WASHINGTON — As the mob broke into the Capitol building, pushing through barricades and scuffling with police, thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump, who had incited them to march to that very spot, looked over the chaotic scene of an insurrection in America — and cheered.
“It’s starting,” one man said ominously, as the sound of police sirens grew louder and someone played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes nearby.
“It’s beautiful,” a woman replied.
For the Trump supporters who came to Washington on Wednesday, the day began near the Washington Monument, where they listened as the president again perpetuated the myth that the election was stolen from him. Then he sent them to Capitol Hill.
“We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave. ... and we’re going to the Capitol,” Trump said. “We’re going to try and give our Republicans — the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help — we’re to try and give them kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
So they did.
An initially peaceful parade escalated into violence once the crowd massed on the Capitol steps. Some shattered windows and stormed the building, sending America’s elected leaders scrambling for safety and leading authorities to lock down the entire Capitol complex. Four people died in the mayhem, Washington police said, one who was shot by police and three others in medical emergencies. Many others were injured, including 14 police officers. Police also investigated a potential explosive device nearby. As as of 9:30 p.m., police had arrested 52 people, most charged with curfew violations.
But many Trump supporters were undisturbed by an attack on one of the seats of United States government that even top Republicans not named Trump almost universally decried — a “failed insurrection,” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it.
“People are mad,” said Barry Sullivan, 62, a Trump supporter from Maryland, watching the scene unfold about a half a mile away from the Capitol steps. “That’s what this is about.”
“Elections are our only recourse we have and if we lose that, we lose the country,” he said. “This is happening because people won’t allow that. I’m not saying I condone violence, but — that is how our country was founded.”
Sullivan, like most who gathered here, believed that the election was stolen from Trump and that Wednesday, typically a ceremonial moment to formalize the results, was a last stand. Their hope, like Trump’s, defied the reality: that enough lawmakers would object to the certification of a free and fair election in the world’s longest-running democracy.
While most of the Trump supporters who descended on Washington did not illegally enter a federal building, many of them celebrated those who did.
“God Bless America,” said Rochelle Ford, who traveled from Wisconsin. Asked why she felt that way in that moment, Ford responded: “It’s a beautiful country. And it’s gonna be beautiful when it’s over. Today, it’s biblical.”
Not everyone was as proud.
“They should not have done that,” said Janice Buskirk, who was among a group of dozens of Trump supporters who traveled together from Pennsylvania. “You know how it is when you have a group of people. Some are well-behaved and act like they should, some people will get a little rowdy. I heard a few did get in.”
Told the extent of the breach — rioters stormed the floor of the Senate chamber, carried Confederate flags, and posed for pictures in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — Buskirk paused. “I’m honestly surprised the police let them,” she said.
Still, Buskirk, who is from the Lehigh Valley, called Wednesday “one of those historical moments that at least for the people that were there, they will remember it forever.”
Sue Gladfelter, another member of the Pennsylvania group, from Quakertown, said even before the attack on the Capitol that she worries about where the country goes from here. “I do wonder about secession,” she said. “I don’t like to say that because I’m a patriot, but I just don’t know how you have peace and unity when you’re so polarized.”
David Stauffer, a 68-year old retired truck driver from York, wore a bulletproof vest and carried a bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. Stauffer said he wasn’t hoping for violence but wanted to be prepared. He thought a certification of Biden’s Electoral College win could be a triggering event.
“We wait for the Civil War,” he said. “It will be next. You have to prepare for the worst. And the worst will come. Because the left is pushing for it.”
As they marched toward the Capitol, some held crosses in the air, others Confederate flags or “F— Biden” signs. Some dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers and drummed as they walked. Others brought children or elderly parents and stuck to the sidewalks, away from the thick of the crowd. The song “Proud To Be an American” blasted from a nearby van as the first of what would be several tear gas plumes clouded the view of the Capitol.
“I think our country’s at a tipping point today,” said Sarah Powell, 61, who traveled to Washington from Lancaster. “If Trump does not get sworn in on the 20th of January, the country will be the United States of the Communist Party.”
“This will carry on,” Powell said, gesturing toward the crowd. “Trump is not going away and he may not be in office, but look what he can do — look at this crowd.”
Many said they were there because they are patriots who believe in America.
But as night fell on the nation’s Capitol, it wasn’t American flags draped over its balustrades. It was Trump flags.