The chaos in the US Capitol on Wednesday unfolded after President Donald Trump spent weeks whipping up his supporters with false allegations of fraud in the Nov. 3 election, culminating in a call to march to the building that represents US democracy.
Trump, who has refused to concede that he lost to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, had urged his supporters multiple times to come to Washington for a rally on Wednesday, the day the US House of Representatives and Senate were scheduled to certify the results of the Electoral College.
"Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election," Trump, a Republican, tweeted on Dec. 20. "Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"
They turned out in the thousands to hear the president say they should march on the Capitol building to express their anger at the voting process and to pressure their elected officials to reject the results.
"We're going to walk down to the Capitol and we're going to cheer on our brave senators and Congressmen and women," Trump told the crowd, standing with the White House as a backdrop.
Speaking at what could be his last rally as the sitting president, Trump exhorted his supporters "to fight."
"We will never give up, we will never concede," Trump said, delighting the crowd by calling Democratic victories the product of what he called "explosions of bullshit."
"Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!" people chanted in reply.
About 50 minutes into the speech, some of his supporters, waving Trump flags, began heading toward Capitol Hill, where unprecedented mayhem ensued.
Protesters fought through police barricades, stormed the building and entered lawmakers' chambers. The certification process was stopped and Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress were evacuated. One civilian was shot dead, Washington police said. As night fell, a Capitol official said the building had been cleared, but outside some way from the grounds, scores of protesters remained, including members of the militia and far-right groups.
'I KNOW YOU'RE HURT'
Monitoring the scenes of violence on cable news television from the Oval Office, Trump tweeted about an hour after the Capitol was put on lockdown that the protesters should "remain peaceful."
As criticism mounted that he had incited a riot, he was urged to say more by a Trump stalwart, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, and some of the advisers who remain in the White House for his dwindling days in office.
Biden had come out forcefully on live television and said the violence was "not a protest, it's insurrection." He called on Trump to demand "an end to this siege."
Eventually, Trump posted a recorded video on Twitter.
"I know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election," Trump said, repeating familiar falsehoods. "But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order."
Trump's failure to rein in his supporters stood in sharp contrast to his attitude last summer when he threatened arrests and the use of force to break up protests against racial inequality.
Weeks have passed since the states completed certifying that Biden won by 306 votes in the Electoral College to Trump's 232, and Trump's extraordinary challenges to the result have floundered in courts across the country.
Yet Trump's rally speech on Wednesday was filled with grievances and voter fraud allegations that have not been backed up with evidence. He singled out several Republican lawmakers for criticism, including Senator Mitt Romney and Representative Liz Cheney, while hailing as heroes those who have sided with him to stop the electoral votes from being certified.
Several times he also urged Pence to intervene. But while Trump was still speaking, Pence released a lengthy statement saying he would carry out his constitutional duty to certify the vote.
"It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not," Pence wrote.