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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Day of Rage: How the attack on the Capitol unfolded

The violent rejection of a presidential election’s outcome was unprecedented in American history, and its long-term effects on the country’s democratic experiment remain unclear.

By: New York Times | Washington |
August 15, 2021 11:09:55 am
For more than four hours, the Capitol, while hosting the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, came under assault. (Photo: Reuters)

Written By: The New York Times

Since Jan. 6, former President Donald Trump and top leaders in the Republican Party he still dominates have sought to rewrite history.

They have moved from insisting that the mob that stormed the Capitol that day did nothing wrong to blame Democrats for failing to secure the building. Neither assertion is true.

The violent rejection of a presidential election’s outcome was unprecedented in American history, and its long-term effects on the country’s democratic experiment remain unclear. But what we can know are the facts of what occurred.

For more than four hours, the Capitol, while hosting the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, came under assault. Hundreds of people in the mob filmed themselves and published the videos online.

The New York Times spent six months sifting through that evidence — thousands of hours of videos, each one verified, timed and geolocated — and published the findings in a 40-minute documentary.

The videos showed men pulling police officers into the mob and beating them with an American flag, the violent deaths of two women who stormed the Capitol, the rioters’ repeated insistence that their effort to overthrow the government came at Trump’s invitation and how lawmakers escaped by seconds those who were calling for their deaths.

A Democratic-led House select committee to investigate the events of that day began its work July 27 and has used these videos to begin establishing an official narrative. Republican leaders have tried to thwart such investigations.

Trump, in an interview with Fox News in July, said the crowd that smashed its way into the halls of Congress that day was “great” and “peaceful.”

“There was such love at that rally,” he said.

The facts show otherwise.

9 am to 12.53 pm

Mob Primed for Attack, Incited by the President

Motivated by two months of disinformation from Trump and his associates about the election outcome, many in the crowd that convene in Washington on Jan. 6 say they are convinced that stopping the certification of Biden’s election is a patriotic duty. Trump’s own words that day will help incite them to violence.

The main attraction in the morning hours is the “Save America Rally” at the Ellipse, a park near the White House, where Trump is set to speak. But a second gathering, called the “Wild Protest”, is set for the northeast lawn of the Capitol, where Congress is set to certify the election results. And before Trump even takes the stage, his supporters are moving that way. They include scores of Proud Boys, the right-wing nationalist group known for its street fighting. During a September 2020 debate, Trump told group members to “stand back and stand by,” and they are now on the prowl for far-left counterprotesters.

But one of them suggests another motive. “Let’s take the fuckin’ Capitol,” he exclaims in a live stream filmed by a fellow member. Another Proud Boy reproaches him: “Let’s not fuckin’ yell that. All right?”

At noon, Trump begins speaking. “We will never give up. We will never concede,” he says. As he rejects the election result and declares that his supporters should fight it, the crowd’s excitement grows.

“Storm the Capitol! Invade the Capitol building!” supporters shout as he speaks. When the president tells them that everyone is going to “walk down” the 1.5 miles from the Ellipse to the Capitol, a live streamer who is already there informs those around him that “there’s about a million people on their way now.”

At 12.51 pm, two minutes before the assault on the Capitol Police begins, Eddie Block, a Proud Boy who is live-streaming the scene, observes the mob pressing against the police barricade and announces, “Look at this, folks. We’re storming the Capitol.”

12.53 pm to 2.13 pm

Rioters Break Into the Capitol in 80 Minutes

Once the attack on the Capitol begins, it becomes complex and unpredictable, an organic movement by a mostly opportunistic mob that eventually involves thousands of people. By using the rioters’ own videos to identify and track the most active among them throughout the day, we found that most were ardent but disorganized Trump supporters reacting to events and following no apparent plan. But more organized groups, like the Proud Boys, played outsize roles at key moments.

Rioters easily overwhelm the roughly two dozen Capitol Police officers standing guard on the west lawn and break through the line at multiple points. Billy Chrestman is one of many Proud Boys who leads the mob from the Peace Monument to the steps of the Capitol building. Capitol Police officers are forced to fall back to the edge of the inauguration platform, where scaffolds support rows of stands. They are reinforced within minutes by the city’s Metropolitan Police.

