Last week's attack on the US Capitol is already one of the most unforgettable events in American history. The Capitol building was last breached when British forces invaded during the War of 1812. 209 years later, a mob of insurrectionists attacked the building at the behest of none other than the sitting, but on-the-way-out, US president Donald Trump.
Trump called the mob to the Capitol building to thwart the certification of Biden’s election victory through tweets dating back to late December. What followed was a nearly unprecedented attack on Senators, members of Congress, Capitol police, and journalists attempting to document the scene. Details continue to emerge in press reports and on social media. In an attempt to corral the events of this day, GQ presents this summary of the events leading up to the attack, what happened on January 6th, and the fallout since.
The Call to Action
Despite Washington Police Chief Robert Contee’s claim that “There was no intelligence that suggests that there would be a breach of the US Capitol,” explicit planning took place in the weeks leading up to January 6th on social media, Trumpist message boards, and sites like 4Chan.
Organizers across different groups—including Stop the Steal, TheDonald message board, MyMilitia.com, and a Facebook group called Red State Secession—were spurred by a Trump tweet on December 23rd that directed his supporters to attend a “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” “Once Trump said be there,” Arieh Kovler, a political consultant who studies alt-right activity online, told GQ, “they interpreted that as a call to action, as their marching orders.”
Planning started that day, when Leaders of a Stop the Steal group wrote in a text to supporters, “We came up with the idea to occupy just outside the CAPITOL on Jan 6th,” according to PBS. They even called the event the “Wild Protest” and created a dedicated website for it, WildProtest.com, that’s since been taken down. Calls to action grew increasingly violent. On the Oath Keepers forum, where former and current pro-Trump military personnel congregate, members attested they were “ready to die for my country once again” in any effort to stop the certification.
How They Planned It
On the TheDonald forum, plans grew increasingly specific: posters discussed that there are only 2,000 Capitol police members, a number they can easily overwhelm. Floorplans were posted alongside directives. “Find the tunnels. Arrest the worst traitors,” one posted, according to The Daily Beast. One person planning on attending the rally wrote a post titled, “Today I told my kids Goodbye.”
Advance Democracy, a nonprofit research group, found that 50% of posts on TheDonald.Win, a gathering place for Trump supporters created after Reddit banned a similar channel, “featured unmoderated calls for violence in the top five responses.”
“All this bullshit about not bringing guns to D.C. needs to stop,” one post read. “This is America. Fuck D.C. it's in the Constitution. Bring your goddamn guns.” Another forum member wrote: “ARMED WITH RIFLE, HANDGUN, 2 KNIVES AND AS MUCH AMMO AS YOU CAN CARRY.”
Discussion wasn’t contained to message boards, either. Plans were made on the popular-with-the-far-right social media platform Parler, where one user asked followers to vote for who they wanted to see “dispatched” first between Nancy Pelosi, John Roberts, and Mike Pence. On Twitter and TikTok, Advance Democracy found accounts associated with QAnon frequently tweeted about January 6th in the lead up to the day.
Some rioters seemed prepared to go through with violence Wednesday, too. They brought a noose to the Capitol steps. Some wore tactical gear, bulletproof vests and brought zip-ties (here, too) presumably to shackle hostages.
Gathering in D.C.
People traveled from around the country to attend the storming of the Capitol. Some came just to be part of what they envisioned as a historic event, while others had in mind a full-blown takeover. One plane from Texas to D.C. was overrun with Trump supporters who projected Trump’s logo across the roof and harassed fellow passengers. One supporter clearly said, after removing his mask, “These are the guys we came to fucking wipe out."
On a flight from Salt Lake City to Washington on Tuesday, a group of Trump supporters directed their ire at Mitt Romney. Many chanted “traitor” at him while another called for the senator to resign, according to The New York Times. During his rally Wednesday morning, Trump said of Romney, “I wonder if he enjoyed his flight in last night.”
Other supporters traveled in posher style. Jenna Ryan, a Texas-based radio host, took a private jet to D.C. “Hopping on a plane heading to DC #MarchToSaveAmerica #stopthesteal,” she wrote on Twitter. (One person replied, “Have fun.”) On Wednesday, Ryan tweeted (then deleted) that it was the “best day of her life,” according to the Houston Chronicle. In a livestream Wednesday, Ryan said: “All these working class people taking the week off… we flew by a private jet.”
On Wednesday morning, Trump met his supporters at a rally held at the Ellipse, a park in D.C. located just south of the White House. Over the course of an hour-plus speech, Trump repeated his favorite baseless claims of election fraud and took special aim at Mike Pence, who had reportedly infuriated Trump by explaining that he lacked the power to thwart the certification of Biden’s win.
