WASHINGTON — Violent supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, shattering windows, ransacking offices and pounding on the barricaded doors of the House chamber while shaken lawmakers huddled inside.
The House and Senate eventually reconvened to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, but not before being whisked to safety as rioters entered the Senate chambers and the violence turned deadly.
The extraordinary breach of democratic order — blamed by both parties on the president’s incitement — forced members to flee the House and Senate floors under armed guard, delaying Congress’ constitutionally mandated count of Electoral College votes.
One woman was shot inside the Capitol and died of her injuries, D.C. police said. Three other deaths were reported. Several police officers were also injured.
The Capitol has seen frequent protests and some previous acts of violence — including a bombing in 1915 and shooting in the House Gallery by four supporters of Puerto Rican independence in 1954 — but no riot comparable to Wednesday’s has ever taken place on its grounds.
The violence broke out in early afternoon, shortly after the House and Senate began separate debates on challenges by a minority of Republicans to the Electoral College slate from Arizona, the first of at least three states that Trump supporters had planned to challenge.
New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, all of whom are Democrats, reported on Twitter they had managed to safely evacuate the Capitol. In the hours following the take-over attempt, each also condemned the actions of the rioters for their efforts to disrupt the democratic process.
“This was an insurrection spurred by President Trump and his enablers in Congress, who for months have perpetuated unfounded lies in an attempt to overturn the will of the American people,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in a news release issued Thursday morning. “The peddling of these dangerous conspiracy theories and escalating political rhetoric incited the violence we saw yesterday that took an American life, reaped chaos in the halls of Congress and seared an image in the minds of people around the world about the state of America.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Sen. Maggie Hassan, who called the breach “destructive and un-American,” and Rep. Annie Kuster, who was in the balcony of the House chambers when the assault began.
She recalled hearing a commotion while debates to certify the election results were underway and witnessed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip James Clyburn being “ushered out of the chamber.” She said she and her colleagues were then instructed by Capitol Police to put on gas masks.
“We crouched behind the balcony wall and then scrambled through the rows of seats and under the railings all the way to the far corner of the chamber,” Kuster said in a release issued by her office Wednesday evening. “I saw floor staff moving a large couch in front of the door. We were shepherded out of the chamber to an undisclosed location and then moved to a second location following that. These are not peaceful protests, this was a violent mob.”
The attack brought the congressional proceedings to a halt for hours. The debate resumed in the evening, with some senators who had planned to object to Biden’s electors saying that the attack on the Capitol had caused them to change their minds.
The day’s events began in midmorning when Trump, who had called on supporters to protest on Wednesday and promised them a “wild” time, spoke to thousands gathered at the Ellipse, just south of White House. He urged them to march to the Capitol.
“We will never give up. We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore,” he said.
President-elect Joe Biden, labeling the events an “insurrection,” demanded that Trump “go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution, and demand an end to this siege.”
“This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition, and it must end now,” Biden said during a brief speech in Wilmington, Del., about two hours after the attack on the Capitol began.
Similar calls came from across the political spectrum.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the third-ranking Republican in the House, said in an NBC interview that Trump bore responsibility for the violence.
“The president of the United States called his supporters to Washington, D.C., and he dispatched them without telling them to stop it,” Cheney said. “What he has caused here is something that we have never seen in our history.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a letter to colleagues that the violence had been “instigated at the highest level.”
The National Association of Manufacturers, a pillar of the business establishment, issued a statement saying that Vice President Mike Pence, who was evacuated from the Senate chamber when the rioters broke in, “should seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to preserve democracy,” referring to the constitutional provision that allows a majority of the Cabinet to declare the president incapacitated.
Numerous lawmakers and political leaders across the nation called for Trump to be impeached a second time, despite the expiration of his term in two weeks.
About three hours after the initial attack on the building, Trump responded with a video in which he professed “love” for the rioters, called them “very special” and repeated his false claims that he won the November election. He also told them to leave the Capitol.
