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U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi read the final certification of Electoral College votes cast in November's presidential election during a joint session of Congress, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

Hours after an armed mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed and occupied the Capitol building in a bid to overturn the results of the presidential election, the U.S. Congress certified Joe Biden’s victory and the White House confirmed for the first time that Mr. Trump will hand over power on Jan. 20.

The extraordinary attack on the seat of the country’s democracy by the President’s loyalists marked a dark moment in U.S. politics and was sparked by the efforts of Mr. Trump and his political allies to invalidate the will of the electorate.

A crowd of thousands besieged the building Wednesday afternoon before forcing its way through police lines and barricades. Hundreds of rioters burst inside, where they smashed windows and doors, invaded the Senate chamber and ransacked legislators’ offices. Police shot and killed one woman as Trump supporters tried to break into the House of Representatives chamber. Three other people died on Capitol Hill of medical causes.

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Congress abruptly adjourned, and the building went into lockdown as legislative leaders were rushed out of the room. Police regained control of the Capitol by evening as Washington imposed a city-wide curfew.

Legislators reconvened and formally confirmed early Thursday that Mr. Biden had won the Electoral College by a margin of 306 to 232. Congress rejected efforts by some Republican legislators to invalidate Democratic electoral votes in key swing states.

The insurrection at the Capitol is the most violent salvo to date in Mr. Trump’s campaign to have Mr. Biden’s election victory overturned. It comes in the dying days of a presidency during which he was often accused of disregarding constitutional norms and the rule of law. Many of his supporters promised further mayhem if the election result is allowed to stand.

A growing chorus of voices, meanwhile, called for Congress to immediately impeach Mr. Trump or for Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution – a means of last resort to remove an ill or rogue president – to prevent further damage before Mr. Biden takes over.

Many questioned how the rioters had managed to so completely breach security and smash up the Capitol with seeming impunity, particularly after police took a heavy-handed approach to anti-racism demonstrations in the city last spring.

After Congress certified Mr. Biden’s victory, the White House released a statement from Mr. Trump promising an “orderly transition” to the new administration.

In a White House video released hours earlier, the President asked supporters to “go home in peace” but repeated his false accusations that the election had been rigged. Elections officials of both parties in all 50 states have certified that the vote was fair and did not involve fraud. Mr. Trump has presented no evidence to back up his claims.

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The President, who campaigned on a “law and order” agenda, also expressed sympathy with the rioters.

“I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us,” he said. “We love you. You’re very special.”

Facebook and YouTube removed the video from their platforms because it made false statements about the election. Twitter deleted three of Mr. Trump’s tweets and locked him out of his account for 12 hours.

Mr. Biden said the invasion of the Capitol “borders on sedition” and called on the President to “step up” and restrain his supporters.

“Our democracy is under an unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. An assault on the citadel of liberty,” Mr. Biden said in a speech in Wilmington, Del. “An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings – the doing of the people’s business.”

The day began with Mr. Trump encouraging his supporters to march on the Capitol as Congress gathered to certify the election results. The President told a rally near the White House to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” and press “weak” Republican legislators into overturning the election. Among the assembled were numerous members of far-right groups and militias, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.

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The mood in the crowd was dark as it gathered under a grey sky.

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Scott Matheny, a 52-year-old electrician from Mineral Wells, W. Va., said Mr. Trump’s political opponents should all be removed from office and executed.

“They’re guilty of treason – it’s the death penalty. And that’s what this country needs to heal,” he said as he carried a sign reading, “Stretch their necks like it’s 1776.”

Sue Papa-Provost insisted that Republicans who accepted Mr. Biden’s victory were all being bribed by a conspiracy to dethrone Mr. Trump. “They’re getting paid by somebody. Every one of them has financial interest,” said Ms. Papa-Provost, 65, a retired federal government contract specialist from Severn, Md.

One group of Republican legislators, led by senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, objected to Mr. Biden’s electoral votes in some swing states. Their bid, however, was doomed to fail: To reject the results requires the approval of both houses of Congress, where bipartisan majorities supported confirming the election.

Trump supporters climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol.

Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press

What’s more, both Mr. Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell openly broke with Mr. Trump for the first time in his presidency. In a statement, Mr. Pence said he did not have the power to unilaterally reject electoral votes, as Mr. Trump had demanded he do.

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And Mr. McConnell warned that the President was trying to subvert the Constitution. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he said on the floor of the Senate.

Then, rioters brawled with police on the steps of the Capitol, punching officers and firing chemical sprays at them as police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. But some of Mr. Trump’s supporters surged through the lines and into the building.

They broke windows and busted through doors, paraded around the halls with Confederate battle flags and busted up furniture. Tim Gionet, a white nationalist activist, livestreamed from an office. Another man put his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk.

