What began in the upbeat carnival atmosphere typical of President Trump’s political rallies ended in tragedy January 6th, with the deaths of four people and the disruption of the Joint Session of Congress where electoral votes were being counted. The chaos disrupted planned formal objections by a group of GOP senators and congressmen seeking to bring attention to allegations of rampant voter fraud in key battle ground states.
The day began with the Save America March on the National Mall. The crowd reportedly reached hundreds of thousands of participants, who had come to listen to speeches from President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and others.
After the speeches, the crowd began a preplanned march to the Capitol. Shortly thereafter clashes erupted at preplaced barricades between Capitol Hill police and small groups of demonstrators, who outnumbered police and despite law enforcement launching non-lethal munitions into the group, breached the perimeter onto Capitol property.
At this point individuals from within the crowd began to direct the people into tighter and tighter confined spaces, packing them against police barricades in what can only be described as a preplanned operation to breach the Capitol. In audio one of these individuals can be heard saying “Keep moving forward, No retreat.” In another livestream video, a videographer can be heard expressing concern that people will be crushed.
At about this time the James Madison Library of Congress Building and Cannon House Office buildings were evacuated after a reported bomb threat. Police later reported that devices described as pipe bombs were found outside the Republican National Committee and Democratic Committee offices and safely detonated by Police EOD. Reports also indicate that police found what were described as a “long gun” and “Molotov cocktails” in a nearby cooler.
Video taken from staff and press who were inside the capitol show door windows eventually being breached after being repeatedly battered, and crowds entering the capitol from multiple points.
From here there appears to be multiple small groups moving through the capitol with purpose, while the majority of the crowd appeared bewildered or anxious to depart. In one video a large crowd can be seen exiting the rotunda while remaining within the confines of a roped-off area and escorted by police.
Four people were killed during the action, three from what authorities described as “medical emergencies.” At least one individual can be seen falling from a height of at least 50 feet.
One individual, identified by media reports as Ashli Babbit, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was shot and killed by police inside the Capitol. Babbit’s social media showed indications of being a member of the online conspiracy theory community known as QAnon.
It is not immediately clear from available video what led to the shooting. A plainclothes police officer can be seen firing through a barricade and striking Babbit -who appears unarmed- once in the chest. In subsequent video uniformed police officers with rifles appear immediately behind Babbit and move to provide her with trauma care. Hopefully more information about the shooting from the appropriate authorities will clarify the scene.
In social media debate rages over the identity of the perpetrators who initiated the action. Both mainstream media and conservative media identified the presence of known white supremacist provocateurs such as Matt Heimbach formerly of the Traditional Workers Party, inside the Capitol.
In one video, shared by Trump supporters, an individual can be seen battering a door window with some kind of club, while the crowd around him shouts “Antifa” and eventually pulls him down. Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) tweeted that Capitol Police had issued warnings of Antifa activity and that Antifa members were expected to infiltrate the Trump rally.
While it is clear from Antifa social media accounts that their members were present during the initial rally carrying out typical activities such as taking photos and seeking to dox participants, upon initial assessment it appears unlikely they were present in such numbers as to have been responsible for the initial breach. Following the event most Antifa accounts have focused on doxxing participants and complaining about what they regarded as a hands-off police policy against Trump supporters.
While Capitol police are typically used to confronting large protest crowds, who routinely occupy House and Senate office buildings peaceably and without major incident, clearly the scale of the crowd and the timing of the event caught law enforcement off guard. Democrat Tim Ryan accused Capitol Police of “strategic mistakes” and indicated that some may lose their jobs over the incident.
It remains unclear at this point whether the pipe bomb placements outside GOP offices, as well as the presence of firearms nearby, was linked to the incident at the Capitol or part of an unrelated plot -something investigators are no doubt seeking to determine.