“I know your pain. I know your hurt,” Trump said. “But you have to go home now.”
In late afternoon, additional law enforcement officers began arriving at the Capitol, and the Pentagon announced that National Guard units would assist. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared nighttime curfews in the city and its suburbs.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller said the D.C. National Guard was fully activated.
In a statement, Miller said he and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, “just spoke separately with the vice president and with Speaker Pelosi” and other congressional leaders “about the situation at the U.S. Capitol.” He notably did not mention speaking to Trump.
“Our people are sworn to defend the Constitution and our democratic form of government, and they will act accordingly,” the statement said.
The violence began shortly after 1 p.m. Eastern time as some members of the crowd of Trump backers began scuffling with police and broke through security barricades set up around the Capitol. They quickly overwhelmed a seemingly unprepared Capitol Police force and climbed up the steps on both sides of the building, which are normally off-limits to civilians.
“I think this is the start of the second American revolution,” said Terry McCord of Michigan, one of the Trump supporters. She said her Catholic faith brought her to the scene.
“We have to stop Biden. He is not a good Catholic, and he cannot be our president. We are here for President Trump,” she said.
In sharp contrast to this summer, when federal law enforcement officers used force against largely peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators near the White House at then-Attorney General Robert Barr’s urging, the Capitol Police retreated in the face of the crowd, who could be seen using crowbars and other objects to break windows and gain entry into the Capitol building. The failure of the police to secure the Capitol complex, despite days of advance notice of pro-Trump protests and warnings of possible violence, drew outrage from lawmakers and other officials.
“There were clearly enormous strategic and planning failures by the Capitol Police, by the Sergeant at Arms and anyone else who was part of coordinating the effort here,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who leads the House subcommittee that funds the Capitol Police. “This is the United States Capitol building with United States Congress in session handling the presidential election process.”
“There was a strategic breakdown,” he told reporters. “You can bet your ass we’re going to get to the bottom of it.
“It’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon,” he added. “This is an embarrassment both on behalf of the mob and the president and the insurrection and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur.”
About 2 p.m., the mob, having gotten into the Capitol building, broke the glass door of the chamber of the House floor, prompting police officers inside to draw their guns. Members of Congress and Capitol Police barricaded the door with a large bookcase.
In the Senate, the body’s president pro tempore, Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, abruptly interrupted a senator in midsentence to declare the chamber in recess as Capitol Police ordered a lockdown of the building.
In video posted online, a person holding a Trump flag was seen strolling across the Senate floor, access to which is typically so severely restricted that the chamber in 2018 had to pass a rule allowing a newborn baby to enter it in the arms of its mother, a senator. Another person could be seen carrying a Confederate flag outside the Senate chamber.
Reporters heard at least one gunshot. Some House members were evacuated before the mob breached the building. Pelosi said later she was whisked away from the dais so quickly that she left behind her phone. Congressional leaders were taken to Fort McNair, just south of Capitol Hill, for security.
At least two dozen members, however, were left inside a gallery, given gas masks and advised to remain low to the floor.
“It was a pretty terrifying experience,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., who was in the chamber. “This shouldn’t happen in the United States, where people think a democracy is being stolen from them and being antagonized by the president of the United States. It creates a dangerous situation where people are running for their safety.”
Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., another lawmaker who was in the House chamber, described the experience as “horrible.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., recalled being a Capitol intern when the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks took place.
“It reminded me a little bit of just the atmosphere here at the time,” he said. “Everyone looking out for each other.”
“We’ve all seen the videos of banana republics all over the world, where the legislators fight, and they can’t keep security. And now the entire world is watching us,” Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., said. “I am heartbroken for my country.”
The reading of the Electoral College votes, which was Wednesday’s official business, is typically a perfunctory process.
This year, however, it had already taken on an ominous air as some Republicans in both the House and the Senate planned to object to the certified electoral vote tallies in at least three states.
As the Senate debate opened, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., forcefully denounced the effort to subvert Biden’s victory by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and others.
