Just moments before hundreds of his supporters stormed the Capitol and interrupted a step in the peaceful transfer of power to a new administration, President Donald Trump gave them an order.
“Let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he told the mob in front of him, concluding his speech right around 1:10 p.m. ET.
Some had anticipated the charge: Five minutes earlier, a Washington Post reporter stationed at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue from Trump noted supporters of his “charging toward the Capitol steps,” struggling to get past police and breach the building.
The crowd grew. The police line broke. Trump’s forces entered the legislature.
But it wasn’t just a single command from Trump that resulted in the siege of the Capitol. He spent his entire speech working the crowd into a froth, urging their presence at the legislature to give “weak” Republicans in Congress “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
“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,” Trump told the crowd a few minutes after noon.
“I’ll be there with you,” he noted, sending supporters in a frenzy. “We’re never going to take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
It was clear who the enemy was: Trump called out members of Congress and the vice president by name, over and over, taking his time to explain to the crowd that the legislators’ choice to certify Biden’s victory would stick with them for life — for “eternity,” as he put it.
“Right over there — right there! — we see an event, going to take place, and I’m going to be watching, because history is going to be made,” Trump said. “We’re going to see whether or not we have great and courageous leaders, or whether we have leaders that should be ashamed of themselves throughout history.”
One of the “weak Republicans” who’d accepted the election results, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), would be locked in a secure location in the Capitol within a couple hours.
“I wonder if he enjoyed his flight in last night,” Trump said of the senator. (Romney was harassed on his flight to Washington, D.C. Tuesday.)
“When Romney got beat, he stands up like, ‘I’d like to congratulate the victor,’” Trump joked, attempting a stodgy Romney accent recalling his 2012 presidential loss.
“I don’t know, who’s the victor, Mitt?” the President seethed.
Trump moved on, his speech sometimes rambling between written remarks about policy and ad-libbing about his fate.
America’s elections used to be respected the world over, Trump said. Unfortunately, though, his loss meant that was no longer the case: “You know what the world says about us now? They say we don’t have free and fair elections.”
The President turned up the temperature, comparing his base of supporters to a fighter with his hands tied behind his back.
“We want to be so nice,” he said. “We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people, and we’re going to have to fight much harder.”
Then, he turned his focus to Vice President Mike Pence.
After the Capitol had been breached, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported that Trump had been in touch with the vice president before his White House speech. Pence had told Trump, Haberman reported, that he did not have the power to throw out the election results as Trump wanted. Trump was reportedly furious at this.
But he didn’t let on that he knew what the vice president would do.
“Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that would be a sad day for our country,” he said. “Because you’re sworn to uphold the Constitution.”
The President let slip an inadvertent truth, as his supporters revved their engines and eyed the legislature.
“Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy,” he said.