In an unprecedented turn of events, bedlam broke loose in the US Capitol on Wednesday when President Trump’s supporters laid siege to the building, scaling walls to enter the premises, knocking violently on senate office doors and shouting obscenities at senators who hid behind chairs and closed doors.
Here’s an eyewitness account of the events put together by New York Times reporters Luke Broadwater and Emily Cochrane.
As soon the Senate convened on Wednesday to formally seal the victory of President-elect Joe Biden in the US presidential polls, the session was disrupted by pro-Trump slogans coming from outside the Senate Hall.
Protesters broke barricades and laid siege to the Capitol, just after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, warned fellow Republican senators that any efforts to upend the US elections would trigger a “death spell” for the democracy.
As the mayhem broke loose outside, police swiftly escorted Vice President Mike Pence, who was chairing the session, out of the house.
As the intruders closed in on the senate doors, staff aides who were trying to secure the entrances asked journalists to quickly decide if they want to be inside the Senate chamber or leave. “Senator Todd Young, R-Ind., yelled for the doors to be locked,” the New York Times said.
It was Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, who looked at her phone and alerted fellow senators about the melee outside and about shot being fired. Several protesters tried to barge into the offices of the senate aides who had the doors bolted from inside.
Glass panels of the senate chamber’s doors were broken as senators, staff and reporters hid still in the top levels of the chamber.
As the situation in the Chamber grew unsafe, the senators were asked to evacuate by security officers, roughly after 2.30 pm.
During the evacuation, senate aides tightly clung on to the boxes that contained the Electoral College certificates, to avoid them getting snatched or stolen by the protesters.
“If our capable floor staff hadn’t grabbed them, they would have been burned by the mob,” Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore was quoted as saying.
A group of armed police escorted the senators out of the Capitol through the tunnels.
By this time the vandals had broken into the senate chamber, some even sitting on the marble dais where vice president Pence was seated some time back.
Lawmakers in the House rostrum across the Capitol were apprised of the situation by a police officer and suggested to them to “duck under their chairs”.
“Call Trump…call your friend,” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn, yelled to shouts from the floor of the House.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz, aksed members to slowly vacate the chamber,
Reporters in the press area were handed out gas masks by police while the senators scrambled for their own masks from under the chairs, soon after police started lobbing tear gas to disperse the protesters in the Capitol Rotunda.
After being evacuated, the senators gathered at a secure place in another building of the Capitol complex while journalists were asked to stay outside. The location was secured by FBI tactical units who carried firearms and shields even as the senators discussed ways to proceed with the electoral count.
“These thugs are not running us off… we’re going to finish tonight. Everyone is committed to staying whatever it takes to get our job done,” Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va was heard saying.
Later, after twilight, it was announced through loudspeakers that the city was under curfew.