If Congress followed Trump’s wishes and rejected electors from states that Biden won, “our democracy would enter a death spiral,” said McConnell, who for four years had largely turned a blind eye to Trump’s conduct.
“This election was not unusually close,” he said.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s proceeding, Trump had been demanding that Pence use his position as Senate president to reject electoral slates from states Biden won. Trump falsely said that Pence had that power, but Pence rejected his overture.
“As a student of history who loves the Constitution and reveres its framers,” Pence wrote in a two-page letter to Congress, “I do not believe that the founders of our country intended to invest the vice president with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted.”
Trump responded angrily on Twitter.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” he wrote.
Twitter removed that message and several others by Trump during the course of the day, saying that his statements violated its standards.
Democrats warned that the objections will have long-term consequences.
“These actions have eroded the American people’s faith in the integrity of our elections and the institutions that stand at the core of our democracy,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said.
Republicans who object to certifying the vote say they’re following through on the concerns of their constituents.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., said he would have preferred courts to review claims of fraud.
“Because the courts at all levels have sidestepped their duty to the republic, there is no other alternative than to use the power of Congress to investigate and hopefully get to the truth,” LaMalfa said.
Numerous courts nationwide received and reviewed Trump’s challenges pertaining to the vote — including the Supreme Court. All of them dismissed the claims.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., one of Trump’s most loyal allies in the Senate, said he had concerns about the widespread use of mail-in voting but would prefer an independent commission to review the voting process — not to overturn the election.
“While I share the concerns of those who plan to object,” Cramer said Tuesday, “the Founding Fathers did not design a system where the federal legislative branch could reject a state’s certified choice for president in favor of their own.”
The most recent objection to an electoral count was raised in 2005 upon the reelection of President George W. Bush, with the support of then-Sen. Barbara Boxer. The objection was heard, briefly debated and voted down.
After police reestablished control of the Capitol, Congress returned to its business of opening and reading the Electoral College certifications filed by each of the states.
“We will not be kept out of the chamber by thugs, mobs or threats,” McConnell said. Pelosi vowed to stay as long as was needed to complete the process.
The GOP objections were expected to be rejected by each chamber, clearing the way for Congress to finish the electoral counting and announce Biden as the winner.
The coronavirus pandemic unleashed cascades of suffering in 2020. People around the globe faced the threat of the virus, along with the devastating ripple effects of efforts to control its spread.
For much of the world, the legacy of the pandemic will be impossible to untangle from the stark material inequities that worsened it — and that it exacerbated. Among the most dangerous of these: a mounting hunger crisis, set to grow even more dire in 2021.
The World Food Program, the branch of the United Nations responsible for delivering lifesaving food assistance, expects to need to serve 138 million people next year — more than ever in its 60-year history.
The rise in hunger is “due to what I call ‘the three Cs’ — conflict, COVID and climate,” said Steve Taravella, a WFP spokesman. “We don’t take the word ‘famine’ loosely, but with famine looming in several countries at once, we’re facing a genuine crisis.”
And as the situation worsens, the agency is also facing major funding shortfalls. It expects to raise only around half of the $15.1 billion it projects it will need in 2021, Taravella said.
The agency is steeling itself “for an especially heartbreaking year,” he said.
Jackson Alemi, a refugee from South Sudan, is among those worried about how he will continue to feed his family. In 2016, they fled the country’s brutal civil war for safety in neighboring Uganda. Since then, they and their neighbors in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, like many displaced people around the world, have relied heavily on WFP rations.
But this year, budget insufficiencies forced the agency to slash its aid for refugees in Uganda by 30 percent. The cuts coincided with the start of the pandemic, when work opportunities — already limited — also dried up. And last month, amid ongoing funding shortages, WFP announced that aid for refugees in Uganda would be reduced again.
Bidi Bidi has avoided a widespread coronavirus outbreak that some worried would occur due to refugees living in close quarters. But Alemi fears that another deadly danger has emerged, between aid cuts and fallout from the global health crisis.
