The heart of democracy in the United States faced down an unprecedented and deadly attack on Wednesday in anarchic scenes that left four dead, as Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol to prevent Joe Biden’s certification as President.
After Mr Biden’s win was confirmed, Mr Trump released a statement saying that “there will be an orderly transition” on January 20, but this extraordinary moment will go down in history as dark day for the US, and bodes ill for future unity in a deeply divided country.
Galvanised by Mr Trump’s demand that Congress overturn his rival’s election win, Trump supporters broke into the Capitol Building to stop the electoral vote count, overwhelming police and forcing their way inside.
Four people died in the violent and anarchic scenes that unfolded, with one woman killed by gunshot and others dying on the Capitol grounds due to so far unspecified “medical emergencies” as police tried to evacuate the area.
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Onlookers were horrified by the apparently sanguine reaction of the President, who failed to condemn the violence and order people home, initially simply asking the rioters to “remain peaceful” as costumed supporters waved confederate flags, took selfies and breached the chamber. The police response seemed soft, particularly when compared with the images of lines of armed officers forming barriers during Black Lives Matter protesters last year.
N ew York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, citing a source “with knowledge of the events”, said President Trump “initially rebuffed and resisted” requests to send the National Guard to quell Wednesday’s riots.
According to The Times, Vice President Mike Pence was the one who eventually gave the order to deploy the National Guard, not the President.
At 6pm, a mandatory curfew was called and the joint session of Congress reconvened at 8pm.
“Today was a dark day in the history of the Capitol, but thanks to the swift efforts of law enforcement, the violence was quelled. The Capitol is secured, and the people’s work continues,” Mr Pence said.
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“We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms. We grieve the loss of life in these hallowed halls.
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today – you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the People’s House.
After a long night, Mr Biden was eventually confirmed as the winner of the presidential election early on Friday morning.
“The votes for president of the United States are as follows: Joseph R. Biden Jr of the state of Delaware has received 306 votes. Donald J Trump of the state of Florida has received 232 votes,” Mr Pence declared.
After all the bluster of the past two months, more than 60 lawsuits, and an assault on the Capitol itself, Mr Trump did not manage to budge a single electoral vote.
Relations are believed to be strained between Mr Trump and Mr Pence, after the Vice President refused to unilaterally overturn the election results during the joint session of Congress — something he had no authority to do anyway.
Reporters for NBC News, The Daily Caller and RealClearNews said Mr Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, has been banned from entering the grounds of the White House in retaliation.
In the aftermath of the protests, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews became the latest administration staff member to quit. Earlier, Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, resigned effective immediately over the day’s events, and White House social secretary Anna Cristina “Rickie” Niceta also resigned effective immediately, a White House official told CNN.
Concerns remain over further violence during the transition period, but Mr Trump said in a statement that the transition would be orderly — releasing the statement through aide Dan Scavino as he cannot currently use his own Twitter account.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” Mr Trump said.
“I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”
Police Chief Robert Contee said at least 52 arrests had been made as of 9.30pm, 26 of them on the grounds of the Capitol.
Forty-seven of the arrests related to curfew violations or unlawful entry; four were for carrying guns without licences; and one was for possession of a prohibited weapon.
Chief Contee confirmed police had found and destroyed two pipe bombs, one at the Republican National Committee headquarters and the other at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
They also found a cooler containing long guns and molotov cocktails on the Capitol grounds.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the scenes in Washington DC “distressing”, and said he looks forward to a “peaceful” transfer of power to the Biden administration.