In the 24 hours before the Capitol attack, Trump tweeted often. The theme? Election fraud. His messages were largely split between allegations of fraud in the general election and in the run-off election unfolding in Georgia where Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue were losing to Democratic challengers Jon Osoff and Raphael Warnock.
Trump openly leaned on then-Vice President Mike Pence, tweeting at 11:06 a.m.: “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” He praised sitting Georgia lawmaker Rep. Rick Allen, a Republican, for his impending electoral objections and by 5 p.m. Trump had already promoted the impending rally at the Ellipse at least once that day. By nightfall, he tweeted that D.C. was “being inundated with people who don’t want to see an election victory stolen by emboldened Radical Left Democrats.”
It was true; the president’s supporters had already begun streaming into Washington from all over the country. Many spent most of the day demonstrating in Freedom Plaza, a block from the White House. Trump, from his perch on Twitter, cheered them on, saying “We hear you (and love you) from the Oval Office.”
As the night wore on, Trump suggested, without evidence, that individuals associated with the antifascist or “Antifa” movement were an imminent threat in D.C. He called Antifa “a terrorist organization,” and thundered: “stay out of Washington.” Law enforcement, he added, was watching.
After the Antifa rant, he promoted the impending rally at the Ellipse, retweeted Rep. Jim Jordan—an Ohio Republican and Trump stalwart who planned on objecting to the certification results—and as midnight fell, he raged, spouting allegations of voter fraud in Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Two pipe bombs, the FBI would later report, were placed between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. the night before the attack.
One was placed at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and another at the Republican National Committee headquarters.
At 8:17 AM, Trump again called on Pence to act. “All Mike has to do is send them back to the States. WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
From before dawn through 11 AM, masses of the president’s supporters streamed into Washington to attend the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally at the Ellipse organized in part by conspiracy theorist and right-wing activist Ali Alexander.
Many present are armed. Many supporters were members of extremist and/or white nationalist groups including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and others. Hundreds of adherents to QAnon were on the grounds, egged on only hours earlier by people like Ron Watkins, a prominent figure in the conspiracy cult. Social media platforms, like Parler, were alight with violent rhetoric.
Trump tweeted a half dozen more allegations of voter fraud before his speech would commence just around noon.
Just before Trump’s speech, Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican of Alabama, delivers remarks at the Ellipse, asking the president’s supporters: “Will you fight for America?” He tells those gathered to “carry the message to Capitol Hill.”
Eleven other people spoke before Trump, including Katrina Pierson, Trump’s onetime campaign adviser, Amy Kremer, chair of Women for America First, Vernon Jones, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, Lara, and Eric Trump, Trump’s former campaign adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump, Jr., Madison Cawthorn, Rudy Giuliani, and John Eastman.
Giuliani, at 10:50 AM, calls for “trial by combat.” Cawthorn later tells the armed mob to keep lawmakers “accountable” for their decision during the certification. Pierson said Americans would “stand up for themselves” and demands that politicians in Washington acquiesce or “we will go after them.”
Around 11:30 AM, Trump and Pence reportedly talk on the phone and Trump allegedly gives his second-in-command a warning: “You can either go down in history as a patriot or you can do down in history as a pussy.”
By 12 PM, Trump starts his speech at the Ellipse. His remarks would run for one hour and 10 minutes. The speech was a melange of conspiracy, outrage, and indignation.
Below are key excerpts from Trump’s speech in chronological order:
- ”All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing. And stolen by the fake news media. That's what they've done and what they're doing. We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved.”
- “We will not let them silence your voices. We're not going to let it happen, I'm not going to let it happen.”
- ”Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do, all this is, this is from the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it.”
- “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”
- ”And I actually, I just spoke to Mike. I said: "Mike, that doesn't take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage." And then we're stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that for four more years. We're just not going to let that happen.”
- “There's so many weak Republicans. And we have great ones. Jim Jordan and some of these guys, they're out there fighting. The House guys are fighting. But it's, it's incredible.