“People might die of hunger, not the pandemic. That is my worry,” Alemi said in a phone conversation over the summer. “Hunger is hitting hard.”
Neighbors share what little they have, but Alemi fears that after months and months of smaller rations, the situation is growing more precarious.
His siblings are “not eating enough,” he said at the time. “They are not in school and there are lots of needs that arise that I can’t afford.”
Ryan Anderson, deputy country director for WFP in Uganda, said that his team has already seen some refugees adopt unhealthy coping strategies to manage the lack of food. “I’m worried about people’s lives getting much more difficult, particularly children in the settlements,” he said.
The hunger crisis has a long reach, affecting countries both rich and poor.
In the United States, Census Bureau data from mid-November showed that around 26 million adults reported not having enough to eat. Many are relying on food banks and a growing number of people have had to resort to shoplifting basic necessities, including baby formula.
In the early months of the pandemic, when many countries implemented shutdowns or other restrictions, hunger began to rise in urban areas. In rural areas, some of the impacts could be more long-term, if farmers missed planting cycles because of lockdowns or difficulties acquiring seeds, said Emily Farr, who works on food security issues at Oxfam. Her organization warned last year that more people could die of hunger globally than from coronavirus infections.
“Even before COVID, going into  we were already seeing extremely high numbers of people facing acute food insecurity,” Farr said.
In some parts of the world, the pandemic exacerbated levels of hunger that were already dangerous. In Yemen, where civil war has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, around 80 percent of the population relies on aid. Hunger is widespread and the U.N. has warned that famine is looming. In October, UNICEF raised alarm that 1 in 5 children under the age of 5 is acutely malnourished in parts of southern Yemen.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, many Yemenis “didn’t have the choice of staying at home,” said Radhya Almutawakel, chair of Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni organization. If they did, she said, “they will die from hunger.”
In Afghanistan, a government lockdown early on in the pandemic left many families who were already living hand-to-mouth more desperate.
Alireza Yousufi, 41, used to find enough work as a day laborer in Kabul to pay rent for the single room he shares with his five children. But his work disappeared when the city went into lockdown in March.
By summer, months behind on rent, he resorted to wandering the capital’s streets, hoping a passerby would offer some change. But to beg in Kabul, where many residents are suffering and the pandemic has thrown more people like Yousufi into economic uncertainty, meant he was often left asking for help from people who had nothing to spare.
Even if he knocked on 100 doors in a day, Yousufi said in June, he would be lucky to scrape together a small amount of cash by nightfall. Still, he said, he felt it was his only option left.
“My family would 100 percent starve if I don’t beg,” he said. “What else can I do to feed them when there is no work?”
In Uganda, Alemi said in December, the conditions remained precarious. After a difficult year, some people began to sell their few belongings in search of funds for the holidays, he said.
“There’s too much pressure to celebrate with special meals and clothing especially for children because this is how they used to celebrate in South Sudan,” he said. “And it’s so difficult convincing them that things are never the same.”
After concerns about a pair of programs included in Keene’s draft energy plan stalled its adoption, the committee that put the plan together took time to discuss those misgivings Wednesday, though it made no changes to the proposal.
The city’s Energy and Climate Committee discussed two programs — home energy labeling and benchmarking — both of which are designed to increase transparency about energy consumption for prospective buyers and renters. At the Keene City Council’s meeting Dec. 17, two councilors said they had been approached by constituents who were worried what these programs might mean for them.
With home energy labeling, the idea is to have people provide the city with information about a home — such as its age, size and type of heating/cooling systems in use — to help determine the building’s energy efficiency. Benchmarking is a little more straightforward and involves building owners simply reporting their actual energy consumption.
The plan states that the programs would require this information to be made available any time a building is sold or a unit is rented. However, the plan recommends the city initially implement the programs on a voluntary basis before eventually making them mandatory, Brunner noted.
