A mob of President Donald Trump's supporters smashed their way into the US Capitol on Wednesday.
Two of them described the "hilarious" carnival-like scene that unfolded. Inside the Capitol, rioters took selfies, waved a Confederate flag, and threw stacks of documents across the floor.
Protesters descended on Washington, DC, to rally behind Trump's unfounded claims about the legitimacy of his election defeat.
The protest devolved into a riot that sent lawmakers into lockdown and delayed the certification of the election result.
Thomas Adams was one of the first to set foot in the US Capitol.
Flanked by dozens of supporters of President Donald Trump, Adams trampled over police barricades and made his way into the halls of government, eventually reaching the Senate chamber, where lawmakers had been evacuated.
"It was a really fun time," Adams, wearing a Trump flag around his neck like a cape, said a few hours later, as he showed cellphone footage of his escapades to a journalist.
The violent siege unfolded on Wednesday on live TV and began as legislators convened to certify President-elect Joe Biden's win. Lawmakers and their staffers went into lockdown, and Mayor Muriel Bowser later ordered a 6 p.m. curfew. Several Democratic lawmakers, describing the day's events as an attempted coup, called for Trump to be impeached.
The FBI said it was seeking information about the "unlawful violent actions" that transpired on Wednesday.
Adams' account, which was backed up by his video and posts on social media, offered a sense of what it was like inside.
Adams, 39, and his friend Roy Franklin, 65, said they had traveled from Springfield, Illinois, for the rally the president had held earlier in the day and had been spurred on by Trump's claim, unsupported by evidence, that he had been cheated out of victory. Trump has refused to acknowledge Biden's victory and called on his allies to block the certification of the election result.
Adams and Franklin were at the bottom of the steps of the US Capitol building around 2 p.m., pressed close to the police barricade. Hundreds of rioters behind them were pushing forward so hard that Franklin tripped and fell onto a police officer. The officer barely reacted, Franklin said.
That was when they saw people scaling the scaffolding on the side of the building, and Adams and Franklin followed. Later in the day, another climber fell from the same scaffolding.
When they got to the top, Adams recalled, they turned around to take in the scene: a sea of red, white, and blue, with Trump supporters packed on the National Mall. Then, rioters smashed a window on the building ahead of them and clambered inside. The same people began opening doors to let others inside, including Adams and Franklin.
A line of police officers was waiting in the hallway to see what the invaders would do.
"They weren't really doing much. A few of them had batons, just waiting to see if we'd try to push past them," Adams said. The video confirmed his account.
One man waved a bright yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, and another waved a Confederate flag. Riotous crowds hollered "Stop the steal!" and chanted "USA, USA, USA!" and "Whose house? Our house!"
A television screen in the hallway announced that the Senate stood in recess. Adams and Franklin said they followed the mob down the hallway and onto the floor of the chamber. Inside, a shirtless man with an animal-skin headdress and his face painted red, white, and blue stood at the speaker's chair, wielding a bullhorn and flexing his biceps.
"The government is corrupt and bullshit," Adams recalls him announcing to the chamber, while acolytes cheered the man on. Adams said that the man called for a vote on the government's legitimacy to delighted cries of support from onlookers but that the police entered the room and told him to stop before they could finish.
Adams described the scene as "hilarious." He continued to film on his phone while people walked up and down the Senate halls, taking selfies and calling their families. Others tore drawers open and pulled reams of documents out of desks, spreading them over tables and throwing them across the floor.
By 5:45 p.m., the sergeant at arms had announced that the Capitol building had been secured. One woman had been shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III said three additional people died as a result of medical emergencies on Wednesday.
Some of those who claimed to have been involved in the siege were gathering outside hotels downtown, drinking beers and recounting the day's events, in defiance of the impending 6 p.m. citywide curfew. A few were exhausted from a day of rampaging, but others were energized.
Franklin concluded that the day had been "fun."
"But I think that even if we had burned it down to the ground, Congress still wouldn't have listened to us," he said.
Adams wasn't so sure. "I think everything was great until it went from peaceful to everyone acting like a bunch of 12-year-olds destroying things," he said.
With nightfall, intentions turned even darker than the events at the Capitol. "Next time we won't be so peaceful!" one man shouted. Another peddling Trump T-shirts shouted into a bullhorn, "Who else wants to go BLM hunting tonight?"
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