- ”That election, our election was over at 10 o'clock in the evening. We're leading Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, by hundreds of thousands of votes. And then late in the evening, or early in the morning, boom, these explosions of bullshit.”
- “And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn't, that will be a, a sad day for our country because you're sworn to uphold our Constitution.”
- “Now, it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you, we're going to walk down, we're going to walk down.”
- “Anyone you want, but I think right here, we're going to walk down to the Capitol, and we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated.”
- "I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
- ”We're going to see whether or not we have great and courageous leaders, or whether or not we have leaders that should be ashamed of themselves throughout history, throughout eternity they'll be ashamed.”
- “If they do the wrong thing, we should never, ever forget that they did. Never forget. We should never ever forget.”
- “[Pennsylvania] wants to recertify. But the only way that can happen is if Mike Pence agrees to send it back. Mike Pence has to agree to send it back.”
At 12:30 PM, roughly halfway through Trump’s remarks, a group of nearly 300 people has already started to amass near the Capitol building, though barriers won’t be identified as “breached” by law enforcement for another 20 minutes.
Pence, meanwhile, is heading to the Capitol.
Almost simultaneously, Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican and Trump ally, is entering the Capitol where he gives a thumbs-up, fist pump, and wave to the president’s supporters who are growing in number quickly outside.
At 1 PM, the joint session of Congress is convening. Lawmakers are getting into position in the House and Senate chambers and they will begin objections alphabetically by state.
Between 12:57 PM-1 PM., the first wave of rioters breaches a barricade. A Federal Protective Service officer emails staff that a “large group just breached the U.S. Capitol Police barricade at the west front.”
At 1:02 PM, Pence issues a letter on Twitter where he publicly rejects the calls to decertify. Pence writes: “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority.” Notably, he still amplifies Trump’s claims of election fraud.
News of Pence’s refusal spreads through the mob like wildfire.
At 1:09 PM, minutes after the first barricade was breached near the Capitol, then-D.C. Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, according to his interview with The Washington Post in January, informs the House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant of Arms Michael Stenger for the first time that they need back up.
At 1:10 PM, Trump finally ends his speech and around the same time, police are grappling rioters on steps of the Capitol.
At 1:12 PM, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who had spent weeks promoting the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on Jan. 6, is the first lawmaker to declare an objection to the counting of electoral votes. His objection is made on behalf of 60 lawmakers.
At 1:26 PM, U.S. Capitol Police order evacuations of federal buildings including the Cannon House Office building as well as the Madison Building and the Library of Congress just across the street.
By 1:30 PM, the president’s devotees are crossing barricades at the Capitol repeatedly, with many breaking off to run around the back of the complex looking for entry. Around this same time, the first reports of the pipe bombs placed the night before, are made.
At 1:34 PM, according to the Department of Defense, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser asks Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy for federal troops. McCarthy tells the mayor the U.S. Capitol Police must ask for assistance first.
At 1:35 PM, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell makes impassioned pleas against attempts to overturn the election, saying it would put democracy into “a death spiral.”
At 1:40 PM, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser orders a citywide curfew starting at 6 p.m. D.C. Police are still calling for reinforcements.
At 1:46 PM, Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat and now member of the Jan. 6 select committee, posts on Twitter that she is being evacuated after reports of a pipe bomb.
At 1:49 PM, The chief of U.S. Capitol Police asks D.C. National Guard commanding general Maj. Gen. William Walker for help.
At 1:49 PM, Trump retweets a video of the rally. It features his statement from the morning. “We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you came up with, we will stop the steal...You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
At 1:50 PM, a riot is declared by D.C. Police. Hundreds of D.C. Police are deployed but it isn’t enough to hold back the growing mob.
Between 2:10 PM-2:12 PM, the first rioter breaks a window with a riot shield on the first floor to the south side of the Capitol and enters the complex, opening the doors for other rioters to come inside.
People are now scaling the walls of the Capitol.
Around this same time, texts and emails are going out to congressional staff, urging them to seek safety and stay away from doors and windows.
