On January 6, 2021, thousands of Americans answered defeated president Donald Trump’s call to descend on Washington and protest against the outcome of the presidential election.
Within a few hours, the US Congress had been overrun in scenes of mayhem without precedent in two centuries.
A year and a half later, the House of Representatives select committee investigating the insurrection launches a series of public hearings on Thursday, hoping to demonstrate Trump’s culpability for the violence.
Here is a look back at this frigid January day when American democracy was shaken to its foundations.
– 7:00 am: Trump supporters hit Washington –
Brandishing Trump 2020 flags and wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps, tens of thousands of Trump supporters crowd into central Washington, convinced that the election he lost was tainted by fraud.
Coming from across the United States, many in buses, they cross the deeply liberal capital city, where most downtown stores and office fronts are barricaded, with locals fearing trouble.
They converge at a stage erected near the White House, where Trump is due to speak around midday. The Republican leader has previewed proceedings in a tweet predicting the day will be “wild.”
– 11:57 am: Trump on stage –
The US president arrives on stage under heavy winter cloud cover.
“We will never give up, we will never concede,” he vows.
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
The crowd gathered in the bracing January chill is galvanized.
The Republican billionaire urges his vice president, Mike Pence, not to certify Joe Biden’s victory during the upcoming special session of Congress, over which Trump’s most loyal lieutenant is due to preside.
As he concludes his speech, Trump says: “We’re going to the Capitol.”
His compliant supporters take note and head to the US Congress, at the eastern end of the National Mall.
– 1:02 pm: The Pence letter –
At the same time, lawmakers in both chambers begin the process of certifying the results of the presidential election.
Just before the start of the session, Pence makes clear in a letter that he has no plans to oppose certification, a right he says belongs solely to the legislators.
Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate’s Republican majority, has been broadly supportive of Trump during his four years in office — but now warns colleagues that doing his will and blocking certification would send democracy into a “death spiral.”
But from the beginning of the session, some Republicans raise objections to the results of the election in the state of Arizona.
– 2:00 pm: Protesters breach the Capitol –
Meanwhile, pro-Trump protesters begin to deluge Congress.
Nearby buildings are evacuated as rioters force their way through police barricades. The election certification session is halted and both chambers are placed in lockdown.
Tear gas is fired into the Capitol rotunda, under the famous neoclassical dome, where police draw their weapons.
Images of a shirtless man sporting buffalo horns as he wanders the halls of Congress, and of another putting his feet up on Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, circulate quickly around the world.
Police shoot dead a protester who is trying to slip into the chamber through a broken window.
Ashli Babbitt — an extremist and conspiracy theorist to some, a patriotic martyr for others — will come to symbolize the deep political faultline that divides the United States after the events of January 6.
– 2:24 pm: Tweets and texts –
While the vice president and lawmakers are evacuated from the chaos of the Capitol, Trump castigates Pence for not having “the courage to do what was necessary to protect the country.”
The president is following the events on television in a room next to the Oval Office.
Republican politicians and conservative celebrities implore his chief of staff Mark Meadows to push him to act, text messages released by the House investigation show.
“Hey Mark, The president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us,” star Fox News host Laura Ingraham says in a text message at 2:32 pm.
“He needs to condemn this shit ASAP,” warns the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in another message at 2:53 pm.
– 4:17 pm: Trump tells supporters: ‘Go home’ –
At 4:17 pm, Trump finally posts a video on his Twitter account.
“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt,” he says from the White House grounds, before launching into by now familiar falsehoods about election fraud.
“We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now, we have to have peace.”
– 6:30 pm: Calm restored –
At 6:00 pm, a curfew imposed by the mayor of Washington goes into effect. The demonstrators still on site are dispersed by law enforcement.
Half an hour later, an official announces that the Capitol is once again secure.
At 8:06 pm, Congress resumes the certification process.
From the chamber floor where members of the pro-Trump mob were parading a few hours earlier, Pence vows: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today — you did not win.”
At 3:42 am, the election of Joe Biden is officially certified.