US Election

Pro-Trump protest: what were the reasons for the historical invasion of the Capitol?

Supporters of the President broke into the Houses of Congress on Wednesday as part of the 'Stop the Steal' rally that was the culmination of Trump's months-long attack on American democracy.

Pro-Trump protest: what were the reasons for the historical invasion of the Capitol?
JIM URQUHART REUTERS

On Wednesday 6 January a pro-Trump mob marched from the White House towards Capitol Hill, overwhelmed the meagre police presence and disrupted a Congressional session held to certify the electoral victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

The group broke through barricades, scaled the walls and smashed through windows before chasing elected lawmakers away from the heart of American democracy. Rioters, waving flags in support of President Trump, Make America Great Again and the Confederacy, made it into the chambers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The mob clashed with police and private security inside the Capitol and one exchange led to a woman being taken to hospital with gunshot wounds, where she was later pronounced dead.

After many hours law enforcement were able to clear the building and allow Congress to return late on Wednesday evening. But with the country still reeling from this violent insurrection in the Capitol, many are asking what caused such a shocking event.

Months of conspiracy-peddling incited the President's support

The mob in Congress on Wednesday were acting as part of the President’s ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign, which falsely claims that the November election was stolen from Trump. Strikingly, this started long before Election Day 2020 as Trump repeatedly claimed that he could only only be defeated if the election were rigged. He pointed the blame at mail-in voting, Democrat-led states and the "mainsteam media"; all of which prepared the ground for post-election disputes.

He doubled down on these claims after Election Day, despite President-elect Joe Biden winning the Electoral College by the same margin that Trump termed a ‘landslide’ in his 2016 victory. The President has spread countless conspiracy theories to his supporters, sowing doubt in the election result and convincing millions of Americans that they had been cheated.

Team Trump launched an extensive legal campaign to litigate their way to election victory, contesting the results in a number of key states and even attempting to take their objections as far of the Supreme Court. But these lawsuits were quickly dismissed and the Supreme Court, a third of which is comprised of Trump’s own appointees, refused to even hear the case.

The legal battles have been unsuccessful but have not dampened Trump’s insistence on trudging on with fruitless attempts to overturn the result, refusing to concede to the victor. That unwillingness to accept reality was one of the most startling components in the shocking scenes in Washington on Wednesday.

White House ‘Stop the Steal’ address

The 6 January had been outlined as an important date in this year’s electoral process with Senate needed to certify the Electoral College vote in favour of Joe Biden, a formality that ushers in the President-elect's inauguration. However Trump was clearly eager to disrupt proceedings and held a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally at the White House on Wednesday morning.

The President told supporters that he would “never concede” and that he refused to have is “election victory stolen by emboldened radical Democrats”.  He continued, “You have to show strength, and you have to be strong,” before encouraging them to march on Congress and to make their opposition to Biden's victory known. Unfortunately the crowd of Trump supporters that marched on Capitol Hill were intent on more than just making their voices heard.

Lack of governance allows the Capitol chaos to go unchecked

Having spent months lighting the match and a morning fanning the flames, Trump’s primary reaction as hordes of his own supporters occupied Congress was to praise them. Violent rioters broke into both Houses of Congresses, emboldened by the false belief that they had been wronged, and forced the democratic process to be abandoned for a few chaotic hours on Wednesday afternoon.

In response the President posted a couple of weak-spirited posts about remaining peaceful but was much more vocal in his support of their cause. On Twitter he posted a minute-long video, which came as his followers were smashing windows in Congress. In it he repeated the false claims that the election was stolen and refers to those attacking the Capitol as “patriots”. In a stark contrast to the language he used when referring to the Black Lives Matter protestors in the Washington last summer he ended the message by saying "I love you, you're very special”.

Reports from inside the White House claim that the Trump administration actually refused to authorise the National Guard entering Washington DC to help bring the situation under control. The fairly minimal police presence on Capitol Hill was not enough to prevent rioters breaking into the hallowed halls of Congress and DC officials were denied the assistance needed to clear them.