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News Brief: Rioters Storm U.S. Capitol, Congress Ratifies Biden Victory

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, I sat down to dinner last night, and my teenager asked a simple question - what did they think they were going to accomplish? In an act of insurrection, which is a crime punishable by imprisonment, pro-Trump extremists swarmed the Capitol and disrupted the work of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

JOE BIDEN: Our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we've seen in modern times, an assault on the citadel of liberty.

NANCY PELOSI: To those who strove to deter us from our responsibility, you have failed.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people's house.

NOEL KING, HOST:

We heard there President-elect Biden, whose win lawmakers were in the process of certifying when this happened, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office was raided and looted, and the last voice, of course, was Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over that joint session of Congress. Pence was also the last voice heard early this morning. Congress got back to work and formally affirmed the obvious. Joe Biden won the presidential election.

INSKEEP: Correspondent Kelsey Snell and national political correspondent Mara Liasson are both with us. Good morning, guys.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I want to hear, I believe, the president from before the attack. President Trump went out in Washington and spoke with supporters there on this day when his defeat was being certified. Let's listen to a little bit of that.

(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: OK, Mara, is there any doubt about who incited the violence that followed?

LIASSON: Well, there are many, many people on Capitol Hill in both parties who hold President Trump responsible for inciting this failed insurrection. And they are saying that in many ways it's the logical conclusion of his repeated refusals to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, years of failures to condemn other acts of violence by right-wing domestic terrorists, his comments to the Proud Boys, quote, "stand back and stand down." And, you know, you heard him speaking to the protesters, the violent protesters, before they walked up to the Capitol. And remember, they were trying to support what was happening inside the Capitol, where Republicans were trying to undermine the outcome of the election, undermine the will of the people by decertifying the states' slates of electors. That effort failed. And ultimately, the violent protests might have backfired because the counting of the Electoral College votes happened faster than we expected. And a lot of Republicans who had said they were going to object to the outcome of the election changed their minds. In the end, only six Republican senators voted to throw out those elector slates.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, aren't there some lawmakers who blame their fellow lawmakers in part for what happened? There was a Democrat as they were evacuating yesterday who pointed at Republicans and said, you did this, you were responsible for this.

SNELL: I mean, there were continued fights in the Capitol between members about this. This is a moment that I think is going to change the way that members interact with each other and the way that Congress - just the way they trust one another. This is a serious turning point in politics in the way that laws are made and the way that people believe that they are working with one another in pursuit of a common goal.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember what some lawmakers, not a majority of Republican - well, a majority of House Republicans, I guess - a large number of lawmakers were doing yesterday. They were supporting the president's lie that he won the election. Many of them were speaking in ways that they were not technically lying. They were just saying, listen, there's all these allegations of fraud and we should look into them in some ways. But it was obvious they were supporting the president's broader lie. That then led to this protest. And people actually got into the doors of the Capitol. What was the rest of the day like for lawmakers after that, Kelsey?

SNELL: Yeah, they recessed for hours as members and staff and reporters were all taken to these secure locations in spots across Capitol Hill. You know, even when they were in those rooms, members were insisting that they would return to the Capitol and finish their business last night. They were determined not to stop in the face of the mob. And Republicans, like we've been saying, were split about - going into the vote about the objections, the Electoral College and what it meant for the country. But people did change their minds, not all of them, but I was really struck by people like Mike Braun of Indiana, who is from the vice president's home state. He said he still had objections about election security and the way states do their business. But he also said he couldn't vote to dignify what happened in the Capitol. And it did really seem to unify the number of people who are typically, you know, may have supported the president but could not stand for what happened when his supporters breached the Capitol.

INSKEEP: Mara, wasn't there a chunk of the Republican Party that was opposed to this maneuver from the beginning?

LIASSON: Oh, absolutely. And yesterday, you heard people like Mitt Romney, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, accusing the president of inciting this insurrection. And don't forget, even before yesterday, the Republicans were in a circular firing squad over losing the two runoff elections in Georgia that gave control of the Senate to Democrats. Many of them were blaming Donald Trump for the loss because he continued to undermine faith in the election. And don't forget, Trump started the day by talking to his supporters at the Ellipse, as you played the clip of tape, earlier, but later, after the violence erupted, he put out another video where he seemed very sympathetic to the protesters, even as he told them to go home. Here's a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace, so go home. We love you. You're very special.

