Riots at the nation’s capitol have sparked protests across the U.S.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, whose department was severely criticized for its flawed response to Wednesday’s attack by pro-Trump rioters, resigned abruptly Thursday.
A mob overpowered police lines and broke in through smashed windows to burst into the Capitol building Wednesday, forcing the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory to be postponed. The attack left four demonstrators dead.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had called for Sund to step down, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the police’s “shocking failures” should be investigated. Sund’s resignation is effective Jan. 16.
Earlier in the day, the Associated Press reported the Capitol Police turned down offers of help to deal with pro-Trump protesters from not one but two law enforcement agencies, opting to treat Wednesday’s rally as if it were a free speech demonstration.
The lack of preparation and support allowed rioters to breach the Capitol building with little resistance, endangering legislators and resulting in a mob scene that sent shudders throughout the world.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser was among several critics who called the police’s actions “a failure.” Many others pointed out the police response to the rioters was much less robust than the massive show of force in place for Black Lives Matter protests last year over law enforcement killings of unarmed Black men and women.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Capitol police were “unprepared, ineffective and some were complicit. All of them should be held to account.”
Pelosi, Schumer call for Trump’s removal
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday lent her influential voice to the growing chorus of government officials calling for the removal of President Donald Trump from office, a day after rioters he incited overwhelmed police and breached the U.S. Capitol in an unprecedented assault on the Democratic process.
“I join with the Senate Democratic leader (Chuck Schumer of New York) in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment,” Pelosi said. “If the vice president and Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.”
Trump was impeached by the House in December 2019 but acquitted by the Senate in February 2020. With less than two weeks left in Trump’s term, it’s unlikely the 25th Amendment will be invoked, but if it is, this is how it would work.
President-elect Joe Biden, who on Thursday introduced Merrick Garland as his nominee for attorney general, also offered a blistering rebuke of Trump.
“He unleashed an all-out assault on the institutions of our democracy from the outset,” Biden said, “and yesterday was the culmination of that unrelenting attack,”
Former Attorney General William Barr, once one of Trump’s strongest defenders, issued a statement describing Trump’s conduct as “a betrayal of his office and supporters.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf called on Trump to condemn the “unconscionable” violence at the Capitol. Hours later the White House withdrew its nomination of Wolf to be the permanent secretary.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — who had been serving as a special envoy to Northern Ireland — and Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff, resigned Thursday.
Police said four people died and more than 60 arrests were made Wednesday.
Casualties, injuries and arrests
D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee said that, in addition to the woman shot by Capitol police, two men and one woman died in “separate medical emergencies.” At least 14 of Contee’s officers were injured during the demonstrations, he said. Two pipe bombs were recovered, one at the Democratic National Committee and the other one at the Republican National Committee.
Police identified the woman shot and killed during the riot as Ashli Babbitt, 35, of San Diego, who was a military veteran. The other three who perished were Benjamin Phillips, 50, from Ringtown, Pennsylvania; Kevin Greeson, 55, from Athens, Alabama; and Rosanne Boyland, 34, from Kennesaw, Georgia. Contee said Thursday all three died on Capitol grounds, but he didn’t specify how.
Graphic videos of the shooting show Babbitt wore a Trump flag as a cape as she tried to crawl through a broken window, flanked by other protesters. A single shot rang out, and she fell to the floor bleeding from an apparent neck wound.
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned later in the day, said protesters had been “forcing their way toward the House Chamber where members of Congress were sheltering in place” when the shooting took place. Babbitt later died at a hospital, Sund said. The officer has been placed on administrative leave.
Police made at least 68 arrests, 41 of of them on Capitol grounds, Contee said. Only one of those detained was from D.C., he said.
The effort to identify more culprits was underway. Contee was making photos available on the police website and other police organizations. The FBI said it was “seeking information that will assist in identifying individuals who are actively instigating violence in Washington, D.C.”
The agency said it was looking for tips and recordings depicting the rioting and violence.
“If you have witnessed unlawful violent actions, we urge you to submit any information, photos, or videos that could be relevant at fbi.gov/USCapitol,” the agency said.
