People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
PIC: AFP

"Where are they?" a Trump supporter demanded in a crowd of dozens roaming the halls of the Capitol, bearing Trump flags and pounding on doors.

They - lawmakers, staff members and more - were hiding under tables, hunkered in lockdowns, saying prayers and seeing the fruits of the country's divisions up close and violent.

Guns were drawn. A woman was shot and killed by police, and three others died in apparent medical emergencies. A Trump flag hung on the Capitol. The graceful Rotunda reeked of tear gas. Glass shattered.

On Wednesday, hallowed spaces of American democracy, one after another, yielded to the occupation of Congress.

The pro-Trump mob took over the presiding officer's chair in the Senate, the offices of the House speaker and the Senate dais, where one yelled, "Trump won that election." They mocked its leaders, posing for photos in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one with his feet propped on a desk in her office, another sitting in the same seat Vice President Mike Pence had occupied only moments before during the proceedings to certify the Electoral College vote. That certification eventually took place, but not until well after midnight.

This began as a day of reckoning for President Donald Trump's futile attempt to cling to power as Congress took up the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory. It devolved into scenes of fear and agony that left a prime ritual of American democracy in tatters.

Authorities eventually regained control as night fell.

Announcements blared: Due to an "external security threat," no one could enter or exit the Capitol complex, the recording said. A loud bang sounded as officials detonated a suspicious package to make sure it was not dangerous.

It was about 1:15 pm when New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas, a Democrat, said Capitol Police banged on his door and "told us to drop everything, get out as quickly as we could." "It was breathtaking how quickly law enforcement got overwhelmed by these protesters," he told The Associated Press.

Shortly after 2 pm, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Vice President Mike Pence were evacuated from the Senate as protesters and police shouted outside the doors.

"Protesters are in the building," were the last words picked up by a microphone carrying a live feed of the Senate before it shut off.

Police evacuated the chamber at 2:30 pm, grabbing boxes of Electoral College certificates as they left.

Rep. Scott Peters told reporters he was in the House chamber when protesters began storming it. He said security officers urged lawmakers to put gas masks on and herded them into a corner of the massive room.

Shortly after being told to put on gas masks, most members were quickly escorted out of the chamber. But some members remained in the upper gallery seats, where they had been seated due to distancing requirements.

Along with a group of reporters who had been escorted from the press area and Capitol workers who act as ushers, the members ducked on the floor as police secured a door to the chamber down below with guns pointed. After making sure the hallways were clear, police swiftly escorted the members and others down a series of hallways and tunnels to a cafeteria in one of the House office buildings.

Describing the scene, Democratic Rep. Jim Himes said "there was a point there where officers had their guns and weapons pointed at the door, they were obviously expecting a breach through the door. It was clear that there were pretty close to pulling the trigger so they asked us all to get down in the chamber."

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