The ‘Wil’ of the People: Insurrection at the Capitol

    Columnist Wil Robertson reflects on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' inauguartion as the new President and Vice-President of the United States of America. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    Jan. 6, 2021 will go down as one of the darkest days in American history. The events of this day reverberated around the world, as images on international television showed pictures of one of the strongest democracies in human history descending into a failed state. This is not what was supposed to happen. 

    That Wednesday should have been a very predictable day by any stretch of the imagination. Georgia’s Senate runoff elections would be decided and Congress was meeting to certify the vote of the electoral college. Numerous Republican house representatives and several senators were expected to challenge the results in a few battleground states. This was supposed to be the one historic headline of the day. Such a challenge was unprecedented to begin with, based in precedent from contested U.S. elections of the 19th century. These challenges were guaranteed to fail as well, as the challengers were in a vast minority in both houses of Congress. 

    I sat down in my living room to watch the proceedings. I expected to see the certification of the votes of the electoral college, which is regularly a boring formality after U.S. elections. This is the last step to confirm the results of the American presidential election. Each State’s electoral college votes are confirmed in alphabetical order. As I watched on, Alabama was confirmed, then Alaska, and surely enough, Arizona was contested. An objection with the signature of a representative and a senator was made, and thus the separate houses of Congress were to return to their own chambers and debate that objection. 

    As this occurred, in the corner of the TV screen was Donald Trump speaking at a permitted protest against the result of the elections. He said multiple times that the crowd of Trump supporters, which included members of known white supremacist groups and neo-Nazi groups, including the Proud Boys, should march on the Capitol building to berate the members of Congress who were there fulfilling a duty enshrined to them by the Constitution. A duty that yes, includes the right to make wild objections made from baseless claims of voter fraud by a minority of Republican legislators. As that event ended, Trump went to the White House, and the protestors did exactly as he said, marching on the Capitol. 

    The House of Representatives began debate, as did the Senate, regarding the objection to the results in Arizona. The pro-Trump protesters, now turned rioters, broke through fencing and the seemingly lightly manned police lines, and soon reached the steps of the Capitol building in the hundreds. Inside, unaware of the events occurring outdoors, debate continued. Rioters climbed scaffolding placed for a platform for the inauguration and rushed up the steps on different sides of the building. At this point, it was clear to news reporters that something was going horribly wrong. As the rioters reached the entrances of the Capitol, the Secret Service burst into the Senate chamber and rushed Vice-President Mike Pence out so quickly they nearly carried him. The president pro-tempore of the Senate was also rushed out of the chamber. Not long after, so too was the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, from the House chamber. Eventually all the members of Congress evacuated, but not until after they had been barricaded in their chambers, gunshots fired, tear gas and various manners of flash-bang grenades were used by law-enforcement, as the protesters breached the Capitol. These insurrectionists broke through doors, windows and anywhere they could find a way into the centre of American democracy. At the same time, a pipe bomb was recovered from outside the headquarters of the Republican Party and nearby the Democratic Party headquarters. 

    Once Senators and Congresspeople were evacuated, the world watched as protesters meandered about the Senate chamber, the House chamber, Speaker Pelosi’s office, and other areas of the Capitol. Insurrectionists, people enacting a violent uprising against an authority or government, both in this instance, had control of one of the most secure buildings in the United States. Trump took to Twitter, first to complain of Pence not disavowing the election results, which he constitutionally cannot do, and then later to tell the rioters to “go home” in the same breath he told them they were “loved,” “special” and he sympathized with them. These messages were later taken down by Twitter, who locked his account for 12 hours. Twitter has suspended this extension. Facebook and YouTube also removed posts and the statement. Facebook and Instagram have both banned Trump’s account for the remainder of his presidency. Trump’s statement only came after president-elect Joe Biden dared him to “step up.” Biden addressed the nation and the events, saying: “This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition and it must end now. I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward.”

    World leaders also condemned the mob’s storming of the Capitol. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the events, saying, “violence will never succeed in overruling the will of the people. Democracy in the US must be upheld – and it will be.” Even Vice-President Pence tweeted, “The violence and destruction taking place at the U.S. Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now. Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”

    The Joint Chiefs, Secretary of Defense, and other officials consulted Vice-President Pence on Jan. 6, and not the president, about the deployment of the national guard to defend the Capitol. Such use of D.C. National Guard requires presidential approval, and neither the secretary of defence nor the president were responding, even as the rioters breached the Capitol, which meant that officials had to consult the vice-president instead. It’s unprecedented.

    A city-wide curfew was announced from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and prior to it the police slowly began to regain control as many rioters dispersed from the area. The entire National Guard of D.C. was activated, as were the D.C. Metropolitan Police, the Capitol Police, 500 members of the Maryland National Guard, Virginia State Police, agents from the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshalls and other police forces were called in to quell the riots. They eventually did so, allowing for both houses of Congress to return to the Capitol at 8 p.m. EST. Many will ask, rightly so, of the difference in police response from the Black Lives Matter protests, to the mild response to such an attack on the Capitol. This will be one of many questions stemming from that day, including how one of the most secure buildings in the nation was breached at such a vital moment. 

    Jan. 6, 2021 marks the first time the Capitol has been breached since British soldiers did so in 1814 as a part of the war of 1812. Continuity of Government measures were used for the first time since 9/11, as the Vice-President, Speaker of the House, and president pro-tempore of the Senate were all in the Capitol for the proceedings at the time the protestors breached the building. These three people, along with vice-president elect Kamala Harris, who is a sitting Senator, were all rushed to undisclosed secure locations.  The three people mentioned above are the three people in the line of succession after the president, should the president be incapacitated. 

    Open discussion between members of Congress, the media and former officials occurred on national television, regarding the invocation of the 25th Amendment, a measure which requires the vice-president, and a majority of Cabinet to find the president unfit for office, and temporarily remove him for power. The Speaker of the House also demanded use of the 25th Amendment. Such is the nature of this day’s events that the mere possibility of an Acting President Mike Pence somehow calms the nerves as a notion. This has not happened however, and likely will not happen. These reasons only show how historic this dark day really is. 

    Let there be no mistake, this attack on American democracy was perpetrated by vile insurrectionists, inspired, praised and encouraged directly by a sitting American president. On Jan. 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that the insurrectionists were incited by Trump. These events led to many injured members of law enforcement, four deaths, 52 arrests and counting. Both houses of Congress, and the vice-president returned to the Capitol to carry out the certification of the results of the Electoral College at 8 p.m. Jan. 6 and eventually certified the Electoral College results to confirm Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ election victory. This happened even after some still objected to the results, despite the events of the day. With two weeks of the Trump Presidency remaining, one can only fear that this dark day in history may be followed by more dark days ahead. This day’s events nearly bordered on an attempted coup. As more Trump officials resign, one can only hope that this administration, which has brought America to the precipice of becoming a failed state, can end soon to allow for sanity to take the reigns of governance again. 

    Given the developing nature of this story, these facts stand as of Jan. 8, 2021, 2:43 p.m.