WASHINGTON — For years, President Trump’s critics who warned of worst-case scenarios were dismissed as alarmists. But the worst case appeared to be materializing on Wednesday as the president’s supporters stormed the United States Capitol, forcing a halt to the process formalizing his election defeat and the evacuation of Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress.
In a remarkable scene evocative of coups and uprisings associated with authoritarian countries around the world, the Capitol was put on lockdown as tear gas was deployed inside the citadel of American democracy and police officers guarding the House chamber drew their pistols in an armed standoff. While the nation’s lawmakers fled, the mob made it onto the dais of the Senate where the vice president had stood shortly before.
The extraordinary invasion of the Capitol came shortly after Mr. Trump egged on his admirers at a rally to march to the headquarters of Congress to protest its acceptance of the results of the election that he lost, even suggesting that he would join them, although he did not. Although he did not explicitly urge them to force their way into the building, he told them that his presidency was being stolen and that no one should stand for it, inciting passions that overflowed not long after on the other end of the Pennsylvania Avenue.
Only after the situation escalated did Mr. Trump finally appeal for calm. “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful,” he wrote on Twitter. “No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
But he did not tell them to leave the Capitol and allow proceedings to resume and even Mr. Trump’s own advisers implored him to do more. “Condemn this now, @realDonaldTrump,” Alyssa Farah, who just stepped down as his communications director, wrote on Twitter. “You are the only one they will listen to. For our country!”
Mick Mulvaney, who served as Mr. Trump’s White House chief of staff and later become a special envoy, made a similar appeal. “The President’s tweet is not enough,” he wrote. “He can stop this now and needs to do exactly that. Tell these folks to go home.”
The president’s critics placed the blame on him for encouraging the violent response by repeatedly telling Americans that the election was stolen from him when it was not. “This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said as he was ushered with other lawmakers into a secure location that the authorities asked not be disclosed.
Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and another outspoken critic of the president, went even further, accusing the president’s supporters of seeking the violent overthrow of the government. “This is a coup attempt,” he wrote on Twitter.
While Washington has seen many protests over the years, including some that turned violent, the convulsion on Wednesday was unlike anything that the capital has seen during a transition of power in modern times, literally interrupting the constitutional acceptance of the election victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. A presidency that has stirred hostility and divisions for four years appeared to be ending in an explosion of anger, disorder and violence.
“We will never give up,” Mr. Trump had declared at a “Save America” rally on the Ellipse shortly before the uprising, his last-gasp effort to justify his failing bid to overturn the democratic election with false claims of fraud that have been debunked by elections, judges and even his own attorney general. “We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about.”
As the crowd on the Ellipse chanted, “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!” the president lashed out at members of his own party for not doing more to help him cling to power over the will of the people. “There are so many weak Republicans,” he growled and then vowed to take revenge against those he deemed insufficiently loyal. “You primary them,” he said.
He singled out Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican who has angered him by not intervening in the election, calling him “one of the dumbest governors in the United States.” And he went after William P. Barr, the attorney general who would not validate his election complaints. “All of a sudden, Bill Barr changed,” he groused.
Other speakers, including his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, excoriated Republican lawmakers for not standing up for Mr. Trump. “The people who did nothing to stop the steal — this gathering should send a message to them,” Donald Trump Jr. said. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.”
To many Republicans, that was the problem. Even as Mr. Trump’s presidency was slipping away from him, Republicans increasingly turned on him, stewing over the Tuesday’s runoff elections in Georgia that seemed to favor Democrats and the votes he was forcing lawmakers to take for or against the results of a democratic election.
Even Mr. Pence and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who have been among the most loyal supporters of Mr. Trump for four years, finally broke with him in a decisive way. Mr. Pence rebuffed the president’s demand that he use his role as presiding officer over the Electoral College count to reject electors for Mr. Biden. And Mr. McConnell gave a forceful speech repudiating Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the election.
“If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” Mr. McConnell said in a speech before the rioters overran the Capitol.
Mr. Pence rejected the president just minutes after Mr. Trump continued to publicly pressure him to do what even the president’s longtime lawyer Jay Sekulow said the vice president did not have the power to do — reject the electors of swing states Republicans lost. “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing,” Mr. Trump told the rally on the Ellipse. “I hope so. I hope so because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”
Just minutes later, Mr. Pence released a letter saying he did not have the power to do what the president wanted him to do. “Vesting the vice president with unilateral authority to decide presidential contests would be entirely antithetical to that [constitutional] design,” he wrote. He added: “It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”