantled.

As the rioters breached the Capitol building and law enforcement grew more desperate, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Capitol Police Chief Sund requested desperately needed reinforcements. In the coming hours, National Guard troops from D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and four other states are ordered to help secure the Capitol building and area around the Capitol.

After Capitol Police alerts were sent out at around 2:10 p.m., the House and the Senate began to lock down, temporarily halting the session. For several hours, many representatives and senators would remain huddled in lockdown circumstances. The session was resumed at 8 p.m., and Biden was declared the electoral college winner at 3:45 a.m. on Jan. 7.

President Trump posted a video on Twitter at 4:17 p.m. telling his supporters to “go home in peace” and “we love you” while not condemning or denouncing the violence. In stark contrast, President-elect Biden condemned the violence, calling it an insurrection, and encouraged the President to do the same. At 6:01 p.m., in part of a tweet, Trump told his supporters to “Remember this day forever!” Facebook and Twitter both permanently suspended the President’s social media accounts later that night, citing the previous encouragement of violence. This step was also taken with fears of further encouragement mounting. Subsequent video messages recorded by the President were shared via the White House social media accounts.

Five people died in the riots, including Officer Brian Sicknick after being hit in the head by a fire extinguisher thrown by a rioter. A second officer, Officer Howard Liebengood, died off-duty by suicide. The FBI and law enforcement are hunting throughout the country for those who participated in the riots. Some have turned themselves in, while others have been turned in through digital tips, often by family members and friends.

In the days that followed, many were outraged by two main things: the lack of security at the Capitol and the comparisons between the insurrection and the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. Largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in D.C. were cleared out with tear gas and flashbangs by police over the summer for a Trump photo op. In comparison, Capitol police were severely understaffed prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Some are realizing a double standard: between the lack of security set up prior to the recent Capitol riots and the futile attempts to drive them out, law enforcement reacted in drastically different manners. Moving forward both with the new administration and further in the future, similar situations will have to be monitored closely to ensure that there are no racial motivations outlining law enforcement response.

comparison between Black Lives Matter protests and Capitol riots
Photo courtesy of Indian Express


Inauguration graphic