Multiple rally speakers made calls, some vague and some more explicit, to violence. “We’re coming for you,” Donald Trump Jr. warned Republican senators not behind Trump. Rudy Guiliani said “trial by combat” would be necessary to win the election. Trump himself said, “You will never take back our country with weakness,” according to NYT. (A video of Trump viewing the crowd before the rally has been erroneously circulated as a video of him watching the Capitol invasion.)
As the rally wound down, Trump made his intentions clear: “After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you.” Trump went back to the White House. The crowd, meanwhile, made the roughly mile-and-a-half walk across the mall to the Capitol Building, where the certification was playing out.
The advance on the Capitol started at roughly 1:15pm EST, according to a report from Buzzfeed News. “This is [the] exact moment the siege of the Capitol building began as the two men in front ripped down a preliminary barrier & rushed officers who were behind a 2nd barrier,” reporter Elijah Schaffer tweeted with a video. “They then encouraged others to follow their lead. Officers appeared to be taken completely off guard.” Once past the barricades, many of the insurrectionists made their way to the Capitol’s west side, where setup had begun for Biden’s inauguration.
Videos from the scene show Capitol police at worst unprepared and at best overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowd. Journalist Marcus DiPaola posted a video on TikTok of what he describes as Capitol Police being overtaken by the mob. “The rioters moved up the steps of the capitol pretty quickly, capitol police tried to hold them back but they didn't have riot shields and really got pushed around,” DiPaola told NewsWeek. Another shows officers simply letting rioters run off into the crowd after feeble attempts to snare them. One damning livestream captured a cop taking a selfie with one of the rioters. Eventually, footage surfaced of the mob apparently beating a police officer to death.
Once inside the barricades set up around the Capitol, rioters didn’t have a much more difficult time getting into the actual building. The Trump supporters invaded the Capitol from multiple points: There are videos and images of the rioters scaling walls, smashing windows, and breaking down doors to get into and advance through the building. One clearly overwhelmed officer slouched in a corner while rioters streamed past him.
Over the weekend, a new, striking video showing a Capitol police officer seemingly chased around the building. The officer, Eugene Goodman, purposefully led rioters in a specific direction, away from the Senate chamber. “Had the rioters turned right, they would have been a few feet away from the main entrance into the chamber. On the other side of that door, had they made their way into the Senate, were at least a half-dozen armed officers, including one with a semiautomatic weapon in the middle of the floor scanning each entrance for intruders,” The Washington Post writes. “Instead, the group—all White men—followed the Black officer in the other direction and met a group of police in a back corridor outside the Senate.”
Ransacking the Capitol
After entering the Capitol building, rioters seemed unsure of what to do next—or at least content to loiter, grab selfies, and trash offices. One man, later identified as Adam Johnson from Florida, stole Pelosi’s lectern and was caught on camera smiling. Other Trump supporters took turns standing at the dais in the Senate chamber.
Nancy Pelosi’s office was a popular destination, as well. The white nationalist known as Baked Alaska livestreamed from inside the Congresswoman’s office. One man, Richard Bigo Barnett, entered her office, put his feet on his desk, and stole a letter addressed to her. He later told the New York Times that he “wrote her a nasty note,” too. (Barnett was arrested and charged with “entering and remaining on restricting grounds, violent entry, and theft of public property” in Arkansas Friday.) Offices were ransacked, glass was broken, litter was left throughout the building, and wooden furniture was destroyed. Some pro-Trump rioters smeared feces on the walls.
If the rioters seemed rudderless, it’s likely because they were. Many believed they were following Trump’s orders to seize the Capitol Wednesday and were awaiting further instruction. “He calls people to descend on DC for what, 9 hours, then instructs them to go home?” one posted on TheDonald wrote in the aftermath, according to Buzzfeed News. “People have lost time, money, family, potentially careers and even their lives over this… and a ‘Thanks for coming, go home now’ is what people are instructed to do?” Mayhem ensued when no further guidance arrived. Some supporters are cursing Trump for leaving them high and dry in the aftermath. “Fuck Donald Trump,” one person wrote on TheDonald. “This fucking piece of shit dragged us into DC for what? To leave us holding the bag?”
How Politicians Inside Reacted
Capitol police may have been unable to keep rioters out of the building, but they were more successful protecting the congresspeople, government employees, and press inside. First, two aides are rightly being recognized for having the wherewithal to take boxes containing the electoral votes to safety with them.
Many lawmakers, including Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence, were evacuated to safe locations. David Trone, a Congressman representing Maryland, shared images of himself wearing an “escape mask.” While lawmakers were evacuating, Capitol police were forced to barricade the door to the Senate chamber, and surrounded it with guns drawn to stymie the attempted break-in.
Meanwhile, other lawmakers like New Jersey representative Andy Kim sheltered in their offices for hours. “Shortly after the alarm started going off for the shelter in place,” he told GQ. “I was able to make it back to my office [in the Rayburn House Office Building, across the street from the Capitol] around 1:30 p.m., where I sheltered in place for the next six hours.
The insurrectionists made it so deep into the building they managed to infiltrate the Capitol Visitor Center, an underground bunker built into the aftermath of 9/11. “It cost roughly $700 million and has multiple secure rooms and blast-resistant doors,” according to the Washington Post. Police intended to take evacuating senators there as a safe room but the mob was already inside.
While this was all happening, first lady Melania Trump was reportedly elsewhere in the White House, overseeing a photo shoot of decorative objects for a coffee table book she’s working on.
The Tide Turns
Midway through the insurrection, an ex-Air Force veteran later identified as Ashli E. Babbitt was shot and killed while trying to break into the Speaker’s Lobby of the Capitol. After a glass window was broken, men tried to lift Babbitt into the room which prompted Capitol police to shoot. At this point, Capitol police, who initially failed to ask for additional help, were severely overwhelmed and outnumbered.
Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund said in the aftermath that his force had been prepared for a demonstration, not “criminal riotous behavior.” As early as 1pm, while Trump supporters were coalescing outside the building, Sund requested backup from D.C. police, but an initial wave of reinforcements wasn’t enough to protect the building.
In the afternoon, governors from Maryland and Virginia fielded calls from senior house members Pelosi and Steny H. Hoyer, who requested they send in additional help. “I was actually on the phone with Leader Hoyer who was pleading with us to send the Guard,” Maryland governor Larry Hogan said Thursday, according to the Post. Hogan relayed those early requests to the Defense Department, which denied them.
Backup finally arrived close to 5pm in the form of D.C. police officers. That larger contingent began clearing the Capitol complex. The group first worked on securing smaller areas like Statuary Hall, where sculptures of historical figures are displayed. Then, led by inspector Robert Glover, who works in the department’s Homeland Security Bureau, the force went through each floor and room to find and expel remaining rioters. “If it wasn’t for Inspector Glover, we would have probably lost both chambers to looting and had a complete overtaking of the building,” an officer told the Post.
When the National Guard arrived later that evening, it took a much more aggressive approach than Capitol police had earlier that afternoon, physically handling the rioters and pushing them back with force. A perimeter was secured around the Capitol and the certification of election results was able to continue.
Where Was the National Guard?
As the scene grew increasingly chaotic, people were quick to notice the National Guard was not on duty (as they had been for last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests). That confusion only accelerated as the day went on without the organization’s involvement
The current administration started to defang the National Guard in the days leading up to January 6th. “The Pentagon placed tight limits on the D.C. National Guard ahead of pro-Trump protests this week, trying to ensure the use of military force remained constrained,” The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The Post reports that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested greater preparation, but the Pentagon denied the use of riot gear and prohibited “interacting with protesters unless necessary for self-defense.”
Even as Wednesday’s events grew more chaotic, the White House was resistant to deploy the National Guard. “Trump initially rebuffed and resisted requests to mobilize the National Guard,” The New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wrote. It eventually fell on Pence to authorize the group’s deployment. An Army official told the Post that the delay was in part due to a concern over the “optics” of soldiers patrolling the halls of the Capitol building.
Late Wednesday, all 1,100 troops in the D.C. National Guard as well as 650 from Virginia’s were sent to the Capitol to gain control over the situation.
Treatment of the Press
Among other things, the eruption on Wednesday also served as an attack on the country’s free press. “Murder the media,” was scawled into a door at the Capitol.
Multiple attacks were directed at journalists Wednesday. Several videos surfaced of Trump supporters mobbing camera set ups and yelling, “The media is the enemy of the people.” A cable was taken and fashioned into a noose. Another horde chanted “CNN sucks” while smashing Associated Press equipment.
CBS News’s Chip Reid told the New York Times that he was compelled to wear the same protective gear he would don in warzones in Afghanistan and Iraq. “It is so disturbing to have to wear a helmet and flak jacket on the grounds of the United States Capitol,” he said.
Times photographer Erin Schaff shared a harrowing story of rioters targeting and assaulting her. “Grabbing my press pass, they saw that my ID said ‘The New York Times’ and became really angry,” she wrote. “They threw me to the floor, trying to take my cameras. I started screaming for help as loudly as I could. No one came. People just watched. At this point, I thought I could be killed and no one would stop them. They ripped one of my cameras away from me, broke a lens on the other and ran away.”