Between 2:13 PM-2:15 PM., Pence is escorted off the Senate floor and taken to a nearby office.
At 2:14 PM, rioters are chasing U.S. Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman inside and are mere feet from the office where the vice president is hiding, Secret Service stands at the door. Pence is in the room with his family, including his wife, daughter, and brother Sen. Greg Pence.
Pence reportedly told agents twice that he did not wish to be evacuated. But as the mob raged just outside, it was no longer up for debate and agents left the office for a secure room inside of the Capitol.
When they moved to a second location, according to widespread reporting, they were joined by staffers including Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short.
Pence would remain in the secure room until the attack was over.
At 2:20 PM, a senior adviser to Mitch McConnell contacts Will Levi, former Attorney General William Barr’s chief of staff. Levi called the FBI’s Washington field office and reaches David Bowdich. Bowdich sends three tactical teams to the Capitol.
At 2:24 PM, Trump—while Pence is in hiding—Lashes out at his veep on Twitter writing:
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
At 2:26 PM, Sund reportedly calls the Pentagon for more help. This time, he’s on the line with Defense Department officials including Lt. General Walter Piatt, director of Army staff. Piatt tells Sund he doesn’t like the optics of positioning the National Guard with police at the Capitol. He also tells Sund that only Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy can make that call.
Sund’s call has been the subject of much dispute and the Army denied for two weeks after the attack that Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn—brother to disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn—was on the call with Sund.
Meanwhile, also around 2:26 p.m., Trump misdials Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Trump was looking instead for Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. Lee passes the phone to Tuberville.
Tuberville recounted to the press later that he told Trump, “Mr. President they have taken the Vice President out and they want me to get off the phone. I gotta go.”
At 2:28 PM, Sund makes another request for National Guard. Within this same time frame, the joint chiefs of staff are meeting to discuss the requests.
At 2:33 PM, rioters flood the Capitol and are crossing through Statuary Hall, an area that connects the House and Senate chambers.
At a point during the breach in the early afternoon—the exact time is unclear— GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy and Trump spoke on the phone.
McCarthy said he called Trump to give him a report of the violence in the Capitol and to plea with him to make a statement that might quell the unrest.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican, and McCarthy would speak afterward.
McCarthy, according to Beutler’s own statements, tells her that he asked Trump to “publicly and forcefully call off the riot” but Trump “ initially repeated the falsehood that it was Antifa that had breached the Capitol.”
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’
McCarthy reportedly grew irate with Trump, saying: “Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?”
At 2:38 PM, Trump tweets “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!"
Between 2:39 PM and 2:43 PM, the Capitol is well under siege and rioters are defacing the building inside and out. Chemical irritants are being used by rioters on Capitol Police including Officer Brian Sicknick who would die a day later of a stroke.
Between 2:40 PM-3 PM., shots are fired on the House side. U.S. Air Force veteran and devout Trump supporter Ashli Babbit ignored multiple verbal warnings to stand down as she tried to force her way into chambers through an opening in a barricaded door.
A small section of glass had been broken and she lifted herself up, as U.S. Capitol Police officer Lt. Michael Byrd’s gun was drawn, and she tried to squeeze in while he screamed at her to stop. She refused and Byrd shot her with a service pistol in her left shoulder. She fell back on the floor and was later transported to an area hospital where she died.
At 2:46 PM, over on the Senate side, a reporter tweets that rioters are inside the chamber.
Just before 3 PM, the first FBI SWAT team is now in the Capitol.
At 3:04 PM, verbal approval is reportedly granted by Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol. More than an hour has passed at this point since D.C. Mayor Bowser first asked Army Secretary McCarthy for back-up.
At 3:13 PM, Trump writes on Twitter: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
At 3:19 PM, Democrats Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi call Secretary McCarthy who tells them help is on the way to Bowser. In under 10 minutes, McCarthy calls the D.C. mayor to tell her, after more than 90 minutes of waiting, that her request for support has been approved.
