National Guard Deployed as Pro-Trump Rioters Storm Capitol

The U.S. president doubles down on baseless claims he won reelection, while Biden decries an “insurrection.”

U.S. Capitol Police detain protesters
U.S. Capitol Police detain protesters outside of the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress in Washington on Jan. 6. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Trump administration and local authorities have ordered thousands of National Guardsmen to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to quash a violent mob in support of President Donald Trump that forcibly halted Congress’s certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 election, even as the outgoing president stopped short of conceding the election and doubled down on baseless claims that the presidency was stolen from him.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that National Guard units were set to arrive, along with “other federal protective services.” The Washington Post first reported that the District of Columbia’s entire National Guard had been activated, sending 1,100 guardsmen into action, after a request from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to stop the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also announced that 200 guardsmen under his direction were set to head to Washington, but it was not immediately clear which other units would be arriving. 

The D.C. Guard has been mobilized to provide support to federal law enforcement in the District,” chief Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. “Acting [Defense] Secretary [Christopher] Miller has been in contact with Congressional leadership, and [Army] Secretary [Ryan] McCarthy has been working with the D.C. government. The law enforcement response will be led by the Department of Justice.” 

Biden, speaking in Delaware, condemned the violence and said, “it’s not a protest, it’s insurrection.”

“Our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” he added. “There has never been anything we can’t do when we do it together. And this god-awful display today is bringing home to every Republican, Democrat, and independent in the nation that we must step up. This is the United States of America.

“President Trump, step up.”

His comments came after a surge in violence at the U.S. Capitol following a rally in which Trump riled up his supporters and urged them to march on the Capitol. 

A woman is reported to have been shot in the chest in the Capitol building, while law enforcement have found at least one improvised explosive device on the grounds of the Capitol as unprecedented scenes of lawlessness played out throughout the afternoon. 

By law, local officials have no direct authority over the D.C. National Guard, which can be ordered in by Trump or the secretary of the army, McCarthy. Some 340 National Guardsmen were already in place in Washington at the time that the violent protests began, but they were not armed and stationed at points in downtown, away from the Capitol. A platoon of police officers from Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders D.C. to the north, also arrived at the complex late Wednesday afternoon. Videos from inside the Capitol also showed FBI swat teams in military fatigues at the building.  

Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former Pentagon and CIA official, tweeted on Wednesday following a conversation with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley that the Guard units had authority to work in coordination with D.C. law enforcement “to restore order,” working together to clear the U.S. Capitol of agitators. It was not immediately clear what authorities the Virginia guardsmen would be working under, though an aid agreement between U.S. states and territories typically allows out-of-state units to fall under a chain of command reporting to the secretary of the army, just like the D.C. guard.

The escalating violence suggested that Trump’s effort to challenge the election was spiraling out of his control. Under pressure from members of his own party, Trump called for protesters at the Capitol “to remain peaceful. No violence!” in a message on Twitter but did not explicitly call for the violent demonstrators to leave the complex. Vice President Mike Pence, who earlier said he would rebut any attempt to subvert the election, said the protesters would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In a prerecorded video message released later Wednesday, Trump told demonstrators to “go home” but reiterated baseless claims of election fraud. 

Biden, in a televised statement, called on Trump to make a televised statement himself condemning the violence. “What we’re seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness,” he said in a speech from Wilmington, Delaware. “I call on this mob to pull back and let the work of democracy go forward.” Multiple outlets, including the New York Times and CNN, said that Trump was resisting efforts from aides to issue a stronger statement. Responding to shouted questions from reporters, Biden said he was not concerned about the safety of his Jan. 20 inauguration. 

The lockdown halted congressional proceedings to certify the results of the 2020 elections, which prompted fractures in the Republican Party between a majority of members who are supporting the certification and a smaller faction opposing it following Trump’s unfounded and roundly discredited claims of widespread election fraud. After the interruption of the proceedings, senators appeared to be considering how to resume the count in a secure location away from Capitol complex, which was evacuated earlier this afternoon. 

The assailants’ violent clashes with police and breach of Capitol security perimeters drew swift condemnation from lawmakers across the political spectrum. Some Republican lawmakers and former top Trump officials rebuked the president for riling up his supporters and urged him to call off the protesters and concede the election. 

One Republican congressman, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, branded the storming of the Capitol by the pro-Trump mob a “coup attempt.”

“I haven’t seen anything like this since I was deployed to Iraq,” said Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, a former Marine Corps officer who was deployed to Iraq twice. “The president needs to call it off. It’s over. The election is over.”

As supporters of the president stormed the U.S. capitol in Washington, staffers inside the Utah state capitol building in Salt Lake City were ordered to evacuate the building as a crowd of Trump supporters grew outside. In Kansas, protesters made their way into the statehouse but remained peaceful, according to reports by the local NBC news affiliate KSNT. In Georgia, militia members gathered outside the state capitol, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had to be moved to safety. 

The scene inside the Capitol was one of mayhem, with lawmakers cowering in the face of the onslaught. From inside the rotunda, Rep. Peter Welch tweeted that “we were just told that there has been tear gas in the rotunda and we are being instructed to each of us get a gas masks that are under our seats.” 

There were also signs that Trump’s inner circle had lost control. In an effort to appease the mob, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani urged the “patriots” to protest peacefully.

“American Patriots – any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable,” Ivanka Trump wrote in a tweet. “The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful.”

She subsequently deleted the tweet.

Audrey Wilson contributed reporting for this article. 

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch