DC National Guard stands outside a mostly quiet Capitol, Thursday morning, Jan. 7, 2021 in Washington, as workers place security fencing in place. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/John Minchillo

In wake of chaotic day on Capitol Hill, talk turns to expediting Donald Trump’s exit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An uneasy peace settled over a fortified Capitol Hill on Thursday as National Guard soldiers stood sentry, workers erected steel barriers and supporters of Donald Trump — along with the rest of the country — waited for what comes next.

Wednesday’s grey skies and bitter wind gave way to brilliant sunshine that glinted off the iconic Capitol dome, birdsong mingling with the clang of construction hammers as crews ringed the entire complex with an ominous, unscalable fence.

In the shadow of the building, where the day before a relatively small number of the legions of Trump loyalists gathered outside in blind partisan anger managed to topple police lines and lay siege to the chambers of political power, there was only confusion — and apprehension.

“When we found out that they breached the Capitol — it just ruined the day for me and my wife,” said William Wroe, 60, a Trump supporter who travelled from Tennessee with wife Annette to see the rally for themselves.

Their hearts sank when they returned to their hotel room to see that news coverage was focused entirely on the “handful of people” who had run amok through the Capitol.

Wroe said he continues to support the president, but fears that the political divisions over the November presidential election are threatening to tear the country apart.

“We all got to just turn to God, and just pray and pray and pray that we’re going to be safe,” he said. “I don’t like what this country is turning into.”

Trump, meanwhile — his staffers resigning their posts and political allies disappearing by the minute — finally delivered a concession speech of sorts Thursday in a video via his now-unfrozen Twitter account.

Just one day after expressing solidarity with the rioters, he called their actions at the Capitol a “heinous attack,” expressed “outrage” at the “violence, lawlessness and mayhem,” and promised they would face justice.

“We have just been through an intense election, and emotions are high, but now, tempers must be cooled and calm restored,” Trump said.

“My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”

He did not retract his long-standing claims of voter fraud — claims Annette Wroe acknowledged that she continues to believe, even though they’ve been debunked and rejected by an array of judges across key battleground states.

But the economic and social challenges that many Americans, including Trump supporters, across the country are facing — William lost his job with a California aerospace company in 2015 — are impossible to deny, she said.

“We’re the ones that spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to be here, not because we want to worship Trump; we’re not here for that. We’re here for, ‘Hey — hear us,’” she said.

“Listen to the people. You’re representing some of the people, you’re not representing all of us. And there’s got to be a way. I don’t know the way; in the long run, God wins. But I know I’m not being heard.”

Max Villeneuve, a Sacramento resident whose parents were both born in Montreal, also said he took part in Wednesday’s rally to be counted as a member of a group of Americans who feel invisible to the political establishment.

“It was just kind of to show that he does have real support, that his supporters are real people, everyday people,” Villeneuve said, lamenting the “laptop class” of journalists and lawmakers who ignore their plight.

“No one really seems to care about them and their stories.”

Villeneuve said he fears the rise of a “right-wing Antifa” that will only grow more virulent and violent, fuelled by dreams of a revolution, as America’s class divisions continue to widen.

“When people have nothing to lose, they lose it,” he said. “That’s what you saw yesterday — these people thought that they were ‘1776ing’ the Capitol. And that’s not how this works.”

Inside the building Thursday, the movement to expedite Trump’s departure from Washington gained momentum as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Vice-President Mike Pence to get serious about invoking the 25th amendment.

“In calling for this seditious act, the president has committed an unspeakable assault on our nation and our people,” Pelosi told a news conference.

The rarely used constitutional amendment gives the vice-president, together with members of the federal cabinet, the power to remove a president from office who is deemed to be unfit to serve.

“If the vice-president and cabinet do not act,” Pelosi said, “the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.”

A Capitol police officer died Thursday from injuries sustained during the riot. A Trump supporter died of a gunshot wound Wednesday, while three others died from “medical emergencies” on or near the grounds.

Capitol police Chief Steven Sund, under fire for what Democrats and Republicans alike have called a wholesale security failure, said he would resign his post effective Jan. 16, The Associated Press reported.

President-elect Joe Biden, now certified by Congress, doubled down on his disdain for the mob as he announced Merrick Garland as his incoming attorney general.

“They weren’t protesters — don’t dare call them protesters,” Biden fumed.

“They were a riotous mob, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists. It’s that basic, it’s that simple. And I wish we could say we couldn’t see it coming.”

But Trump continued to defiantly claim that he was the rightful winner in November, citing unfounded conspiracy theories of a stolen presidential election, even as the exodus from his administration continued apace.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stepped down effective Monday, citing her dismay at Wednesday’s events, and reports said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would follow suit. Mick Mulvaney, a former Trump chief of staff who had been serving as a U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, also quit.

In Ottawa, Ontario MP Michael Chong, the Conservative party’s foreign affairs critic, called the chaos an “affront” to democracy, the rule of law and the peaceful transition of power.

“Conservatives call on President Trump and his supporters to respect the will of the American people, respect the will of states who have confirmed these results and respect the will of American courts that have reaffirmed these results.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was less diplomatic, describing the incident as a “horror” and an act of domestic terrorism “incited by American President Donald Trump.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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