Schaff hid her camera out of fear of being identified as a reporter again and was eventually held at gunpoint by policemen who didn’t believe she was a member of the press because she lacked identification. Luckily, two fellow photographers identified her to the police, who allowed her to move to safety.
Six people died as a result of Wednesday’s events. In addition to Babbitt, three other Trump supporters died as a result of what the police are describing as “medical emergencies,” according to CNN. Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick also died as a result of injuries sustained while on duty. Howard B. Liebengood, who also worked on the Capitol police force, died by apparent suicide over the weekend.
The political fallout is wide-ranging. For many in the Trump administration, the riot was the very last straw for their continued employment in the Trump White House—or a good excuse to jump ship and salvage their reputations. Sund, the aforementioned Capitol police chief, resigned on Wednesday. Nine Trump administration officials have followed suit, citing the insurrection as the reason for leaving. These include such high-ranking officials as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who was serving as the special envoy to Northern Ireland, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger, Melania Trump’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow decided that now is the time to use his saved-up vacation days to run out the clock until Biden is inaugurated on January 20th.
On Wednesday, Ilhan Omar, the congresswoman from Minnesota, announced plans to draft articles of impeachment. She was the first of what’s become a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers to call for Trump’s removal. On Friday, after unsuccessfully pressuring Pence to invoke the 25th amendment, Pelosi announced she would mobilize the House to impeach Trump if he did not immediately resign.
On Monday morning, an article of impeachment against Trump was formally presented in the House. The article cites “incitement of insurrection” as the reasoning. House leader Hoyer says a vote may come as early as Wednesday. Other Democrats have expressed optimism it has the votes necessary in the House to make Trump the first president impeached twice.
Influential Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been among the figures demanding that Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who had led the movement in the Senate against certification, to resign. “Both you and Senator Hawley must resign. If you do not, the Senate should move for your expulsion,” she wrote on Twitter. The publisher Simon & Schuster also canceled plans to publish a book written by Hawley.
More than 120 people who were involved in storming the Capitol have been arrested. Nearly all of them were “longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth,” according to an Associated Press analysis. More are being identified on social media, including one member of the riot who wore his company ID while taking part in a lawless mob and was immediately fired. A member of the West Virginia House of Delegates was also taken into police custody after participating in the attack. A Texas lawyer, Pennsylvania-based teacher, and former state representative who had served as an adjunct professor at a Pennsylvania college also lost their jobs. Others involved in the failed coup have appeared on television expressing regret for participating. Some involved with the alt-right, including members of Congress, are asserting this was a “false flag” event that involved members of Antifa purposefully inciting violence.
Researchers and private citizens alike are leading crowd-sourcing efforts to identify more of those involved in Wednesday’s attack. At the heart of this patchwork project are John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, and Michael Sheldon, an associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. Both Sheldon and Scott-Railton were able to identify one of the men who was pictured wearing tactical gear and carrying zip ties as Eric Munchel, a former employee of Nashville’s Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk bar. The pair also identified another man carrying zip ties as Air Force veteran Larry Rendall Brock, Jr. Brock. However, it’s Brock’s ex-wife who recognized him in photos from the siege and turned him into the FBI.
The FBI is actively encouraging people to help identify rioters involved in the attack.
Trump, the agitator at the middle of all this, posted his tepid version of a mea culpa to Twitter Thursday night and finally admitted a new administration would be inaugurated January 20th. (Today, he tweeted that he won’t be attending the ceremony.) “Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem,” he said. In response to the video, one unhappy supporter wrote on TheDonald forum: “Wow, what an absolute punch in the gut. He says it’s going to be wild, and when it gets wild, he calls it a heinous attack and middle fingers his supporters that he told to be there. Unbelievable.”
Trump was suspended from Twitter permanently and Facebook and Instagram until at least “until the peaceful transition of power is complete,” the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. Meanwhile, conservative social media platform Parler was removed from Apple, Google, and Amazon platforms. Without his favorite megaphone, the president is said to be contemplating a public address on the evils of “big tech,” and planning a visit to the border town of Alamo, Texas (not to be confused with San Antonio, home to the actual Alamo) this week.
In the wake of last week’s siege, a similar attack is currently fomenting on social media platforms like Parler, even with that platform’s future in doubt. The “Million Militia March” is currently being planned for Inauguration day and includes specific calls to execute Nancy Pelosi.
Originally Appeared on GQ