Washington: The mob of Trump supporters pressed through police barricades, broke windows and battered their way with metal poles through entrances to the Capitol. Then, stunningly, they breached the "People's House" itself, forcing masked police officers to draw their guns to keep the insurgents off the chamber floor.
"I thought we'd have to fight our way out," said Democrat congressman Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger in Iraq, who found himself captive in the House chamber.
What unfolded at that point, at times on national television, was a tableau of violence and mayhem that shocked the nation, the most severe breach of the Capitol since the British invaded during the War of 1812 and burned it down.
Capitol Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber.Credit:AP
Not long after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, warned his Republican colleagues that their efforts to overturn a US election would send its democracy into a "death spiral," fear surged through the Senate chamber.
A large group of pro-Trump protesters broke through barricades breached the building and police whisked Vice-President Mike Pence off the dais and out of the chamber, as the shouts of the mob could be heard outside the door.
Above the Senate floor, inside the press gallery, reporters craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the mayhem outside. Journalists were rushed into the Senate chamber, as staff aides shouted "In or out!" and scrambled to secure the doors against intruders. Republican Senator Todd Young yelled for the doors to be locked.
Looking at her phone, Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar alerted fellow senators to the escalating danger and shouted out that there had been were "shots fired" somewhere in the melee. Panic tinged the voices of both lawmakers and journalists.
Electoral College ballots sit on a table after they were rescued from the Senate floor.Credit:Jeff Merkley
Through the tunnels of the Capitol, senators walked quickly with an armed police escort. A member of McConnell's security detail took the arm of the Senator, who walks with a limp because of a childhood bout with polio, pulling and steadying him as they hustled away from danger through a tunnel under the Capitol complex.
Before long, the President's supporters were inside the Senate chamber, prowling amid the mahogany desks and even sitting on the marble dais where Pence had been seated not long before.
Across the Capitol, a police officer stepped onto the House rostrum to inform lawmakers that they might need to duck under their chairs.
"We now have individuals that have breached the Capitol building," he told them, warning House members to be prepared to move quickly out of the chamber. "They are in the Rotunda."
"Call Trump," Democrat Steve Cohen yelled to shouts and grumbles from the House floor. "Call your friend."
Democrat Ruben Gallego, a veteran, jumped on the arm rests of chairs and began directing members, cautioning them to move calmly and quickly out of the chamber.
Capitol Police officers passed out gas masks to reporters in the press area above, as politicians pulled their own silver-boxed masks from underneath the chairs in front of them. There were warnings that tear gas had been fired in the Capitol Rotunda.
Democrat Ruben Gallego jumped on a chair to coordinate the evacuation from the House Chamber.Credit:AP
The chamber filled with frantic shouting and the whirring of the masks, their red lights flashing as lawmakers struggled to figure out how to unfold the plastic bags that were supposed to go over their heads. Police officers and floor staff yelled for everyone to exit, clambering over chairs and banisters to reach the doors.
A wooden chest was pushed in front of the main doors to the chamber, through which Pence and the chests of election certifications had come just an hour earlier. Security officers drew their guns and pointed and yelled at the door, whose glass panels were shattered, as politicians, staff and reporters cowered in the top levels of the chamber.
There was a bang, and evacuation momentarily stopped. Everyone was told to get down, with reporters and lawmakers struggling to hide behind low-backed chairs and equipment normally used to broadcast the floor proceedings.
A protester sits in the Senate Chamber as others roamed the halls. Credit:Getty Images
Outside, members of the mob were making themselves at home throughout the Capitol, including inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.
Some of the protesters gawked at the grand and storied building they had unlawfully flooded while others looked at it with contempt.
"I don't trust any of these people," said Eric Martin, 49, a woodworker from Charleston, South Carolina, as he marveled at the opulence of the Capitol and helped a friend wash pepper spray from his eyes. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
But if some only stared at the Capitol, others resorted to violence.
A woman inside the building was shot by police and later died, the District of Columbia police said, and multiple officers were injured. A suspected explosive device was found around noon near the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, then rendered safe.
Later, DC police would confirm that four people died during the occupation; as well as the woman, three others died in medical emergencies.
Shortly after 2.45pm Washington time, the evacuation resumed, with a line of politicians and journalists clambering out of the House chamber. They were climbing over chairs, ducking under banisters — anything to get out quickly. Police officers had their guns drawn.
"Are you OK? Are you OK?" was the constant refrain as the members of Congress, aides and reporters scurried down staircases and hallways. Phones buzzed with texts and calls, with lawmakers frantically checking on staff that had been in office buildings and responding to family.
Senators gathered at a secure location in another building in the Capitol complex, with journalists asked to stay outside. FBI tactical units in camouflage with firearms and shields monitored the location, as senators spoke in hushed tones about whether and how to proceed with the electoral count.
"These thugs are not running us off," said Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III. "We're going to finish tonight. Everyone is committed to staying whatever it takes to get our job done."
As night fell, an announcement came over the loudspeaker in the Capitol telling lawmakers the city was now under a curfew. Distant sirens could still be heard blaring throughout the capital.
The New York Times
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