US lawmakers were forced to suspend the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory and leave parts of the Capitol in Washington after pro-Trump supporters pushed past police and stormed the building.
The Capitol was put on lockdown after protesters — some carrying pro-Trump paraphernalia as well as flags of the US or the Confederacy — swept through the hallways of Congress.
Mike Pence, vice-president, was reportedly pulled from the Senate floor, where he was presiding over a debate about the certification. Only hours before, he had defied Donald Trump and said he would not stop Joe Biden from being certified as the winner of the US presidential election.
The protesters were among thousands of Trump supporters who had gathered in Washington on Wednesday in a show of support for the president, who had encouraged the demonstrations. Ten people were arrested during pro-Trump protests a day earlier.
As the protesters breached the Capitol while the certification debate began, staff inside the Cannon House building, one of the office buildings that make up the sprawling Capitol Hill campus that houses the House of Representative and Senate offices and committee rooms, were ordered to evacuate to an underground tunnel connected to a separate building due to “police activity”.
Staffers were ordered to take emergency evacuation packs, including hoods to filter out noxious fumes and gas, and “go bags” containing food and water with them.
Several members of Congress said they had left their offices. “This is wrong. This is not who we are. I am heartbroken for our nation today,” said Republican congresswoman for South Carolina, Nancy Mace, who was forced to evacuate her office.
“I don’t recognize our country today and the members of Congress who have supported this anarchy do not deserve to represent their fellow Americans,” Elaine Luria, a Democratic congresswoman from Virginia, wrote on Twitter.
Muriel Browser, the mayor of Washington, responded by ordering a citywide curfew for the US capital starting at 6pm, when no one other than those “designated by the mayor” will be allowed on the street.
After offering up heated rhetoric to his supporters earlier in the day, Mr Trump took to Twitter to ask the demonstrators to stop attacking police guarding the Capitol complex.
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” Mr Trump wrote. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”