Several hundreds of protesters swarmed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday as the House of Representative and Senate met in a joint session to tally the results of the Electoral College ballots for president and vice president in the 2020 election.
In a protest quickly turned out of control, police ushered Vice President Mike Pence out of the Capitol. In the C-SPAN broadcast, Capitol Hill reporter Niels Lesniewski said protesters breached the doors to the Capitol in efforts to lock down the building.
The sheer number of protesters, he said, overwhelmed whatever capacity the Capitol police had to keep people away.
Video from the broadcast shows tear gas filling the Capitol walls outside the House chambers.
Other footage shows one of the protesters in the Senate chamber sitting in the chair of the presiding officer and dozens of others walking though Capitol halls wearing red hats and waving flags in support of President Donald Trump.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted out an order calling for a citywide curfew in the District of Columbia, from 6:00 p.m. Wednesday until 6:00 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 7.
A report out of Bloomberg described an armed standoff at the House-front with guns drawn. A tweet later confirmed that Fox News had learned of a shooting victim transported from the U.S. Capitol at around 3:00 p.m.
According to an NBC News article, that woman has died.
Since the Nov. 3, 2020, election, Trump has made numerous unsuccessful attempts at overturning election results, which named President-elect Joe Biden the projected winner, calling lawsuits for election fraud across numerous states.
Constitutional law Professor at Cooley Law School and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security at the Pentagon Michael McDaniel described the dynamic between the rights of people to protest against the government versus the rights of those lawmakers to be able to perform their elected duties.
What crosses the boundary between a protected First Amendment right is the incitation of forceful illegal activity with a sense of immediacy, McDaniel said.
“We saw this when protesters broke into the state Capitol a few months back, and now we have it today at the federal Capitol,” McDaniel said. “There needs to be a discussion about not just what security measures are in place, but how we protect not just the elected representatives, but the process that we hired them to do, that we elected them to do.”
While many have thrown around such words as "treason," "rebellion" or "insurrection" to describe today’s events, McDaniel said that if any, the closest term to use would be an act of sedition.
According to its legal definition, sedition describes an act of two or more people inciting to overthrow, put down or destroy by force the government of the United States.
It also describes any conduct to delay the execution of any law of the United States, including the Election Count Act, which requires the House and the Senate to count the votes of the electors and to certify votes by ballots on Jan. 6, McDaniel said.
“If you look at that, you could make an argument that they were trying to delay the execution of law ... in this case,” McDaniel said.
In the case that criminal prosecutions were to be made, he said officials would be looking at all video footage to attempt to identify individuals inciting others to act with force to determine whether they could bring a charge of sedition against them.
Today’s mass demonstration at the nation’s Capitol is one of many attempts made by Trump supporters across the country calling for justice in what Trump falsely deemed a stolen election. On Nov. 7, 2020, in Lansing, Trump supporters gathered at the Capitol for a “Stop the Steal” rally objecting Biden’s projected win in Michigan earlier that day.
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Cooley Law constitutional Professor Devin Schindler said the federal statutes "make it a crime to hinder or delay the execution of any United States law."
In this case, by invading the Capitol, "a number of the members of the mob have hindered Congress in its completing this constitutional responsibility to count votes," Schindler said.
“I’m saddened that our society has become so divided that the peaceful transfer of power recognized by our Constitution has devolved into ugly violence,” Schindler said.
In a statement by U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), she confirmed National Guard troops were approved to restore order at the U.S. Capitol.
“This is a tough moment for everyone," Slotkin said in the release. "The National Guard and law enforcement will need to clear the Capitol. I urge all protestors, some being from my own district, to disperse."
According to the statement, she is safely sheltering in place within the U.S. Capitol complex and implores protesters to remain peaceful as they practice their First Amendment rights.
Speaker of the House-elect Jason Wentworth also released a statement early Wednesday afternoon on the threats to the nation’s Capitol stating a hope that the president uses the power of his voice and office to bring order and peace immediately.
“Today’s riot at the Capitol is not what anyone wants for our country or our children," Wentworth said. "This is not the shining city on the hill that demonstrates to the world the beauty of democracy. We are a nation of rules and respect, and we need to demand both of ourselves. America is a beautiful and special place, but this is a tragic moment in our history that obscures our legacy."
According to a CNN report, the Capitol has been secured late Wednesday evening.
A statement by the Senate Democrats called on an end to the "madness" and to "respect the wishes of our founding fathers who designed our government to have peaceful transitions of power."
"As we saw firsthand several months ago, there are people in our country who do not believe in our nation's values and who remain intent on fostering intimidation and disturbing the foundations of our democracy," the statement said. "Michigan was a lesson in this area that went unheard. Those who have encouraged these criminals to act and those who remain silent are complicit in today's dangerous events in Washington. History will remember this moment."
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