WASHINGTON — Hundreds of protesters who massed in the nation’s capital to support President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud descended on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon as Congress convened to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
The protesters marched en masse to the Capitol after Trump, speaking to a large crowd in front of the White House, vowed that he would never concede to Biden.
“We will never give up, we will never concede. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said to a crowd of supporters, some of whom chanted “USA!” or waved anti-Biden banners.. He later falsely claimed Biden would be an “illegitimate” president.
The U.S. Capitol Police said it was areas near the building as pro-Trump protesters attempted to storm barricades set up outside the perimeter, and law enforcement officers were seen trying to push them back.
The Library of Congress, located directly across the street from the main Capitol building, was evacuated and people were told to remain calm and move in a safe manner to the exits.
Trump’s groundless claims of voter fraud have been widely debunked, and his legal team’s efforts to challenge the election results in court have been rejected by a succession of judges. Trump has claimed Wednesday’s joint session of Congress represents a chance to overturn the election, even though state electors have already certified the results and the event inside the Capitol is ceremonial.
Trump has put pressure on Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over the ceremony, claiming he can intervene in the count. In his lengthy and digressive remarks, Trump called on Pence to “do the right thing,” even though Pence’s ceremonial role does not provide him with the power to intervene in the counting of votes. Pence sent a letter to Congress ahead of the ceremony stating he would not be doing what Trump has hoped.
Jason Bjorklund, who flew to the nation’s capital from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said he did not know what to expect when Congress convened.
“I just felt compelled to be here because it seems like our republic is slipping away from us,” Bjorklund said. He added, baselessly, that there were “mountains of evidence of fraud” and detailed conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines.
When asked to account for the judges who have rejected the Trump legal team’s attempts to challenge the election results, Bjorklund said: “I think we’ve got corruption from the top to the bottom.”
Before the president’s speech, it appeared some senators were being approached by Trump supporters near the Capitol, including an apparently exasperated Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who said he would not vote against affirming Biden’s victory because he was bound to follow the law.
“I took an oath under God, under God!” Young said. “Do we still take that seriously in this country?”
Theresa Reilly and her husband, Bill, came to the nation’s capital from Michigan — a key Midwest swing state that fell into the Democratic column in November — to participate in the Wednesday protests because they believe Biden’s triumph over Trump was fraudulent.
“We don’t believe they’re honest, true voters,” Theresa Reilly said as Celine Dion’s theme song from the movie “Titanic” played on a speaker system in the background. “There’s a lot of cheating going on, and I think everybody knows that, including Democrats.”
Bill Reilly said that even without “doing too much research,” it was clear “something’s up” with the November election results
“The only thing I can say is, however many people are here, this isn’t going to go away,” he said. “If you thought 2020 was weird, 2021 is going to be ‘hold my beer,’ if you ask me.”
Allan Smith and Ginger Gibson reported from Washington and Daniel Arkin reported from New York.