“The main thing that people have to realize is that this really isn’t going to cost landlords or homeowners anything other than the ... initial process for getting the labeling done,” energy committee Chairman Peter Hansel said during Wednesday’s meeting. “But it does give the renters or the prospective buyers of those homes a way of assessing whether that home is energy efficient.”
The council voted 13-2 to send the plan back to its Planning, Licenses and Development Committee for further discussion. That committee had voted unanimously Dec. 9 to recommend the council adopt the plan — which aims for everyone in the city to transition to renewable sources for electric energy by 2030 and for heating and transportation energy by 2050.
“[Councilors] mentioned that they had heard from members of the public who had just heard about home energy labeling for the first time and didn’t really understand what it was and they were concerned that it might increase costs for homeowners,” City Planner Mari Brunner, who worked closely with the energy committee to develop the plan, said at the energy committee’s meeting Wednesday morning. “The decision to send the plan back to [the PLD] committee was really intended to give people a little more time to learn about the program and get comfortable with the idea.”
Keene’s long-term objectives stem from a set of nonbinding goals set by the council in January 2019. The energy committee was then formed and tasked with delivering a roadmap for achieving these goals to the council by the end of 2020.
The two programs that drew some concerns are similar, Brunner explained. Home energy labeling generally applies to single- or two-family homes or rentals with four or fewer units, while benchmarking applies to larger rentals and commercial buildings.
The Planning, Licenses and Development Committee is set to take up the energy plan again on Jan. 13, and Brunner said she hopes anyone with concerns about it will tune in and learn more about what is being proposed. That committee will weigh whether to recommend any changes to the plan before sending it back to the full council.
If the council does adopt the plan, it will have to take further actions to implement individual parts of it, said Assistant City Manager Rhett Lamb, who has also been working closely with the energy committee.
“[The plan] will get a lot of further review before it goes into play,” he said.
The plan can be viewed in full online at www.keeneenergyplan.com.Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson
Around 5 p.m. on Dec. 20, Officer Matt Lima of the Somerset (Mass.) Police Department pulled up to a Stop & Shop for a report of shoplifting. An employee had seen women putting groceries in bags without scanning them — various food items, including a ham, totaling about $220.
Lima spoke to the women, a mother whose two kids were with her and their aunt, he recalled in an interview. They admitted the theft, told him they knew it was wrong and had no prior records.
Getting emotional, the aunt “gestured towards the kids and said it was Christmas dinner,” Lima said.
He decided not to charge them.
“Obviously, what the two women had done was wrong. Stealing is wrong — it’s beyond question,” Lima said. “But to me the individual factors outweighed the enforcement side of it.”
Lima wrote up notices banning them from the store and escorted them outside. Then he handed them $250 in gift cards he had just bought, “so they could go to a different Stop & Shop and buy their food for Christmas.”
A feel-good holiday story that was picked up by the Associated Press, the incident also illustrates a key aspect of policing. Responding to complex situations on a daily basis, officers have wide discretion in how they enforce the law. And some police departments are using that discretion as a basis for programs that route people away from the legal system — a more formal version of what Lima did in that grocery store.
Known as police-led diversion, the practice has been implemented in different forms in Brattleboro and towns on New Hampshire’s Seacoast.
Diversion programs steer low-level defendants out of the court system entirely. That often happens when a case reaches the prosecutor’s office or the court.
Police-led diversion takes place one step earlier, generally for more minor cases. Some experts suggest it has the potential to reduce arrests, which can have real impacts on people — from hours in jail to public embarrassment — regardless of what happens later in a case. Police diversion programs can also connect people directly with social services or other help.
Former Brattleboro Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald said cycling low-level offenders through court can leave law enforcement frustrated.
“I don’t care how many times you steal a Snickers bar or, you know, walk around downtown in an area you’ve been trespassed from, you’re not gonna be incarcerated,” he said in December, before his retirement. “So how do we reach this individual to explain to them, you know, what they’re doing is wrong? And how can we get them to understand that and not do it anymore?”
