The people who besieged the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday were not merely rioters and insurrectionists. Some of them appear to have been intent on taking hostages and murdering them, and there are signs that the attempt was carefully planned out.
Photo evidence shows people who entered the building came prepared to take hostages, and to bind them with zip ties. Witnesses say talk was rampant about executing Vice President Mike Pence—who only an hour before the riot had declined to follow Donald Trump’s urgings and object to the Electoral College results—as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
The rioters could be seen on video chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they entered the Capitol. Getty Images photographer Win McNamee captured the startling image of a masked and armed man clambering about Senate chambers—where Pence had been presiding over the proceedings only an hour before—with a parcel of premade zip cuffs. Other photos showed multiple invaders carrying restraints—in one case was a man identified as a military veteran with a security clearance.
Reuters photographer Jim Bourg, who was with the rioters, reported:
I heard at least 3 different rioters at the Capitol say that they hoped to find Vice President Mike Pence and execute him by hanging him from a Capitol Hill tree as a traitor. It was a common line being repeated. Many more were just talking about how the VP should be executed.
Journalist Andrew Feinberg reported that the rioters went on the hunt for Pence, Pelosi, and Schumer upon gaining entry to the Capitol. White nationalist Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet livestreamed himself invading Pelosi’s office and vandalizing it while making mock phone calls from it.
The entire scenario these invaders seemed to have in mind bore more than a passing resemblance to the plot dreamed up by the members of Michigan’s “Wolverine Watchmen,” who before their arrests by the FBI for conspiring to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer actually planned to invade the state Capitol in Lansing, take public officials hostage, and then televise or livestream their executions.
And there are indications that the invasion of the Capitol was carefully planned, perhaps with the participation of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group that specializes in recruiting and radicalizing military and law enforcement veterans. The organization’s leader and founder—who as a speaker at previous pro-Trump rallies in Washington, D.C. and had urged Trump to use the Insurrection Act in order to declare martial law—was spotted at Wednesday’s rally, and members of the group not only were seen appearing to prepare for the assault on the Capitol, but were seen on video shot by journalist Ford Fischer playing a key role in the initial breaching of its security perimeter.
Oath Keepers have played a leading role in whipping up groundless conspiracist hysteria over what they call the “stolen election”—and even before the election had called for Trump to declare martial law. Rhodes urged his members to prepare for “civil war,” and after the election, Oath Keepers’ rhetoric veered into outright threats of violence against public officials and journalists.
Whichever former law enforcement officials might be involved in these schemes are seemingly oblivious to the existence of federal laws that make even planning to kidnap members of Congress a crime punishable with life imprisonment (namely, 18 U.S. Code § 351).
Nothing appears to deter these extremists, who are currently basking in massive online adulation by their far-right brethren for the attack on American democracy as Jared Holt, analyst for the Atlantic Council, explained to Greg Sargent of The Washington Post.
“By all measurable effects, this was for far-right extremists one of the most successful attacks that they’ve ever launched,” Holt said. “This will be lionized and propagandized on likely for the next decade.”
Moreover, he explained, the insurrectionists’ success in overtaking the building will be a long-term talking point for the radical right: “These communities are discussing the attack as some sort of validation that it actually is possible for them to exert their power like this and achieve results. They’re talking about this as the first stab in a greater revolution.”
Certainly, the insurrectionists Wednesday had no doubts that they would be returning with even greater violence in mind. Multiple rioters verbally attacked police officers trying to hold the line, telling them, as one of them did afterwards: “Traitors get the rope. Traitors get the noose. Wait till we come back with rifles, motherfucker. You think that’s an idle threat?”
One of the Capitol invaders interviewed by Fischer blamed Mike Pence for the day’s violence, notably the shooting of an insurrectionist near the House chambers by a Capitol Police officer.
“We’re not putting up with this tyrannical rule!” he shouted. “If we gotta come back here and start a revolution, and take all of these traitors out, which is what should be done, then we will.”