Wednesday has been a day unlike any in modern American history: An armed mob broke through police barriers then went into the U.S. Capitol building, vandalizing offices and taking over the dais on the Senate floor. Lawmakers went under lock and key, and one person reportedly died after being shot apparently inside the Capitol.
Capitol police evacuated members of Congress who were going through the ceremonial function of counting the electoral votes — which a group of Republicans, led by Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, had sought to derail. President Donald Trump, still refusing to accept his loss, had urged protesters in a speech earlier that day to march to the Capitol.
In Sacramento, pro-Trump demonstrators gathered at the state Capitol building, the site of near-weekly “Stop the Steal” protests since November that have led to occasional outbursts of violence. Other state capitals saw similar demonstrations Wednesday, including Oregon, Washington and Iowa.
Some of the protesters in Sacramento appeared to be members of the Proud Boys, a group of anti-immigrant “Western chauvinists” that the Anti-Defamation League describes as a right-wing extremist group.
State lawmakers and staff were asked not to come to work at the Capitol building in anticipation of the protests, which were planned in advance to coincide with the electoral count.
In a memo dated Jan. 5 obtained by J., California Secretary of the Senate Erika Contreras notified state senators and their staffs to expect a “large protest” Wednesday around the state Capitol and urged them to “not come to the Capitol … unless it is absolutely necessary.”
“So crazy,” California Sen. Ben Allen texted J. in a brief message from Los Angeles on Wednesday. Allen is a former chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco, called the situation in the nation’s capital “nothing short of terrifying” and “unlike anything I’ve ever seen in this country.”
In a note to J., Wiener wrote: “President Trump and his Republican sycophant enablers are responsible for this armed mob storming the Capitol. They’re responsible for the shutting down of our democratic process and for putting members of Congress, their staff, journalists and other Capitol employees in physical danger.”
Jesse Gabriel, a state assemblymember from Encino who was recently appointed chair of the Jewish caucus, told J.: “Today is a sad and shameful day for our country, and a dangerous moment for our democracy.”
State Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, who represents parts of the Bay Area’s Lamorinda, Walnut Creek and Tri-Valley areas, called Wednesday “an incredibly sad day for America.”
“To see our Capitol and our democracy under siege by rioters and lawmakers who seek to undermine our constitution is horrifying,” Bauer-Kahan wrote to J., saying the chaos had been “spurred on by President Trump.”
The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council also described the events as “a sad and dangerous day for our democracy.”
“JCRC unequivocally condemns the anti-democratic mob and its violent actions, and we call for an end to the inflammatory rhetoric driving civil unrest,” the organization said in an afternoon statement. “Make no mistake, if order, decency and rational decision making do not prevail, the underpinnings of our social fabric are in jeopardy.”
Danny Grossman, CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, also condemned the violence in a statement, adding, “At this time, authorities have identified no specific, credible threats of violence or heightened threat in the Bay Area or to the Jewish community. Our community security team is monitoring the situation locally as this unfolds and we will keep you informed of any relevant updates.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt released a statement lambasting the president’s rhetoric and stating that the riots were proof that “extremists must be taken at their word.”
“The President has promoted sedition and incited violence,” Greenblatt wrote, adding that those who “assault[ed] law enforcement officers or breach[ed] government buildings must be arrested and held accountable.” He also called for social media companies, presumably Facebook and Twitter, to suspend the president’s accounts.
The new Congress includes at least 33 Jewish members between the House of Representatives and Senate. There also are hundreds of Jewish Capitol Hill staffers, although because of the pandemic many are working remotely.
During the rioting at the Capitol, some of the Jewish lawmakers shared their observations and experiences on social media and in interviews.
Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat recently re-elected to a second term, tweeted, “Just had to evacuate my office because of a bomb reported outside, while the President’s anarchists are trying to force their way into the Capitol. I heard what sounds like multiple gunshots.”
Luria and most other members of Congress are housed in buildings adjacent to the Capitol. She is a retired Navy commander.
“I don’t recognize our country today and the members of Congress who have supported this anarchy do not deserve to represent their fellow Americans,” she added.
Two House Democrats from Michigan, Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Rep. Andy Levin, took shelter together.
“I am remaining safely in my office, as are my staff who were directed to stay home,” said Slotkin, a one-time CIA analyst. “Rep. Andy Levin is with me since his office building was evacuated.”
Levin, whose father is retired longtime Rep. Sander Levin, posted a video to social media to say he was safe — and he was smiling at first, happy that Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had won Senate runoffs in Georgia, giving the Democrats control of the Senate.
“The joy of that is washed to the side at the moment as we are going through an assault on our democracy right here in the Capitol complex,” he said. “The president of the United States has encouraged his supporters to overrun the U.S. Capitol.”
A long-time human rights campaigner who interviewed dissidents in hiding in Haiti and China, Levin recalled seeing popular protests like what occurred Wednesday — but only in other countries.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this here as a member of Congress,” he said.