“We’re pissed because the politicians won’t do their jobs,” said Ryan Suleski, a 33-year-old truck driver from Virginia who took part in the invasion. Asked if shutting down the election process was anti-democratic, he said: “We’re not a democracy.”

Lawmakers and staff fled for cover, barricading themselves in offices, donning gas masks and lying on the floor to avoid projectiles.

Officers in the House chamber drew their guns as the mob tried to burst into the room. They shot to death Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter from California. Elsewhere in the building, rioters were allowed to roam free.

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Shirtless QAnon conspiracy theorist Jake Angeli, sporting a horned headdress and war paint, climbed up on the dais of the Senate and called for Mr. Pence to come out of hiding.

In an interview, Mr. Angeli, 33, said police ultimately gave up trying to stop people from getting inside and just let them in. Later, they allowed him to walk away without arresting him. “They asked us to leave and we complied. Everyone was polite,” he said. “They know this was rigged, too.”

President-elect Joe Biden said that President Donald Trump must 'step up' and demand that his supporters end their 'siege' of the U.S. Capitol building, after pro-Trump protesters refusing to accept his election loss swarmed the building on Wednesday, putting it on lockdown. Reuters

It was not immediately clear why police had failed to protect such an important building, particularly compared with the heavy police presence at protests by other groups. During Black Lives Matter demonstrations last spring, for instance, the steps of the Capitol were filled with imposing lines of National Guard officers in camouflage. Police also famously pepper-sprayed and beat a crowd of anti-racism protesters near the White House to make way for a presidential photo-op.

By contrast, many of Mr. Trump’s supporters strolled casually around the Capitol after breaking through the police cordon. One officer posed for a selfie with a rioter.

“It is a starkly different picture when the protesters are white,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. “Trump has been fanning these flames since the election. No one including Capitol police should have been surprised at what took place today.”

The Capitol has its own police force, which was reinforced by Washington’s local Metropolitan Police Department.

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Metro Police said 52 people were arrested around the Capitol Wednesday, 47 of them for violating the 6 pm curfew. The others were charged with weapons-related offenses. Fourteen of the department’s officers were injured. Police said they seized six guns, and found pipe bombs at the headquarters of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as a stash of Molotov cocktails on Capitol Hill.

Police said 15 people were arrested in other protest-related activities Tuesday and Wednesday on an array of charges, including possession of weapons and assault. Thirteen people were hospitalized with protest-related injuries.

Figures from both parties, as well as business leaders, said the consequences for Mr. Trump must be serious. Members of Congress Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and David Cicilline called for Congress to impeach and remove the President from office. Congressman Ted Lieu called on the Vice-President to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would allow him to assume Mr. Trump’s powers.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier.

John Minchillo/The Associated Press

The National Association of Manufacturers, a major industrial group, said Mr. Pence should “seriously consider” invoking the 25th Amendment to “preserve American democracy.”

The Lincoln Project, a Republican group that campaigned against Mr. Trump’s re-election, also called for immediate impeachment. In a statement, it described him as “directing and provoking” the attack on the Capitol.

“Today’s domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol highlights just how much Trump and his enablers have entirely abandoned the principles of the Constitution and the Republic,” it said. “It is an armed, violent and planned insurrection against the United States of America.”

The President was previously impeached by the House of Representatives for ransoming military aid to Ukraine in a bid for help tarnishing Mr. Biden ahead of the election. He was acquitted in a trial by the Senate.

Senator Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential nominee, implored his fellow party members to stop enabling Mr. Trump’s lies about the election and finally admit that Mr. Biden had won.

“What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States. Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy,” he told the Senate. “They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy.”

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Former U.S. president Barack Obama issued a similar statement. “Republican leaders have a choice made clear in the desecrated chambers of democracy. They can continue down this road and keep stoking the raging fires. Or they can choose reality and take the first steps toward extinguishing the flames,” he wrote.

Former president Bill Clinton also weighed in, saying the “match was lit” for the riot by Mr. Trump “and his most ardent enablers.” And former president George W. Bush said the attack was “how election results are disputed in a banana republic – not in a democratic republic.”

But on the streets of the capital, Mr. Trump’s supporters ominously promised worse to come.

Brian Rucker, a 56-year-old stay-at-home father from Hampstead, N.C., said he would help start “a new revolution.”

“If we get mad, we can cut off the roads to every stinking city in America in two hours and starve your liberal asses out,” he said, carrying a pitchfork near the Washington Monument. “These people are armed. We have trillions of rounds of ammunition.”

With reports from Ian Bailey, Jana G. Pruden, Reuters and The Associated Press

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