Fleeing home won’t save the violators. The U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island vowed to prosecute anyone who traveled from Rhode Island to commit crimes in Washington. The office of U.S. Attorney Aaron Weisman tweeted that “anyone who did so can expect to be prosecuted in Rhode Island to the fullest extent of federal law.”
A first-term West Virginia legislator is being urged to resign after video he took himself shows him joining other Trump supporters in storming the Capitol on Wednesday.
Republican Del. Derrick Evans is seen on the video, since deleted from his social media account, wearing a helmet and clamoring at the door that was breached after Congress met to try to vote to affirm Joe Biden’s election victory. Evans then made it inside and milled around the Capitol Rotunda.
About 10,000 people signed an online petition calling for him to be removed from office.
Trump blamed, calls for removal
Some viewed President Donald Trump as a primary culprit for Wednesday’s rioting. His begrudging statement committing to “an orderly transition on January 20th” came in the early morning Thursday – after some longtime allies suggested Vice President Mike Pence and members of his Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told ABC News that “responsible members of the Cabinet” should hold Trump accountable, saying the president “violated his oath and betrayed the American people.”
Democrats were incensed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for invoking the 25th Amendment, saying Trump incited the riot and “should not hold office one day longer.”
The protest started peacefully. Thousands of Trump’s most ardent supporters gathered Wednesday to proclaim their undying devotion and vent their outrage as Congress prepared to formally declare Biden president-elect.
Trump himself was the headliner, pitching his repudiated case for election redemption in a futile, hourlong last stand against an inevitable outcome. His claims that a “landslide” victory had been stolen by the “fake news media,” “weak Republicans,” and tech giants fueled the crowd. What started as a peaceful protest turned into a riot as a mob crashed into the building Wednesday afternoon.
“It was truly disturbing, a president basically trying to undermine his own government,” said Thomas Whalen, an associate professor of social sciences at Boston University who has written about the American presidency. “That’s the textbook definition of treason.’’
Congressional proceedings were suspended as lawmakers met to certify the Electoral College votes. They rushed into hiding as rioters took control of the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate and the offices of the House speaker. Finally, heavily armed officers fired tear gas in the hallowed halls of government to drive the insurgents out, combing the halls for stragglers.
Police kept the pressure on, pushing the mob farther out onto the plaza and lawn with tear gas and percussion grenades.
Trump, as officers struggled to gain control of the Capitol, tweeted multiple times, including one tweet saying that “these are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
In an unprecedented move, Twitter locked President Trump’s account after freezing three of his tweets about the riots at the Capitol so they could not be liked or forwarded. Facebook also shut down the president.
The morning after the Capitol takeover
On Thursday, the Capitol lawn was nearly deserted and silent, a stark contrast from the cheering and chanting of the previous day’s unrestrained, boisterous crowd. There was little evidence of the riot except for debris, folding chairs and discarded signs.
The citywide curfew, which went into effect at 6 p.m. Wednesday, ended at 6 a.m. Mayor Muriel Bowser, however, announced a 15-day extension of the public emergency “to ensure peace and security” through the Jan. 20 inauguration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
National guard members in what appeared to be bullet-proof vests were posted along surrounding streets as news crews set up near where rioters destroyed camera equipment the day before.
Fencing formed a wide perimeter around the building, and at least two ambulances and several police cars were parked near the Capitol steps. But downtown road blocks were removed from most areas near the Mall.
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At Black Lives Matter Plaza, runners stopped to take photos of the White House as workers at a hotel cleared caution tape from around the property. The sidewalks were quiet and cars were able to drive through streets blocked the day before.
Lines formed outside some Starbucks that opened late due to the city curfew. Some people donned “Trump 45” beanies in the cold weather.
In a quiet Capitol Hill neighborhood, Clark Packard, 36, was out early. He said Wednesday was “very scary.” There was discussion in neighborhood Facebook groups that people would be gathering nearby but he didn’t expect it “was going to get as crazy as it did.”
“To most Americans, they think of Capitol Hill as just the place where Congress is located,” Packard said. “But it’s not that. It’s a neighborhood. It’s full of families and dogs and small businesses.”
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Contributing: Ryan W. Miller, Dennis Wagner, Melissa Daniels, Grace Hauck, Kevin Johnson, Jorge L. Ortiz, Trevor Hughes, Grace Hauck, Will Carless, Jordan Culver, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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