By Cameron Spencer |
The Capitol Building has become the set of a modern dystopia. The storming of Congress by a mob of violent Trump supporters shocked the world. A bastion of democracy disrupted by a campaign of disinformation by a President entrusted with the protection of his nation, turned instead to an attempt at overturning a free and fair election. ‘Stand by’, supporters were told during a Presidential Debate, ‘You don’t concede when there’s theft involved’, ‘I will march with you’.
A Joint Session of Congress met at 10:00am, local time, to certify the results of the Presidential election. Vice President Mike Pence led the process, which historically has rubberstamped state results of the election without contest. However, conspiracies of voting irregularities had led numerous Republicans to challenge the results of six states. Alabama and Alaska were approved without challenge, before Representative Paul Gosar spoke on behalf of his colleagues to challenge the results of Arizona, a state won by Joe Biden. Both the House and Senate separated to debate the challenge, beginning an hour of fierce debate. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke slowly with clear intent. He challenged his Republican colleagues to end their performance, prophetically stating ‘We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a separate set of facts and separate realities, with nothing in common except our hostility towards each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share. I’ve served 36 years in Senate, this will be the most important vote I’ve ever cast’. Later, Republican Senator Ted Cruz urged Congress to halt the confirmation of Joe Biden’s victory, warning of a ‘bloodbath for the GOP’, unless unproven claims of widespread voter fraud were investigated.
Earlier in the day, Trump spoke at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally in which he railed against the proceedings in the Chamber that doomed him to leave office. Speakers confidently described various unverified reports of criminality in the election process, seemingly operating within the confines of a different reality. The crowd were whipped into a frenzy by the President, questioning how Biden could have won 80 million votes and comparing the election process to that of a third world country. Not long after the rally had ended, the crowd fed full with conspiracy, marched along the Capitol Mall up to the building.
Inside the Capitol Building, the Hall of the House of Representatives heard further debate from impassioned speakers. Representative Lou Correa later described Speaker Nancy Pelosi being quickly escorted off the floor by security, while members of the House were told to hide under desks. Knocks on doors and walls rung through the Capitol as armed supporters of President Trump sought to enter the Chamber. Armed defence was deployed to protect members before they were escorted into secure areas under the protection of congressional security. Mike Pence was removed from the building by Secret Service agents. He had become a target of the mob due to his refusal to block the certification of election results, much to the ire of Trump. ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done’, Trump tweeted of his Vice President.
Unknown to politicians in the heat of debate, protesters had begun to scale the walls of the building, flooding the steps of the west-side of the Capitol, seemingly unchallenged by the limited security forces outside. Stunning pictures of armed people clad in camo uniform emblazed with symbols of Qanon, Confederate flags, finished with the notorious red hat, walked through the Statuary Hall under the watchful eye of the sculptures of American political icons. Rioters shot into the now empty chamber through a crack in the windows of the door. Later they breached the door, sitting in the chair of the Vice President and trashing the room. Insurrectionists entered Speaker Pelosi’s office, smashing pictures and taking pictures of emails on her computer. Perhaps the most enduring image was the flag of the United States from the Capitol balcony, replaced by a Trump 2020 flag.
Leaders in America and from abroad condemned the actions of the rioters. Boris Johnson tweeted, ‘Disgraceful scenes in the US Congress. The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power’. Justin Trudeau commented that the Canadian government were watching ‘minute-by-minute’. President-Elect Joe Biden spoke on national television, attempting to calm tensions. ‘What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. The words of a President matter, at their best these words can inspire. At their worse they can incite’. He also called for Trump to appear on national TV and tell his supporters to go home.
Vice President Pence worked to secure the Capitol with the Joint Chiefs. The National Guard were requested, but this request was unusually denied by the Department of Defence, it’s former leader Mark Esper had recently been removed and replaced by Chris Miller. He has been accused of hampering the transition by the incoming team and is considered a Trump loyalist. The President was notably absent from the effort to clear the surrounding areas. He tweeted a statement from the Whitehouse where he quickly urged supporters to go home before continuing to indulge them by claiming the election was rigged. At this time, Trump is absent at a moment of crisis. A crisis he has been accused of instigating.
Multiple members of the House and Senate have expressed wishes to return to the chamber and finalize the electoral votes. Democrats have urged any remaining Republican members to quickly approve the results, continuing to give credence to the conspiracy risks drawing out this situation any longer than necessary. Undoubtedly, this will be a defining moment in the narrative of the Trump Presidency. The heroes and villains of this story are still to be decided.