A Senate report will later find that the FBI and the Homeland Security Department failed to issue warnings about online threats of violence before Jan. 6 and that the Capitol Police leadership did not circulate intelligence about such threats or envision the possibility of a mob attack on the Capitol. As a result, the Capitol Police had not authorized their officers to wear protective gear or use their most powerful crowd control weapons.

The police and the rioters battle at the west side steps for a little more than an hour. The fighting is often hand-to-hand, and rioters attack officers with chemical spray and flagpoles. One throws a fire extinguisher that hits an officer in his head.

A group of rioters breaks away and circles to the east side of the building, where it inspires a crowd of hundreds to push through police barricades at 1.59 pm. Within 20 minutes, rioters are pushing against two eastern entrances to the Capitol and smashing windows. On the west side, Proud Boys force their way up a key staircase beneath the inauguration scaffolding. At 2.10, they gain access to the terrace that runs around the entire building. The battle to prevent the Capitol from being breached is lost.

The first person to enter the Capitol, at 2.13, is Michael Sparks, a 43-year-old husband and father from Kentucky. He has no known affiliation with any organized group. But the window Sparks leaps through to gain access to the building was broken seconds earlier by a Proud Boy named Dominic Pezzola, using a stolen police shield.

2.13 pm to 2.44 pm

Swarming the Building as Officials Hide

The Times investigation pinpointed at least eight locations where rioters breached and entered the Capitol — more than were previously known.

Overwhelmed police officers respond differently at various points, fighting rioters in some places and stepping aside at others to allow them through.

The Capitol’s vulnerability stems from its unique status in American politics: By design, it is open to the public, and the police have never faced an attack like this. Despite locked doors and, in certain places, thick windows, rioters without specialized equipment easily break-in.

An act of bravery by Officer Eugene Goodman of the Capitol Police leads part of the mob into a line of officers, halting their progress, but hundreds of rioters fan out inside the building. After they break through a police line in a central ground-floor room called the Crypt, they have access to the entire building. Some enter Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite, calling for her and banging on locked doors that some of her aides are hiding behind. Others head for the House, on the opposite side of the building from the Senate.

Unlike the Senate, the House does not evacuate immediately, and it even briefly resumes its work as rioters are overrunning the building. When representatives finally begin evacuating the chamber guided by security personnel, rioters have already arrived on the other side of a nearby door with glass windows. They include Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter and follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory. A Capitol Police officer in plain clothes fatally shoots her when she tries to climb through the door’s broken window.

Babbitt’s shooting halts the mob’s progress, and three minutes later, the police begin to clear the Capitol complex. Trump and other Republicans and right-wing groups will come to refer to Babbitt as a “hero” and a “martyr” and describe her killing as an “execution”.

Also Read |January 6

Federal prosecutors will close their investigation into the shooting three months later, saying they found no evidence that the officer had not acted in defence of himself and members of Congress when he shot her.

2.47 pm to 8 pm

Order Returns After Hours of Chaos

The Metropolitan and Capitol Police begin to clear the Capitol around 2:47 p.m., just a half-hour after rioters breached the building, pushing them off the terrace and away from the broken door where they first gained access. But fighting will continue in parts of the complex for hours.

The most brutal violence occurs at a tunnel entrance on the west side, above the scaffolding, which Biden will use for his inauguration two weeks later. The mob heaves in a giant scrum, trying to push through, crushing officers and fellow rioters. They drag four officers into the crowd and beat them. Rosanne Boyland, a 34-year-old Trump supporter from Georgia and a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory, collapses inside the packed tunnel and is later pronounced dead.

One question that our investigation shed light upon was how the police managed to reclaim the building despite having been so easily overrun by rioters earlier. The Times found a relatively simple answer: Once the Capitol Police were reinforced by the Metropolitan Police and officers from other agencies who wore riot gear and used tear gas, they easily drove out the rioters. In several locations, the clearance took less than an hour.

The police manage to push rioters off the Capitol premises by around 5.30 pm Shortly afterwards, the first National Guard troops arrive. A recent change in authorization protocols meant senior officials in the Pentagon had to approve their deployment. According to a Senate report, the process was delayed by concerns about the optics of sending the National Guard to the nation’s capital. Pentagon officials deny this.

Although defeated, many members of the mob sound ebullient or prepared for further conflict. “I truly believe we’re at war,” says one man who fought police at the inauguration tunnel.

“The patriots are coming back, y’all,” says another.

At 6.01 pm, Trump tweets, “Remember this day forever!”

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