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4 Dead, Police Injured, Dozens Arrested After Siege At The U.S. Capitol

Photo caption:

Photo by Michael Nigro Sipa USA via Reuters

A Pro-Trump protester resists arrest on Wednesday. Hundreds breached the U.S. Capitol Building but there were few arrests in relation to the scope of the unrest as of Wednesday night

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET

Washington, D.C., officials say four people have died, including one in a shooting inside the U.S. Capitol, and dozens of police officers were injured after a mob of supporters of President Trump stormed the nation's legislative building, temporarily shutting down a vote to certify his successor's win.

"Thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions" stormed the building that houses Congress, the Capitol Police said late Thursday morning, in its first statement about the events. The extremists attacked police "with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants, and took up other weapons against our officers."

The day after the attack, U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced that a "7-foot nonscalable fence" is being erected around the entire U.S. Capitol. It is to remain in place for at least the next 30 days, he said. Additional National Guard units are also being deployed, he added.

Officials say one woman was shot by a Capitol Police officer on Wednesday, amid the chaos near the House chamber where lawmakers were sheltering in place. She later died from the injury. The agency identified the woman as Ashli Babbitt.

Three other people — two men in their 50s and one woman in her 30s — died after separate medical emergencies, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said during a news conference.

Contee said 56 officers were injured, describing "a lot of valiant fighting" to perform their duties despite facing tear gas and other hazards. One officer, he said, was "snatched into a crowd" where he was beaten and tased repeatedly.

City police officers arrested 70 people on charges related to unrest from Wednesday through 7 a.m. Thursday, Washington's Metropolitan Police Department said. Most of those arrests were for violating curfew, with many also facing charges of unlawful entry.

The Capitol Police says its officers arrested another 14 people, most of them for unlawful entry. Two of those arrested were charged with carrying a pistol without a license; two others were charged with assaulting a police officer.

The scenes of chaos Wednesday afternoon, as a Trump rally devolved into unrest and insurrection, left the country shaken and the nation's capital on alert.

Bowser blamed the violence on Trump, calling him an "unhinged president" who has peddled baseless conspiracy theories. The mayor also repeatedly referred to the assault on the Capitol as domestic terrorism.

"What happened yesterday is textbook terrorism," Bowser said. She called on the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to investigate and prosecute those who broke the law or incited acts of domestic terrorism. She also urged Congress to establish a commission to review the security breakdown and ensure it doesn't happen again.

When Bowser was asked about the breakdown of the Capitol Police's security effort, she didn't mince words.

"Obviously, it was a failure, or you would not have had police lines breached and people enter the Capitol building by breaking windows," she said, "and terrorizing the people, the members of Congress who were doing a very sacred constitutional requirement of their jobs. So clearly, there was failure there."

As Congress began debate over the certification of Electoral College ballots that would finalize President-elect Joe Biden's victory, a large mob decked in red "Make America Great Again" hats and carrying "Trump 2020" and Tea Party flags burst through barricades, overcame Capitol Police and entered the legislative chambers.

Bowser, who put the city on a strict 6 p.m. curfew, described the day's events as "shameful, unpatriotic and ... unlawful."

Numerous videos shared online showed how the noise of protesters could be heard from inside the Senate and House chambers. In an hours-long siege, the rioters tore through the building, breaking windows, attacking police and ransacking lawmakers' offices. Lawmakers, staffers, reporters and other Capitol building workers were forced into hiding while heavily armed police and federal agents rallied a response.

The violence wasn't directed solely at the U.S. Capitol building. Police also responded to reports of suspicious packages discovered on Capitol grounds and in other areas of the city. Two pipe bombs left at the Republican National Committee headquarters and the Democratic National Committee headquarters were discovered by police and safely detonated, police said.

In a car on Capitol grounds, law enforcement found a cooler full of gasoline bombs and a long gun, Contee told reporters.

The FBI confirmed to NPR that the agency is involved in ongoing investigations and said, "Two suspected explosive devices were rendered safe by the FBI and our law enforcement partners."

Police and security response

The entire D.C. National Guard has been mobilized. By this weekend, McCarthy said, a total of 6,200 National Guard members will be in place to support police and security efforts.

On the morning after the insurrection, Contee said, police officers were "scouring" area hotels in hopes of identifying and arresting people seen in the plentiful videos that have emerged from the Capitol.

Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen called the siege at the Capitol building "an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy."

The Department of Justice dispatched "hundreds of federal law enforcement officers and agents" to assist the Capitol Police, Rosen said.

Yet, there were few arrests in relation to the scope of the unrest as of Wednesday night, despite clear evidence on video of hundreds of rioters gaining access to the Capitol and damaging government property.

Most of the arrests were related to curfew violations, Contee said.

At least four people were arrested for carrying a pistol without a license and having a large capacity ammunition feeding device, including one instance of possessing a firearm on Capitol grounds. Those arrested are from across the country, including North Carolina, Michigan, Arizona Georgia, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

The city's arrest sheet lists only one person as being arrested on a felony charge of violating the Riot Act: Joshua Pruitt, 39, of Washington, D.C. He was taken into custody at the Capitol building, police said.

Protesters who violated Bowser's 6 p.m. citywide 12-hour curfew were largely dispersed from the Capitol grounds or arrested by late Wednesday.

Contee said not all people who gained entry into the Capitol building were taken into custody.

D.C. police will be releasing information later Thursday asking the public's help identifying individuals who breached the Capitol so that they "can be held accountable," he said.

Videos taken of the chaos appeared to show, at best, an unprepared police force easily overrun by rioters or, at worst, one that appeared to acquiesce to the mob. Unverified videos shared on social media showed a police officer taking selfies with some rioters who entered the Capitol, and another appeared to show officers moving barricades to allow a large crowd of people to approach the building.

Capitol Police officers, which usually number around 2,300, have jurisdiction over Congress and its grounds. According to D.C. law, Metropolitan Police can only make arrests on Capitol grounds with the consent or at the request of Capitol Police.

A review will begin immediately to determine how security at the Capitol was compromised, Bowser said.

Lawmakers have promised a full investigation into the Capitol Police's actions.

California Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, said the breach "raises grave security concerns." She said her committee would work with bipartisan House and Senate leadership to address concerns and review the response in the coming days.

The FBI has set up a tip line website for information tied to the riots. The agency said it's seeking information to "assist in identifying individuals who are actively instigating violence in Washington, D.C."

Political repercussions

Hours after Trump's supporters laid siege to an entire branch of government with the apparent aim of keeping him in office in defiance of results of the Nov. 3 election, the president issued a statement early Thursday morning that conceded "there will be an orderly transition on January 20th."

However, that promise came too late for several top advisers at the White House, who resigned, citing the president's response to the siege as the reason for their departure — with less than two weeks to go in their jobs.

Stephanie Grisham, the chief of staff for first lady Melania Trump, submitted her resignation effective immediately. As did White House social secretary Anna Cristina Niceta and White House press aide Sarah Matthews.

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger reportedly also resigned Wednesday, according to Bloomberg News.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have called for Trump's impeachment for his "open sedition."

That effort is unlikely to gain enough support to be done before Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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