President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden released duelling messages about the violent protesters that descended on the US Capitol on Wednesday.
Biden, who spoke first, live from Wilmington, Delaware, strongly denounced the rioters calling their actions an “unprecedented assault unlike anything we have seen in modern times”.
Trump, in a recorded video released on Twitter, empathised with his supporters saying: “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt,” before pivoting back to the unfounded election claims that are at the root of Wednesday’s chaos.
“We had an election that was stolen from us.”
Later, Trump downplayed the riots as “the things and events that happen” in a tweet a couple of hours later and seemed to celebrate the violence adding “Remember this day forever!” The tweet was later deleted and was one of three that prompted Twitter to suspend Trump’s account for at least 12 hours.
For his part, Biden called the protesters “extremists” and “a mob” and said their violence is “an assault on the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself. An assault on the people’s representatives and the Capitol Hill police sworn to protect them … An assault on the rule of law … An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: The doing of the people’s business.”
“Let me be very clear, the scenes at the Capitol do not reflect the true America.
“What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness.
“This is not dissent. It is disorder. It is chaos. It borders on sedition.”
Biden said: “To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices, the floor of the United States Senate, rummaging through desks … threatening the safety of duly elected officials. It’s not a protest. It’s insurrection.”
Biden called on President Donald Trump, who had been tweeting from the White House during the protests, to address the nation on national television and “demand an end to this siege”.
Instead, Trump tweeted his video, which ended with him asking his supporters to “go home” and – in what is sure to be extremely controversial – he embraced them.
“We love you. You are very special. … Go home and go home in peace.”
Biden took the opposite tack, saying that he was “shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of light, hope, and democracy has come to such a dark moment”.
The protests were an outgrowth of gatherings of Trump supporters who came to Washington, DC for rallies and to protest Congress’s constitutionally mandated meeting to tally the Electoral College votes – the final step in US presidential elections.
Republicans and Trump for weeks have attacked Biden’s victory as illegitimate, arguing without a shred of evidence that Trump was the rightful winner of the election and had his victory “stolen” from him by Democrats.
After weeks of failed efforts to get judges, governors, state legislatures, state elections officials and the US Supreme Court to reverse or stop the certification of the election results, Republicans hatched a plan to object to the tallying of the electoral votes during the quadrennial meeting of Congress where those votes are counted and certified.
As Trump was speaking to rally-goers blocks from the White House, protesters were becoming violent across town at the US Capitol, breaking through barriers and lines of police, eventually making their way into the building while Congress was conducting its business.
Vice President Mike Pence was at the Capitol in his role as Senate president and was evacuated along with other congressional leaders and legislators.
Throughout the afternoon, Trump fired off tweets, first to criticise Pence for not fighting hard enough for him during the joint session of Congress, then to ask the protesters to: “Stay peaceful!”
It was more than two hours after protesters entered the US Capitol when Trump tweeted his video asking the rioters to go home.