President Trump took to Twitter in the early hours of Wednesday to plead with his vice president to help overturn the Electoral College count.
Thirteen hours later, after Vice President Mike Pence signaled he wouldn’t be part of a usurpation, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Pence “didn’t have the courage.”
So a group of Mr. Trump’s supporters took matters into their own hands.
With blue, white and red-tinged “TRUMP” campaign banners as their battle flags, his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, where Mr. Pence and members of Congress were meeting to count the electoral votes. They broke into an evacuated Senate and engaged in an armed standoff with police, who had barricaded the House chamber to protect lawmakers from the attack.
Though Mr. Trump wasn’t at the Capitol, he was the motivation. Chants of “Fight for Trump” reverberated among the crowd.
The president, apparently in the Oval Office as the assault on the Capitol began, eventually posted to Twitter urging supporters to “Stay peaceful!” He followed up with a Twitter message pleading for “No violence!”
He wrote: “Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
Both Democrats and Republicans urged Mr. Trump to do more, saying he needed to personally deliver a statement urging his supporters to stand down.
Instead, it was his political opponent, President-elect Joseph R. Biden, who made the first television appearance just after 4 p.m. He called the violence a “god-awful display” by a “small number of extremists.”
“President Trump, step up,” he said. “The American people are going to stand up, stand up now. Enough is enough is enough.”
Mr. Trump responded about 20 minutes later, in a one-minute recorded video again posted to Twitter and Facebook, where he again claimed victory in the election and said he understood his supporters’ “pain” but added that “you have to go home now.”
“This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home,” he said.
By evening, Facebook had purged the video, though it was still on Twitter, albeit with a warning that it contained disputed claims and “a risk of violence.”
Impeach and convict
Mr. Trump’s low-key response was condemned by both Democrats and Republicans.
“Today, the United States Capitol — the world’s greatest symbol of self-government — was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard — tweeting against his vice president for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican.
He accused Mr. Trump of “stoking” the attack though “lies” about the election outcome.
Other Republicans stopped short of that blame but urged the president to do more to shut down his zealous backers.
For Democrats, though, there was no doubt about blame.
“People mean what they say. They are telling us exactly who and what they are. And we have a president who has incited and encouraged an armed attack on the Capitol of the United States,” Rep. Tom Malinowski, New Jersey Democrat, told reporters after he and fellow lawmakers had been rushed to a secure location to protect them from the mob.
Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat, called on Congress to force Mr. Trump out.
“We should impeach and convict him tomorrow,” the congressman said.
Other Democrats said they just wanted to get back to the business of counting the electoral votes, which they said would ensure Mr. Trump is out of office in two weeks.
The violence by Trump supporters came just a day after the president signed an executive order directing his administration to take steps to list “antifa,” a loose confederation of left-wing activists who were part of the violence in this summer’s racial justice protests, as a terrorist organization for purposes of U.S. law.
The president’s critics also pointed to his remarks in July, when he said protesters who damaged federal property should face a minimum 10 years in prison under the Statues & Monuments Act.
The Defense Department issued a statement about deploying the National Guard, and said leaders spoke with Mr. Pence and congressional leaders. Mr. Trump’s name was not mentioned.
‘We will win the presidency’
Mr. Trump’s public schedule for the day didn’t list any activities beyond his speech to the pro-Trump rally on the Ellipse just outside the White House.
“President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings,” the White House had promised.
But his first tweet came at 1 a.m., where he said if Mr. Pence “comes through for us, we will win the Presidency.”
At 8:06 a.m. Mr. Trump was back on Twitter, complaining about NBC newsman Chuck Todd.
Minutes later he issued his first thoughts on Democrats’ wins in Georgia’s two Senate special elections, saying that with Democrats about to control 50 seats in the upper chamber, his own continued grasp on the White House was needed “more than ever before.”
At 10:44 a.m., he weighed in again, suggesting Georgia’s Senate results were “rigged.”
Just before noon Mr. Trump took the stage at the rally, where over the next 75 minutes he delivered a withering evisceration of the 2020 election, repeating many claims that have already been debunked by election officials or dismissed by courts.
“We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” he said.
An hour later, his supporters were pushing past police and into the sealed-off corridors of the Capitol, banging on the doors of both chambers where lawmakers had been debating the very objections Mr. Trump had sought.
The Senate went into emergency recess about 2:15 p.m., and the House followed a few minutes later.
At 2:24 p.m., Mr. Trump tweeted to complain about Mr. Pence.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” he wrote.
His first tweet on the violence came at 2:38: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
About 50 minutes later he followed up with his Twitter plea for “No Violence!” and then his video.
The Capitol was declared “secure” just after 5:30 p.m.
About 30 minutes later, Mr. Trump returned to Twitter to suggest Wednesday’s violence was “the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.”
“Go home with love & peace. Remember this day forever!” he concluded.
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