By Delphine Luneau and Ted O’Neil | The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol Building Wednesday afternoon, interrupting the congressional session that was meeting to confirm the Electoral College votes.
Hundreds of protesters were shown on TV news coverage walking through Statuary Hall without having gone through any security checkpoints. Debate was halted, and lawmakers were ordered to return to their offices and shelter in place. Legislators were told they may need to hide under their chairs and to be quiet and not draw attention to themselves.
Vice President Mike Pence and some lawmakers were evacuated from the building, and media reports indicated that there was an armed standoff between law enforcement officials and invaders. Photos and video from inside the House chamber showed police with guns drawn.
“My staff and I are safe and have been brought to a secure location by the Capitol Police,” said U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y. “Everyone who is responsible for this violence and lawlessness must stop. This is absolutely unnacceptable and un-American.”
CNN aired an image that appeared to show a protester sitting in the chair from which Pence had been presiding over the Senate session, and similar images were circulating on social media.
The Associated Press, citing a source, said one person was shot at the U.S. Capitol during the confrontation with protesters. The shooting victim’s condition is not known.
The protesters appeared to have come from a rally earlier in the day in which Trump condemned, as he has repeatedly since November, the results of the Nov. 3 election that made former Vice President Joe Biden the president-elect.
Capitol Police put out calls to several other agencies to provide assistance after getting overrun, and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has put in place a 6 p.m. curfew and asked for the Washington, D.C., National Guard to be called up.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has said he is sending members of the Virginia National Guard along with 200 Virginia State Troopers to Washington at the mayor’s request. About 1,100 D.C. National Guard troops were also being activated, a Washington Post reporter said.
Trump asked the protesters to avoid violence, tweeting “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue.”
Pence took a much stronger stance against the protests, telling the demonstrators that they needed to leave the building.
“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now,” he said on Twitter.
“Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building. Peaceful protest is the right of every American but this attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Biden spoke about the invasion of the Capitol in a news conference, saying that the people who’d broken into the building didn’t reflect true American values.
“This is not dissent, it’s disorder,” he said. “It’s chaos, borders on sedition, and it must end now. I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward.”
He told Trump that he should deliver a public statement to get his supporters to leave the Capitol.
“I call on President Trump to go on national TV to fulfill his oath, to defend the constitution and demand an end to this siege.”
The sight of massive crowds halting the democratic process in the nation’s capital city was jarring to observers, some of whom laid the blame for the crowd’s actions at the president’s feet.
“This is a coup attempt,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. Then, addressing Trump, he wrote, “You are not protecting the country. Where is the DC guard? You are done and your legacy will be a disaster.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the architects of an effort to object to the certification of Biden’s victory, urged the protesters not to turn to violence.
“Violence is always unacceptable,” he tweeted. “Even when passions run high. Anyone engaged in violence – especially against law enforcement – should be fully prosecuted.”