It was 5 p.m. when the explosions began one after the other, washing the crowd of Donald Trump supporters in flags of tear gas. For hours these protesters had swam and trampled on the steps of the Capitol. They had torn down barricades and forced them into the Capitol rotunda, forcing members of Congress and staff to seek refuge. But now there were explosions and the protesters ran. They choked in tear gas.
Protesters had traveled to Washington DC from across the country to support a defeated president’s feverish dream that he had actually won the 2020 election. Earlier that day, at the Save America Rally in the White House, Trump himself encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol. They hoisted a wide variety of flags: American flags, Confederate flags, and Trump 2020 flags; The Christian flags, QAnon flags and Don’t Tread on Me flags. They carried signs – “FUCK YOUR FEELINGS”; “GOD, GUN & TRUMP”; “STOP THE STEAL” – and some carried guns.
Here’s what I saw on Wednesday walking from where I lived in northwest Washington to the United States Capitol starting around 3:00 p.m.
On their way south to 14th Street, a commercial corridor full of shops and restaurants, Trump protesters were difficult to spot if townspeople stormed around before 6:00 p.m. citywide curfew. Then a couple of people came with the flags rolled up. A MAGA hat here, a blood-red Keep America Great hat there. It was south of Thomas Circle that DC became Trump Land. Outside a luxury hotel, a white woman in a jeweled Trump hat and yoga pants asked a black hotel employee where she could get a taxi. “I don’t think you’re going to be lucky with this now, ma’am,” she was told.
For some demonstrators, the mood was tense. “That’s wrong, no, no, no!” A man in black was calling on a phone. “I’m not trying to destroy the country, I’m trying to save the future!” On the news, anchors and experts warned that individuals involved in the Capitol attack were guilty of a federal crime and could be investigated by the police or the FBI. And so some tried to avoid trouble. “Okay, I think we’ve come far enough,” said a young man to his companions and scanned the mostly empty streets. “We’re safe up here.”
For many Trump supporters on 14th Street, however, it was time to celebrate.
“I’m ready for a daiquiri!” said a woman in Trump outfit who appeared to be in her forties. A group of friends cheered in approval.
MAGA-clad demonstrators formed an orderly line in front of a liquor store. Inside, it was full and shoppers struggled to manage both their flags and select libations. “Gosh, if we kill a fifth of bourbon tonight,” said a man with a thin blue line, “it will be a tough drive home tomorrow.”
One block south, at Freedom Plaza, the crowd ballooned and the anger grew stronger. “Who here thinks the DC police will actually enforce the curfew tonight?” A protester called into a megaphone. It was answered aloud Boos. “You are not a real police force,” the man continued. “You are security for Washington!”
All around the square were tables with Trump and MAGA regalia of all kinds. T-shirts, $ 15. Hats, $ 15. I asked if these were clearance prices. not yet.
It was more than an hour before police tried to disperse protesters in the Capitol, but Pennsylvania Avenue was already a sea of Trump supporters stumbling away. Some tiredly sang “USA-USA”. They mocked the police in SUVs: “Damn traitors!” And they posed for photos with Lady MAGA USA, a woman with makeup cake in a white ball gown and a blonde wig, the image of a debutante from the south. It smelled like cigarettes. Across from DC’s majestic Old Post Office building, which Trump rented to build one of his hotels of the same name, Aretha Franklin has blown up a parade “Respect”. “That’s right,” the moderator switched on the microphone. “Everyone has to show something RESPECT for President Trump! Let me hear you guys! ”
In the actual Capitol, protesters covered the west entrance like ants. If much of the retreating crowd had been hoodies and sporting goods, this was men wearing helmets, flak jackets, and military gear. They were holding makeshift shields and had torn flags from dowel rods to form batons. One man was wearing a chain mail tunic. Another was literally wearing an aluminum foil hat. Masks were few and far between.
For all the violence in the air, the mood was less coup and more tailgate for college football. Pop songs boomed from the speakers. Snare drums went somewhere rat-a-tat-tat. And the chants were so loud they rumbled in your chest. Among several common refrains: “FIGHT. TO THE. TRUMP. “” SHIT. MIKE. PENCE. “” BIDEN CON-CEDE. “As the roar subsided, the people yelled to fill the silence.” Democrats are cult! “” Long live the Republic! ”
It was 4 p.m. and the floor was muddy and full of debris at the time: used water bottles, abandoned gloves, a can of bear spray, and a shredded book with the Capitol dome on the cover, puzzlingly titled The great controversy. A long-haired protester stood at the foot of the Capitol steps and urinated directly on the marble. In the midst of it all, the demonstrators smiled and greeted each other as friends: “So where are you from?” “Oh, we’re from Nebraska, how about you?”
Above the west entrance was a large makeshift balcony and adjoining grandstands, which were built for Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20th. Many had climbed onto the scaffolding. On the first floor, a door that led to a narrow staircase to the balcony was smeared with blood. A man with a beard saw the blood and then looked me straight in the eyes. “It will take it, brother,” he said to me, pointing to the blood. “This one.”
An explosion went through the air: tear gas. Others followed –BANG!– but in romper twosie fashion; The wind carried the gas too quickly to be effective.
“Hey cops,” a man yelled into a megaphone. “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Stop being behind this communist bullshit!” Regardless of the paraphernalia of Blue Lives Matter, anti-police sentiment was common. “The state troops I live with are Assholes, “I’d heard someone complain before.” They totally fuck our state. ”
At around 4:30 a.m., an unmistakable voice from phones rang out in the crowd. “I know your pain. I know your pain But you have to go home now, ”the president said in a video posted on Twitter that was later removed for violating company policies. “We have to have peace,” Trump continued. “We must have law and order.” His words were only so far from the phone speakers, however, and men all around them were excited, hitting sticks on the floor and stamping in lockstep to violent chants. “It’s going down tonight, motherfucker!” One man cried too loud for approval. “We’ll get some tonight, let’s go!”
Clashes with the police escalated up in the stands. It became known that a woman had been shot inside. And then it became a mob against itself. While some continued to campaign for violence – they also called for military tribunals for democratic lawmakers – others made futile offers to disband. “Trump Says Go Home In Peace!” A man in an American flag headscarf shouted. “He’s the commander in chief. He’s telling us to go home!”
“I can’t go home, I drove all the way from Arizona!” a woman twittered in response.
Then it was 5 p.m. and the explosions began in earnest, not one, but many and in rapid succession. Tear gas was everywhere. Stuck on the narrow stairs with bottlenecks, the demonstrators sat down in a single row from the balcony, coughing and rubbing their eyes. A man in a gray North Face jacket collapsed at the bottom of the stairs and vomited.
Thirty minutes before the curfew, riot police pushed the crowd back. There were clashes – demonstrators pushed and beat the police, their faces drenched in sweat – but most of them did not seem to want to be gassed again. When they fell back, people shot goodbye: “Pigs!” “Is that what we’re getting to support the blue ?!” “You have just lost the only people in this country who are behind you!” “You serve Satan!”
It was getting dark. Parking lights along the mall had come on and the monuments had lit up. On the ground, in the hands of so many retreating protesters, American flags flapped in the wind. The same flag waved on the Capitol, now glowing beneath low-hanging clouds.
“This is not America,” one woman said to a small group in a trembling voice. She was crying hysterically. “They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.”
One man, possibly her husband, comforted her, “Don’t worry, honey. We showed them today. We showed them what we are about.”