That was the impulse behind a decade-old program run by the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, known as Justice Alternatives. When issuing a citation for a low-level offense like shoplifting, an officer can also write a referral form for the program. If the person opts in and completes the requirements, the charges aren’t filed.
In meetings with community members, offenders take responsibility and talk through how their actions harmed others. That can mean hearing from them directly; store employees have come to meetings to talk about the problem of retail theft, said Jackie Trepanier, who oversees the program for the justice center. She estimated the center fields 30 to 40 referrals per year, supplementing the well-developed set of diversion programs that Vermont operates at the prosecutor level.
“Because of the consequences of having a charge on your record, people are super grateful for the opportunity, not just to not have a criminal record but also to address this thing they did in a way that helps them move forward just as much as anybody else,” she said.
Even if a charge is later dismissed, an arrest itself can have consequences, as a group of scholars noted in “The Power to Arrest,” a 2019 review of the literature on police decision-making and arrest alternatives.
That can include one’s name becoming public in a police log, the psychological toll of being handcuffed and transported, time spent in a holding cell and financial costs. (In New Hampshire, for instance, it costs $40 to see a bail commissioner who can grant release soon after an arrest). In addition, some landlords or social service providers may rely on arrest records for background checks.
“For many individuals, the most severe and long-lasting costs of an arrest do not come from conviction or formal punishment, but the myriad of collateral consequences in their personal, public, and professional worlds,” the authors — eight researchers affiliated with the University of Cincinnati and the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety in Albany, N.Y. — wrote.
That makes pre-arrest diversion an attractive idea with a sound basis in theory, they wrote, though empirical research on how such programs play out in practice is limited.
One well-known version — called LEAD, for “law enforcement-assisted diversion” — originated about a decade ago in Seattle as a way to deal with people who were arrested repeatedly for drug possession or prostitution.
Instead of arresting those people, officers could refer them promptly to case managers who could work with them on immediate needs like housing, drug treatment, transportation or job assistance. Unlike in many diversion programs, the charge is immediately dropped.
An early analysis by University of Washington researchers found LEAD participants were less likely to be re-arrested than a control group and their housing situations seemed to improve — though the authors cautioned that the results could be different elsewhere, depending on an area’s population and resources.
Other police departments have adopted versions of LEAD, including Farmington and Dover in New Hampshire, in partnership with a local addiction-recovery organization. As of late 2020, about two years in, the two towns had diverted about 20 people, police officials said.
Because of their reliance on officers’ discretion, police diversion programs are susceptible to certain pitfalls, experts say.
Street-level decisions occur with little public scrutiny. When officers have total discretion over who to divert, that can raise concerns about unconscious bias, as well as missing the target population. An evaluation of the first year of a LEAD program in Albany, N.Y., found that officers diverted only 43 people and mostly failed to include the criminal justice system’s “frequent fliers,” for whom the program was designed.
Rank-and-file officers have to buy in, or the program will be rarely used. And who gets diverted can depend on which officer happens to respond. In a study of one unnamed department in the western U.S., officers’ general beliefs on rehabilitation and what shapes human behavior correlated with their self-reported likelihood of using LEAD.
Another potential concern is what scholars call “net widening,” an unintended expansion of the criminal justice system’s reach. That could happen if police officers use diversion for people they would otherwise have dealt with informally — like the women in the Stop & Shop.
The “Power to Arrest” authors recommend that diversion programs be used only for those who would otherwise be charged and not replace the various other techniques that police have traditionally used to resolve situations, from verbal warnings to calling a family member to pick someone up.
Lima, the Somerset officer, has learned in his seven years on the force that no two calls are the same.
“I wouldn’t say that, at this point in my career, I have like a default assessment of basically anything,” he said. “Because some of the things that happen are just so out of the realm of logical explanation sometimes.”
This reporting was supported by a grant from the nonprofit Solutions Journalism Network. The Sentinel retained editorial control.