As the U.S. Capitol was overrun by supporters of President Donald Trump following a so-called “Save America” rally where the outgoing commander in chief exhorted his followers to “fight” on Wednesday, lawmakers forced to shelter in place inside the Capitol Building expressed horror at finding themselves in what was starting to resemble a war zone.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher described the situation as “insane,” and said he hadn’t seen anything like it since he deployed to Iraq in 2007.
“The president needs to call it off,” he told CNN from his office in the Capitol, repeating his plea in a video posted to Twitter. “Call it off. The election is over!”
“We’re sheltering in place,” Rachel Cohen, communications director for Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, told The Daily Beast. “We don’t hear any shots, but lots of sirens. Everyone is accounted for, we’re following the directions of the U.S. Capitol Police.”
Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng posted photos of her “hiding place” on Twitter, revealing that she had been “rescued” after spending five hours there.
“Now i can show you my DIY barricade and gas masks. Protestors were right outside the door chanting ‘USA USA’ it was scary but i am ok!” she wrote.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, told NBC News that she initially got an alert on her phone that the Capitol was under siege. Some people were wearing gas masks, she said. Rep. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, tweeted a video from the scene, saying he and the other members had been instructed by police to reach under their seats and strap on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol rotunda.
Rep. David Trone, a Maryland Democrat, assured the public he was “fine” on Twitter, posting a photo of himself wearing a full-face gas mask as he evacuated the building. Democratic Reps. Veronica Escobar of Texas and Pramila Jayapal of Washington were seen praying, NBC News reported.
While congressional staffers sheltered in place, the Trump-loving mob wreaked havoc throughout the building. Reports began to circulate that at least one person inside the building had been shot in the neck, and the D.C. National Guard was deployed.
At one point, a group of rioters stormed into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, ransacking furniture and pulling photos from the walls. A reporter from right-wing news outlet The Blaze tweeted a photo of Pelosi’s office computer, on which at least one of the California Democrat’s emails was visible.
Former FBI special agent Dennis Franks, who spent more than two decades with the bureau that included a stint on the SWAT team, says he was completely flabbergasted by the news of Wednesday’s riot.
“I never imagined I would see anything like this,” Franks told The Daily Beast. “I would not want to be an executive at FBI headquarters right now. I’m sure they have plans and contingencies in place to respond, but DOJ is in [Trump’s] pocket right now—if the FBI is called in ... at what point are they actually going to engage? It’s a very precarious situation.”
Any blame for the attack on the Capitol, the likes of which have never before been seen in the United States, lies squarely on the president’s shoulders, according to Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan and a former CIA analyst. The shocking event is fundamentally different from what someone might experience in Iraq, she told CNN. There, rebel groups are always attempting to breach U.S. positions. This one, however, was “instigated and perpetrated” by Trump, his circle of advisers, and numerous members of the GOP, Slotkin pointed out.
In a statement, Noah Bookbinder, executive director of watchdog nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said, “President Trump has used every resource he has to overthrow our democracy and install himself as dictator. When voters said no, when the courts said no, when even his own vice president said no, he incited his supporters to take violent action against the government to try to stop the peaceful transition of power that forms the basis of our democracy.”
Even as Trump meekly urged rioters to “go home” in a video late Wednesday, he fanned the flames by repeating his false claim that the “election was stolen.” And earlier in the day, he’d riled up supporters by telling them how important it is to get “people to fight” and that it would be a sign of “strength” to overturn the election.
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he said.
It was after those comments that the mob marched to the Capitol building and stormed the premises, overpowering the phalanx of law enforcement officers attempting to keep order. The protesters then marauded through the Capitol smashing glass, breaking into legislators’ offices, and chanting "Fight for Trump!"