The US Capitol has been breached by angry protesters who stormed the building following a mass rally where thousands cheered President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.
The building was locked down as Congress was in session to count and certify the Electoral College votes from the US election.
Thousands flooded the US Capitol complex under instruction from Trump, prompting ugly clashes with outnumbered police, leading to a number of protesters breaking into the US Capitol building.
Law enforcement officials later confirmed to CNN an explosive device had been found in the US Capitol complex while another was discovered at the nearby Republican National Committee. They have since been blown up and rendered safe.
The entire DC National Guard has been called in to combat the violent protests which President-elect Joe Biden branded a “siege”.
A citywide curfew has been ordered by Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser.
“The behaviour that we are witnessing is shameful and unpatriotic and above all, it is unlawful,” she told reporters.
Dramatic images show protesters jostling with police as they forced their way through temporary fencing.
Pepper spray and tear gas were deployed while loud bangs could be heard as police struggled to contain the hundreds of raucous protesters, who clambered onto vehicles and other vantage points.
Representative Elaine Luria said she could hear what sounded like gunshots as she was evacuated from her office over reports of a pipe bomb.
US representative Adam Kinzinger tweeted: “This is a coup attempt.”
Protesters were then pictured inside the building in a tense standoff with police, shouting and waving flags in the process.
Several journalists have documented the events from inside the building with one video from New York Post reporter Steven Nelson showing a protester letting off a fire extinguisher.
Capitol police ordered anyone inside the building to take shelter in the nearest office and stay quiet.
The vote certification was postponed and the House floor evacuated.
Trump pleads with protesters for peace
Protesters were reportedly heard banging on the doors of the House floor. An armed standoff has since ensued between police and a protester, CNN reported.
A photo from Huffpost reporter Igor Bobic shows a protester inside the chamber at the dais.
Their arm is raised and they reportedly shouted: “Trump won that election!”
As the ugly scenes unfolded, Trump pleaded with protesters to “remain peaceful” via his Twitter account.
“We are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!” he said.
Hours earlier Trump had egged on protesters, many clad in Trump and MAGA paraphernalia, at the rally to march on to Capitol Hill.
Republican Representative Mike Gallagher urged Trump to “call it off”.
“It’s over, the election’s over,” he said.
“The objectors need to stop meddling with the primal forces of our democracy here,” he told CNN.
Some rioters have indicated they wish to remain at the US Capitol overnight.
Biden responds to ‘shocking’ scenes
President-elect Joe Biden fronted media following the dramatic events, calling them a “dark moment” in American history.
“Like so many other Americans, I'm generally shocked and saddened that our nation so long the beacon of light and hope for democracy has come to such a dark moment,” he said.
“Let me be very clear - the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect true America.
They do not represent who we are. What we're seeing are a small number of extremists dedicated to the lawlessness.”
He urged Trump to make a national televised address to demand an end to the riots.
Soon after Trump posted a video message to Twitter, once again falsely claiming the election was “stolen from us” but urged protesters to leave without incident.
“It was a landslide election and everyone knows it especially the other side, but you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” he said.
“We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don't want anybody hurt.”
Key Trump allies turn their backs
Though fellow Republicans were behind the challenge to Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to lower tensions and argued against it. He warned the country “cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes” with “separate facts.”
McConnell declared, “The voters, the courts and the states all have spoken.”
Vice President Mike Pence was closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.
Pence has a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he was under growing pressure from Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favour, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.
“Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.
Trump later tweeted Pence lacked courage for failing to comply with his demands.
Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.
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