Ruined and ransacked: Cleanup begins a day after rioters storm Capitol

Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — Broken glass crunched under the boots of National Guard officers as they roamed the near-deserted halls of Congress. The scent of tear gas lingered in the air. A coating of fire-extinguisher residue lined the floors.

The events from less than 24 hours earlier when a pro-Trump mob took control of the Capitol at the encouragement of the president weighed heavily on the complex Thursday morning as staff members worked to clean up the remnants of an ugly day in American history.

"We've been doing this since 7 a.m.," said one Capitol worker, as he loaded damaged furniture onto carts in the early afternoon.

Capitol Cleanup (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Capitol Cleanup (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)

Hundreds of lawmakers flooded the halls of the Capitol the morning before in order to count the electoral votes, but very few remained Thursday. Hallways that were packed with rioters the day before were now vacant.

Some staffers trickled through to survey the damage and tend to their ransacked offices. Reporters and photographers moved through the building documenting the destruction. There was a heavy police presence throughout and additional barricades were erected around the Capitol, blocking off sections of the National Mall.

Capitol employees used leaf blowers to clear the trash and Trump paraphernalia, including signs that read "Save America" and "Stop the Steal" and littered the Capitol steps where rioters first breached the building.

Police officers and reporters filtered through the Speaker's Lobby, a long room located off the House floor where admission is strictly limited to the press and lawmakers, who sit next to oversized fireplaces to discuss the news of the day. The shattered glass of the door where a woman was shot and killed the day before remained.

Along the exterior of the building, plywood covered windows and doors, concealing holes that staff members speculated had been caused by bullets. Five weapons were recovered from the complex, Washington police said.

Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)
Image: us-politics-ELECTION-capitol-vote-demonstration (Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: us-politics-ELECTION-capitol-vote-demonstration (Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

A large group of pro-Trump rioters broke through barricades and breached the Capitol Wednesday afternoon as Congress held a joint session to ratify the results of the 2020 election, a ceremonial event that had been injected with vitriol as President Donald Trump pressured Republican lawmakers to overturn the results in his favor.

Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the count, was whisked from the dais as the mob entered the building and shouts could be heard from the outside the chamber door.

The vice president, House and Senate members, staffers and reporters sheltered in the Capitol for hours as police worked to secure the building. During that time, the rioters roamed the Capitol, destroying and ransacking lawmakers' offices, posing for pictures on the dais, smashing windows and stealing government property.

Dozens of police officers were injured and four people died, including the woman who was shot. The other deaths — two men in their 50s and one woman in her 30s — died from separate medical emergencies.

Shortly before the building was breached, Trump told his supporters in a speech outside the White House that the election outcome was an "egregious assault on our democracy" and instructed them to "fight like hell" before encouraging them to "walk down to the Capitol."

The cleanup efforts that were well underway early Thursday morning raised questions as to why the Capitol was not being treated more like a crime scene when evidence is methodically catalogued and forensic data is collected to help identify perpetrators.

Some fingerprints could be seen caked into the residue from the tear gas and fire-extinguishers. Rioters also left behind used water bottles, energy drinks and discarded cigarette butts.

The FBI tweeted Thursday afternoon that it was "seeking to identify individuals instigating violence" and was "accepting tips and digital media depicting rioting or violence in and around the U.S. Capitol."

Biden Victory Is Certified After Day Of Debate And Tumult (Graeme Sloan / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Biden Victory Is Certified After Day Of Debate And Tumult (Graeme Sloan / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors (Samuel Corum / Getty Images)

Despite the chaos and violence that engulfed the Capitol the day before, those who work in the complex arrived Thursday with a determination to restore the building to normalcy.

Some lawmakers — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — even held news conferences at the Capitol to address Wednesday's event.

Capitol officers stopped familiar faces in the hall to ask how they were doing. A cafeteria worker promised an officer he would still have his usual Thursday lunch ready for him.

"But don't worry," the cook said, "we won't serve the terrorists."