NEW YORK (AP) — The storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump played out on national television and social media in searing fashion Wednesday.
The pictures were stunning: security officials with guns drawn on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, people fighting with police in the Capitol Rotunda, rioters smashing windows and streaming into the building where the nation’s leaders had gathered to count votes sealing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Reporters and anchors described scenes of bedlam and fear, questioning how security and the nation’s leaders did not anticipate it.
“This is so, so embarrassing for the United States of America,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said.
Television networks had gathered to watch congressional debate over the election but their cameras quickly turned to ominous scenes outside the building as a crowd that had listened to an angry speech by Trump marched to the building.
As demonstrators climbed steps and penetrated the Capitol, it quickly flew out of control.
“The mob has overtaken the process of trying to certify the electoral college,” said Fox News Channel reporter Chad Pergram. “Security here at the U.S. Capitol has failed.”
“How were you not prepared for this?” NBC News’ Katy Tur said.
“That is not Ukraine, that is not Belarus,” ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos said as images of people banging on the U.S. Capitol door played.
Some anchors were quick to assign blame: CNN’s Jake Tapper said it was violence incited by Trump, his supporters and leaders of the congressional effort to challenge the electoral college vote, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.
“It’s an absolutely disgraceful moment in United States history and there are specific villains,” Tapper said.
CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell conducted an extraordinary interview with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, pressing him on whether he has urged Trump to do something to stop his supporters and confronting him on whether the false claims of widespread electoral fraud had led to it.
“Why have you all run from the Capitol?” O’Donnell asked him.
Earlier in the day, the nation’s deep divisions were apparent in the media. Fox News Channel, Newsmax and One America News Network all carried the president’s speech outside the Capitol live, even as the debate within the Capitol was beginning.
Hours after the violence began, Trump told protesters it was time for them to “go home.”
“I know your pain. I know your hurt. But you have to go home now,” he said. “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.”
The video statement came more than an hour after protesters stormed the Capitol as lawmakers convened for a joint session to confirm the Electoral College results and affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
It came after growing pressure from Republican lawmakers and former administration officials who begged Trump to take more decisive action that would help quell the violence by his supporters. Trump had taken to Twitter earlier to ask backers to “remain peaceful,” but he did not call for them to disperse.
The nation’s capital descended into chaos when protestors overwhelmed police and bulled their way into the Capitol, forcing a delay of the joint session of Congress where lawmakers were counting electoral votes that will affirm Biden’s White House victory two weeks before Inauguration Day.
In the earlier tweets, Trump had offered only a muted response to the violence as loyalists brandishing his paraphernalia clashed with police, occupied the Capitol and even stormed the Senate chamber.
At a rally near the White House, Trump had encouraged supporters to march on the Capitol and suggested at one point that he would join them on Capitol Hill. In his remarks, he used incendiary language with violent undertones.
Trump had urged his supporters to “get rid of the weak Congress people” — presumably through primary challenges. He said “get the weak ones get out. This is the time for strength.”
Republican lawmakers pleaded with Trump to do more to stop the violence. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California said he told the president to “calm individuals down.”
“I’ve already talked to the president,” MCarthy told Fox News. “I called him. I think we need to make a statement, make sure that we can calm individuals down.”
A Senate ally, Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, appealed directly to the White House: “Mr. President @realDonaldTrump the men & women of law enforcement are under assault. It is crucial you help restore order by sending resources to assist the police and ask those doing this to stand down.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., posted a video message urging Trump to “call it off.”
“This is Banana Republic crap that we’re watching right now,” said Gallagher, who had spoken out against objections from fellow Republicans to certifying the Electoral College vote that Biden won.