Rioters scaling the United States Capitol, marching with Confederate flags and riot gear.
Lawmakers scurrying off the floor of the Senate, ducking for safety.
Capitol Police officers standing near a barricaded door with guns drawn, guarding the House chamber.
These are among the stunning images from a historic day on which a mob of people loyal to President Trump broke into the Capitol to try to prevent lawmakers from certifying the Electoral College count to confirm President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.
The chaos, which lasted more than three hours and was viewed around the world, was another reminder of the challenges Mr. Biden will inherit in two weeks: an extraordinarily divided country, its political fabric frayed by an economic crisis, a deadly pandemic and four years of Mr. Trump’s incendiary governance.
Insurgents acting in the president’s name vandalized Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, smashed windows, looted art and briefly took control of the Senate chamber, where they took turns posing for photographs with fists up on the dais where Vice President Mike Pence had been presiding just minutes before. Outside the building, they erected a gallows, punctured the tires of a police S.U.V. and left a note on its windshield reading, “PELOSI IS SATAN.”
“This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said as he and other senators were hustled off to a secure location.
It took reinforcements from other law enforcement agencies, including the city’s Metropolitan Police Department, to restore order. At least 52 people were arrested, according to Chief Robert J. Contee III of the Metropolitan Police Department, including five on weapons charges and at least 26 on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
Pipe bombs were found at the headquarters of both the Republican and the Democratic National Committees, and a cooler containing a long gun and Molotov cocktails was discovered on the Capitol grounds, the chief said.
The mob swarmed past the police and barriers with relative ease, some spraying officers with chemical agents. The Capitol Police appeared to be outnumbered and unprepared for the onslaught, even as it was openly organized on social media sites like Gab and Parler.
The police response drew criticism from law enforcement experts and members of Congress. Activists who participated in demonstrations against racial injustice over the summer condemned what they saw as a double standard, with many pointing out that they had been hit with rubber bullets, manhandled, surrounded and arrested while behaving peacefully.
By Wednesday evening, the Capitol had been cleared of pro-Trump extremists and Congress confirmed Mr. Biden’s victory early Thursday morning.
In a statement just before 4 a.m. Thursday, the president finally acknowledged his loss, saying, “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.”
Even before losing the Nov. 3 election, Mr. Trump warned his supporters that the election would be rigged against him, and encouraged them to physically prevent it from happening.
On Wednesday, as thousands of his supporters gathered in Washington, Mr. Trump told them at a rally near the White House to “walk down to the Capitol,” saying that “you will never take back our country with weakness.”
That afternoon, Republican lawmakers loyal to Mr. Trump tried to overturn the results of the presidential election by falsely saying the election was stolen, a claim that has been rejected by every court that has examined the evidence.
Just after 2 p.m., the gathering turned violent and chaotic as Trump supporters swarmed the Capitol, breaking through metal gates that had been placed around the building. They then scaled the outside of the Capitol and broke through the front doors.
The Presidential Transition
Some wore riot helmets and military-style protective vests. Many took selfies as they broke into the home of American democracy and proudly shared the images on social media.
As they entered the Capitol, some protesters waved giant flags announcing their loyalties.
Some were giant yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, popular among Libertarians and supporters of limited government. Other protesters paraded through the halls waving American flags covered with pro-Trump messages (technically, a violation of how the government says the American flag should be treated). Several people brandished the battle flag of the Confederacy.
Lawmakers from both parties denounced the break-in as they themselves huddled for safety.
For a time, senators and members of the House were locked inside their respective chambers. Security officials instructed members there to reach under their seats and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda.
As they hid, some lawmakers pleaded for Mr. Trump to tell his supporters to retreat.
Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, yelled out to Republicans on the House floor: “Call Trump, tell him to call off his revolutionary guards.”
Guns were drawn as members of the mob tried breaking into the House chamber where just moments earlier lawmakers were going through the usually uneventful business of certifying the presidential election winner.
One woman was fatally shot by a police officer inside the Capitol, Chief Contee said on Wednesday evening. Another woman and two men died near the Capitol after they “appeared to have suffered from separate medical emergencies,” he said.
Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington announced a curfew for the city beginning at 6 p.m. Chief Contee said, “It was clear the crowd was intent on causing harm to our officers by deploying chemical irritants on police to force entry into the United States Capitol building.”
The chaos on Wednesday was not spontaneous, but rather came after a monthslong effort to delegitimize the election and a yearslong crusade by Mr. Trump to undermine any opposition.
Calls for violence against lawmakers and talk of taking over the Capitol have circulated online for months.
Organizing for this attempted takeover took place on social media sites like Gab and Parler, platforms whose unwillingness to curtail fake news or threatening messages have made them popular with the far right and supporters of Mr. Trump.
Participants exchanged messages on those sites about which streets to use in order to avoid the police and which tools to bring to help pry open doors.
As images of lawmakers huddling for safety circulated around the world, Mr. Trump’s aides urged him to call for an end to the violence. Mr. Trump issued one tweet just after 3 p.m., which did not appear to have any effect.
Mr. Biden appeared at a news conference and called on Mr. Trump to go on national television, condemn the chaos and urge the people in the Capitol to retreat immediately.
By 4:17 p.m., Mr. Trump had posted a minute-long video on Twitter, falsely claiming the election was “stolen” and telling the people who had stormed into the Capitol to leave peacefully. “We love you,” he said. “You’re very special.”
Twitter immediately flagged the video for misleading content and “due to a risk of violence.”
It took the police more than three hours to retake control of the Capitol. They used riot gear, batons and shields to force back the intruders.
As lawmakers hid for safety and the police sought to establish control, rioters roamed the halls.
They eventually broke into the Senate chamber. Some gleefully posed for pictures in the seats and offices of the lawmakers they had just chased away.
The office of Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who as House speaker has led political opposition to Mr. Trump’s agenda, was also broken into.
The rioters, who said they were trying to protect democracy, at times appeared cheerful about their ability to wander freely inside the Capitol.
Around 5:40 p.m., security officials at the Capitol announced that the building was secure. Twenty minutes later, the city’s curfew went into effect.
The police seized five guns and arrested at least 13 people during the violent protest, Chief Contee said.
Marie Fazio contributed reporting.
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