explainer

"It is disorder, it is chaos": Exactly what's happening in Washington D.C. right now, and why.

What ought to have been the next step in American democracy, instead descended into anarchy.

Dozens of supporters of outgoing Republican President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol building overnight to disrupt the confirmation of Democrat Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.

A joint session of Congress had been debating a last-ditch effort by pro-Trump lawmakers to challenge the results, when the mob breached security and swarmed throughout the building.

The chambers were locked down, and Members of Congress were issued gas masks and told to shelter, while key leaders — including Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris — were evacuated to safety. 

Rep. Jason Crow comforts Rep. Susan Wild while taking cover in the House of Representatives chamber. Image: Getty.

Images show security in the House of Representatives with guns raised toward the door in an effort to protect those within.

Security protects the entrance to the House of Representatives chamber. Image: Getty.

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At least one protestor made it as far as the Senate Chamber, where he stood upon the dais and yelled, "Trump won that election".

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Sadly, the event has proven not just disruptive but deadly, as D.C. police confirmed a woman was shot and killed.

Three other people, including another woman and two men, died during the riots due to separate "medical emergencies".

"We believe there was some kind of medical emergency for each of them but again that's very preliminary," Washington DC Police Chief Robert Contee said, according to ABC News.

While it's understood she was a citizen, no official information is available about her identity or that of the shooter.

What were the protestors trying to stop?

It seems they aimed to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election result, which was taking place inside the building.

This event is usually a formality. It sees the electoral votes opened by the Vice President and counted in front of a joint sitting of Congress (i.e. the House of Representatives and the Senate).

But nothing about this election has been typical.

The session, which was due to last several hours, is also a formal opportunity for lawmakers to raise challenges to the validity of an electoral vote — and Trump's key Congressional supporters seized it.

Despite having no evidence of voting irregularities, the group mounted an effort to dismiss tallies in certain states, drawing criticism from both sides.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — a Republican and formerly one of Trump's key allies — denounced the attempt, saying, "If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral."

It's the latest step in President Trump's desperate attempt to cling to high office.

Despite having only earned 232 Electoral College votes compared to his opponent's 306, President Trump has consistently maintained the election was "stolen" and that he is the rightful winner. He has made entirely unproven allegations of voter fraud, ranging from "dead people voting" to unsupervised vote counting.

Since the results came in, he has engaged lawyers to mount dozens of legal challenges over the outcome in key states. Not a single one has found any evidence of irregularities.

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But his most loyal supporters — both Congressional and civilian — have stuck by him, regardless. 

So, did Trump encourage the Capitol siege?

Not directly. 

But just hours before the chaos at the Capitol, the president riled up attendees at a rally near the White House, vowing he would not let his supporters be silenced.

"We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved," he told the crowd.

He also once again called on Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the votes of the Electoral College (the body of electors that determine who becomes president based on the outcome of the popular vote in their state). Yet no matter how much President Trump may want to overturn the will American voters, his deputy simply doesn't have the power to do that.

Clearly, though, he doesn't seem to know or care.

"All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people," he told the rally.

"We're going to see if we have courageous leaders or of we have leaders that should be ashamed of themselves," President Trump said.

"And if they do the wrong thing, we should never forget."

Within hours, some of his most loyal followers were bursting through barricades towards those leaders.

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The mob forced its way inside the building. Image: Getty.

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How has President-Elect Biden responded to the siege?

As authorities worked to contain the situation at the Capitol this morning, President-Elect Joe Biden gave a national address in which he called on President Trump to demand an end to the siege.

"This is not decent, it is disorder, it is chaos," he said.

"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."

How has President Trump responded?

President Trump subsequently issued a video message via Twitter, in which he urged protestors to leave the Capitol but sympathised with their motivation.

"I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side," he said.

"But you have to go home now. We have to have peace, we have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order. We don't want anyone hurt.

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"This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people."

The video was subsequently deleted by Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook, the latter of which ruled that it "contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence".

"This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” tweeted Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, Guy Rosen.

Then, in a stunning move, the platforms later suspended President Trump's account entirely.

What happens now?

As night fell in D.C., riot police moved the mob away from the Capitol Building, but there are fears of further unrest.

In an effort to curb more chaos, the district's Mayor Muriel Bowers ordered a citywide curfew starting at 6pm, local time.

Meanwhile, Congress reconvened to continue the process interrupted by the insurrection hours earlier.

House Speaker Pelosi issued a strong message to those responsible for the siege.

"To those who strove to tear us from our responsibility, you have failed," she said. "To those who engaged in the gleeful desecration of this, our temple of ... American democracy, justice will be done." 

Feature image: Getty.

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