At 3:36 PM, then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany posts on Twitter that Trump has directed the National Guard to assist.
How truthful McEnany was being at that time is still unclear.
Other requests for help are offered at this time by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. But federal law demands that Defense Department approve such an order before a state’s National Guard can put boots on the ground in D.C.
It would take another two hours before Virginia National Guard was approved and longer still before they were mobilized.
Hogan, meanwhile, had put Maryland National Guard at the ready along with state troopers but his request was denied for similar reasons. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, reportedly tells Hogan that Capitol Police are being overrun.
At 4:05 PM, then President-elect Joe Biden called on Trump to end the siege.
At 4:17 PM, Trump finally tweets a video message on Twitter saying:
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now, we have to have peace. We have to have law and order and we have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never a been time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us. From me, from you. from our country. This was a fraudulent election. but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So, go home, we love you, you’re very special. You’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel but go home and go home in peace.”
By 4:18 PM, Defense Secretary Christopher Miller approves mobilization of National Guard members from surrounding states and directs D.C. National Guard to move from posts throughout the city and instead focus on the Capitol’s perimeter.
At 5:20 PM, just 155 National Guard forces arrive at the Capitol. Maryland and Virginia National Guard would not be on site until the next day.
At 5:45 PM, Ashli Babbit is declared dead.
Just after 6 PM, Trump is back at it on Twitter, saying, these “things and events” happened because a “sacred landslide election victory” was “viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” He called for the day to be remembered “forever.”
By 7 PM, multiple arrests had been made for broken curfews and unlawful entries. The mob laid siege to the Capitol complex for over four hours.
Facebook takes down Trump’s video from earlier in the day where he spoke of the protests and to the protesters. They removed posts where he discussed election fraud. Two minutes after Facebook yanks Trump’s posts from its platform, Twitter follows and shuts down his account on that platform for 12 hours.
At 7:54 PM, the Republican National Committee condemns the violence with a public statement.
At 8 PM, the D.C. Capitol Police announce that the Capitol has been secured and all interlopers have been removed.
At 8:06 PM, Pence reconvenes the Senate to continue the certification of electoral votes, saying “We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms.”
At 8:31 PM, while confusion and questions abound over why the National Guard took so long and disputes arise over who—Pence or Trump—gave the order to deploy the guard, Kash Patel, Defense Secretary Chris Miller’s chief of staff, tells a New York Times reporter that Miller and Trump spoke “multiple times” that week about the need for National Guard in Washington.
“During these conversations, the president conveyed to the acting secretary that he should take any necessary steps to support civilian law enforcement requests in securing the Capitol and federal buildings,” Patel said.
That detail remains in some dispute between his account and what the Defense Department has said openly. Patel has since been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 Committee for records and deposition about his interaction with defense officials that day as well as his correspondence with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Unlike Meadows, Patel has so far cooperated.
At 8:36 PM, Facebook pulls Trump down from its platform for 24 hours for policy violations.
At 9 PM, Pelosi brings the House back into session, saying from the floor “We will be part of a history that shows the world what America is made of; that these, this assault, this assault is just that — it shows the weakness of those who had to show, through violence, what their message was. My colleagues, it's time to move on.”
Despite the violence, Republican lawmakers still objected to certification of electoral votes and the process was dragged out until 3:42 AM on Jan. 7.
Questions swirl around so much that occurred that day.
How far, exactly, did Trump go to pressure lawmakers to object to certification? What did Trump say, over the phone, text, or through some other means, to rally organizers?
Trump was silent for 187 minutes during the attack. Who was he talking to, if anyone? Was he sitting back and merely watching the melee unfold? What was he doing? Did he write anything down? What was happening in the Oval Office?
The manufacturer of the pipe bombs is still on the loose and it remains unclear how rioters knew to target unsecured windows at the Capitol.
And arguably most important are lingering questions—no matter how uncomfortable or politically inconvenient—that persist over the breadth and depth of involvement by extremist organizations and sitting U.S. lawmakers.