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Pro-Trump Crowd Turns Into Violent Mob, Breaches U.S. Capitol

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An assault on the United States Capitol failed to prevent the confirmation of Joe Biden as the next president. Early this morning, a little bit before 4 o'clock Eastern Time, Congress formally finished counting the electoral votes, and Vice President Pence brought down the gavel to end the session. Biden won the election, as previously affirmed by election officials from all 50 states and many courts. Shortly afterward, the White House released a statement that conceivably represents a concession by President Trump. The departing president promised a, quote, "orderly transition on January 20," but he also referred to the end of his, quote, "first term."

Shortly before the violence yesterday, the departing president incited a group of supporters outside the White House. He repeated the lie that he had won the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: He was speaking just before Congress began its formality of counting the electoral votes. Many Republicans were honoring that democratic process. In November, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had supported the president's baseless lawsuits. But yesterday, McConnell said the challenges have failed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: President Trump claims the election was stolen. The assertions range from specific local allegations to constitutional arguments to sweeping conspiracy theories.

INSKEEP: McConnell said all those assertions had failed, but some of his colleagues were moving to raise objections to democracy. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma was raising the first of those objections when he was interrupted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES LANKFORD: My challenge today is not about the good people of Arizona.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL BANGING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And it will stand in recess until the call of the chair.

INSKEEP: The Senate went into recess because lawmakers were soon taking cover. One Democrat, House Democrat Dean Phillips, yelled at his Republican colleagues, this is because of you. Lawmakers were forced to evacuate the Capitol amid reports of shots fired. One person was killed.

Last evening, lawmakers resumed deliberations, and several Republicans backed off their baseless challenges. But Republican Josh Hawley of Missouri persisted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSH HAWLEY: For those who have concerns about the integrity of our elections, those who have concerns about what happened in November, this is the appropriate means. This is the lawful place where those objections and concerns should be heard.

INSKEEP: Hawley raised some. Supporters of the defeated president did call for an audit of election results, to which Republican Mitt Romney of Utah said, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITT ROMNEY: I'd offer this perspective. No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters, particularly when the president will continue to say that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.

INSKEEP: Early this morning, the vast majority of lawmakers voted to do so.

So what was happening outside the chamber as lawmakers fled? NPR's Hannah Allam was there and is on the line with us this morning. Good morning.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how did the afternoon unfold?

ALLAM: It unfolded very quickly. We saw this massive swell of marchers kind of converge around 1 o'clock, around the time that, you know, Congress was starting its discussion. And we just see this huge crush of people coming down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol, a big contingent of the Proud Boys, a violent, far-right gang, sort of in the lead as a front-line force. They start rallying the crowd, chanting 1776.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) 1776, 1776, 1776, 1776, 1776, 1776.

ALLAM: We follow the crowd as it goes up to the Hill toward the Capitol. There's scaffolding set up for the inauguration already, you know, stacks of folding chairs. But as far as protection, all we really saw were some mesh barriers and metal fencing and only a small contingent of Capitol Police. And we watched them being quickly overwhelmed.

They have pushed past the barriers.

LAUREN HODGES, BYLINE: They're going up the steps.

ALLAM: Pushed past the barriers. They're now going up the steps to the Capitol. It's absolute pandemonium as far back as the eye can see.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) This is our house. This is our house. This is our house. This is our house.

ALLAM: Cops are coming out very quickly. Security is coming out to put up more barriers. It is definitely not going to stop...

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION, CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Here comes the tear gas.

ALLAM: So that really gives a sense of just how intense and chaotic the scene was. In some cases, you know, the police opened the gates. We also saw the mob trample and tear down barriers, climb up the scaffolding. There were booms from fireworks, paint guns, tear gas firing. People were running, shouting and celebrating.

CHRIS MCDERMOTT: It is very chaotic. It's monumental, though. This is history.

ALLAM: That's what we heard a lot - you know, this is history. That was Chris McDermott. He says he came from Pennsylvania to support the president, but he was actually uncomfortable with how dangerous it was getting. And he said he didn't want to see things turn more violent.

MCDERMOTT: This is not setting a good example. I don't want it to escalate. No, not at all.

ALLAM: But I have to say, he was in the minority.

INSKEEP: What was the majority saying?

ALLAM: More common in the crowd were overt calls for executing Democrats, targeting journalists, antifa, Black Lives Matter activists. We spoke to one writer from Ohio who'd only give his name as Joe. A warning here that what he says is graphic and violent, but this is what he wanted to see.

JOE: The people in this House who stole this election from us hanging from a gallow out here in this lawn for the whole world to see so it never happens again - that's what needs to happen, four by four by four hanging from a rope out here for treason.

ALLAM: So just a lot of chilling rhetoric like that, people everywhere, you can barely move and, again, very minimal security presence. And we could hear the mob start to bang on the doors and just really looking for any way into that building.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Shouting) Let us in or we're coming in (laughter).

ALLAM: And as we've all seen by now, what happened next - they rampaged through the halls of the Capitol and for the most part were allowed to leave of their own accord.

INSKEEP: Hannah, I want to ask one other question. I'm just thinking about what these protesters are trying to do. They're trying to overturn a democratic election. They're trying to keep President Trump in power. This is a president who was so uninterested in a second term, he didn't even put out a platform for what he would do. And they engaged in this operation, which utterly failed to change the result of the presidential election. At dinner last night, I got a question from a 15-year-old. I'd like to put it to you. What did they think they were going to accomplish?

ALLAM: Good question, because there were - there was no clear objective beyond somehow stopping the certification. The president offered them no plan beyond what he said before, sort of fight like hell. And so you heard, you know, answers from people saying they wanted to force a whole new election to the most extreme who saw it as an opening shot in a wider rebellion of Trump supporters.

INSKEEP: Wider rebellion. OK. Thanks very much, Hannah, really appreciate it.

ALLAM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.