LIASSON: So later, he did say - he did tweet, these are things that happen when a sacred election victory is stripped away. He also issued a statement committing to an orderly transition.

INSKEEP: Although he also referred to his first term in that statement.

LIASSON: Yes, yes.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, in just a few seconds, I just want to note, people have made comparisons to Third World countries. That seems a little off base. There actually is a fair amount of history of political violence in America, but to have it in the Capitol is something else.

SNELL: Yeah, and it was really unprecedented to see the level of violence and to see that people breached the Capitol, which is typically a very secure environment. You know, there are going to be a lot of questions going forward about how this happened and how it was allowed to happen.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelsey Snell and Mara Liasson, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having us.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. Let's walk through exactly what did happen yesterday.

INSKEEP: With NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam, who saw a lot of it. Good morning.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What did you observe as the day began?

ALLAM: I mean, there was an ominous feeling about this one from the beginning. Extremism reporters and researchers, we'd all been seeing this violent chatter and organizing online in the days and weeks before. And then on Wednesday morning before daybreak, there was nearly a mile long line of Trump supporters arriving for this rally. So you could tell this was going to be a big one. I got to the Capitol around 10 a.m., along with NPR producer Lauren Hodges. There were only a few dozen people there at the time. They were praying for an intervention, chanting, you know, just really hoping for anything that could stop the vote certification. And even from that early, the mood was already tense and angry. People were upset about, you know, Georgia. And we spoke with 67-year-old Brenda Gifford, who'd driven 34 hours from Arizona to be there. And we could barely hear her over a fight going on in the background.

BRENDA GIFFORD: There's always going to be wacky people in gatherings like this. They - you know, there are rude people everywhere. And we just choose to not be them.

ALLAM: So it was already tense, and then enter the Proud Boys, a violent right-wing gang. And they start marching through the area, berating and taunting officers as they pass by, saying things like do your jobs, traitors, and then they stop, and they're waiting for something. And word goes through the crowd that these other factions are coming and that they're all going to meet at 1 p.m. to march on the Capitol.

INSKEEP: Which is roughly the time when Congress was convening to affirm the Electoral College votes, and lawmakers inside were beginning to raise these bogus challenges. What happened at that point outside?

ALLAM: Well, we see this massive swell of marchers coming down Pennsylvania Avenue, I mean, thousands of people it seemed. At this point, the Proud Boys are essentially the front-line force. This crowd goes up the hill toward the Capitol where there's scaffolding set up for the inauguration already, stacks of folding chairs. But as far as protection, all we saw were some mesh barriers, metal fencing and a small contingent of Capitol police. And they were just quickly overwhelmed. In some cases, the police opened the gates. And we also just saw the mob trample and tear down barriers, climb up on the scaffolding, and then the scene descended into chaos.

INSKEEP: What was it like to be in that crowd?

ALLAM: Oh, goodness. I mean, people were giddy, excited, hyped up. They talked about being part of history. But the underlying message was one of rage and often violence. We heard overt calls for executing Democrats, journalists, antifa, election officials. One man from Ohio who'd only give his name as Joe offered this solution.

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, yeah, I mean, this quickly turned into a mob scene. We're talking about 15 minutes from 2 p.m. to 2:15 when they just sort of swarmed on the steps of the Capitol, people everywhere, very minimal security response. And then we heard them start to bang on the doors and just looking for any way into that building.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Shouting) Let us in.

ALLAM: And so - and as we've seen now, they - I mean, these scenes, they got in, rampaged through the halls of the Capitol and for the most part were allowed to leave of their own accord.

INSKEEP: Can I ask what you were thinking about this, as someone who has covered extremism at home and abroad for years?

ALLAM: Yeah, I've been following the buildup of angry, violent rhetoric from this movement for months now. So, I mean, the shocking part isn't that a pro-Trump mob did exactly what they'd been saying they're going to do but that they were just allowed to do it, especially when we saw such heavy-handed police tactics in some cities against Black and other civil rights protesters. So, yeah, looking forward, there will be a debate about accountability for the security breach and I expect a broader discussion about how to deal with right-wing extremism.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hannah Allam, thank you very much.

ALLAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "TOO OFTEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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