Capitol riots will define Donald Trump's legacy and forever blight America's history - Martyn McLaughlin

Nearly four years have passed since Donald Trump stood at the west front of the US Capitol and in the first utterances of his presidency, spoke of American carnage. Now, as his one and only term nears a bitter end, the true meaning of those words is clearer than ever. It was not a warning, but a promise.

The unrest witnessed late Wednesday evening constitutes one of the most heinous assaults on the heart of American democracy in modern history. That the violent insurrection should have been incited by the US president himself is a shame that will forever blight the nation.

Having spent months stoking anger and disseminating wild conspiracy theories since his decisive loss to Joe Biden in the US election, those abhorrent scenes will be the defining legacy of Mr Trump’s politics of hatred.

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After urging his supporters to march on the Capitol following a rally – ironically titled ‘Save America’ – his incitements proved impossible to resist for those who have been deliberately stoked into a fury. Aggrieved and enraged, they stormed the most powerful symbol of democratic government in the world, just as it was convening to certify Mr Trump’s successor.

Trump supporters storm the US Capitol in Washington DC. Picture: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/GettyTrump supporters storm the US Capitol in Washington DC. Picture: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty
Trump supporters storm the US Capitol in Washington DC. Picture: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

In the ensuing chaos, four people died, including one woman who was shot dead by the US Capitol police. Acording to an eyewitness, she was among a group of rioter who stormed through th ebuildings windows, and was shot in the neck after ignoring calls by police and the Secret Service to get back. At least 14 police officers were injured in the wider violence, one of whom suffered serious wounds after he was pulled into a crowd and assaulted.

Hundreds of insurrectionists clambered on the columns and walls surrounding its Corinthian portico. Inside, they breached the office of Nancy Pelosi, and stormed the floor of the senate. Items were looted, windows smashed and armed guards could be seen raising their firearms behind barricaded doors.

Further afield, police recovered pipe bombs outside the offices of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. A gun and a Molotov cocktail was also found in a vehicle parked on the Capitol grounds, as police made 52 arrests.

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As riot police moved in, it did not take long for the attack on the bedrock of American democracy to end, but the aftershocks will be felt for years, and the cessation of violence had little to do with Mr Trump.

He gave a televised address which was casual to the point of flippancy. The transcript will record the fact he urged people to return home, but the context and tone of his speech betrayed his endorsement of the chaos.

His speech, after all, opened with yet more baseless assertions that the election had been stolen. There was nothing in his comments to encourage his most violent and unhinged footsoldiers to relent – his words served the same purpose of fluttering a red flag in front of a raging bull.

A joint session of the US Congress was eventually able to reconvene for an emotionally-charged all night hearing during which Joe Biden was eventually ratified as the next president. But an event which would have made front page headlines on any other occasion was buried by the violence which preceded it.

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Make no doubt, there are questions to be asked, not least over how the epicentre of the US democratic system was breached so easily. So too, many are fearful of a repeat, and are asking how Mr Trump can continue in his office, despite the fact the removal van is already on the White House lawn.

Shortly after Mike Pence, the vice president, announced in Congress that Mr Biden was the winner, Mr Trump circumnavigated a block Twitter had put on his account for fear his remarks would incite further violence.

The message, relayed instead through his senior aide, Dan Scavino, was a threat wrapped in a promise. Yes, Mr Trump said he would see that there was an “orderly transition” of power, but he did not concede, maintaining that he totally disagreed with the election, and that “the facts bear me out.” What is more, he stressed that the end of his one and only term was “only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.”

How that is manifested, only time will tell. In the here and now, however, there is a growing unease over his continued hold on power. Multiple Democrats and the Washington Post’s editorial board have called for the invocation of the 25th amendment to remove the 74-year-old, while Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota congresswoman, has said she is drawing up articles of impeachment.

Then there are the repercussions in the medium and long term. There are less than two weeks until Mr Biden’s inauguration, an event that already posed a Herculean security challenge.

The questions over how the incoming president can be protected during the outdoor ceremony have intensified.

And for the president-elect, the challenge he and his administration faces in uniting a fractured country is starker than ever. It has been two centuries since the British set the Capitol ablaze, and nearly three decades have passed since a bomb tore through its north wing.

But as a chastened Mr Biden pointed out on Wednesday night, that shining light of American democracy found itself under an unprecedented assault unlike any seen in modern times. That the assault in question was fuelled by the nation’s president ensures it will be remembered as one of the most disgraceful flashpoints in the federal republic’s history.

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