A mob of people stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday as weeks of President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims the 2020 election was stolen boiled over into a display of insurrection as the Congress assembled to affirm the results. Shots were fired, according to multiple reports.
Trump, who had spoken to a rally of supporters nearby, stirred up his fans, telling them “We will never give up.” The president also used Twitter to attack Vice President Mike Pence, who had earlier issued a statement saying that he couldn’t stop the Congressional count of electoral votes, which is mandated by the Constitution.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” Trump tweeted in a statement that falsely claimed fraudulent votes were certified by the states. “USA demands the truth!,” he continued. Twitter quickly labeled the tweet as disputed. It also updated the label, noting that users can’t reply to, retweet or like the tweet “due to a risk of violence.” Facebook, which exempts politicians from fact checking, added a label to Trump’s post directing users to its election information center. Users can still share the labeled post after viewing a notice reminding them to “see election updates before sharing.”
Trump, who lost the US presidential election to former Vice President Joe Biden, has been using Twitter and Facebook to push baseless claims about election fraud to his millions of followers. The companies have labeled several of Trump’s tweets and posts, but critics say those efforts do little to stop the spread of misinformation that could incite violence.
On Wednesday, the social networks faced more calls to suspend Trump’s account and take stronger action against posts that incite violence. University of Virginia law professor Danielle Citron, journalist Kara Swisher, Obama Foundation CTO Leslie Miley, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and others posted tweets urging Twitter to boot Trump from the social media site.
“Time is now to suspend Trump’s account,” Citron tweeted. “He has deliberately incited violence, causing mayhem with his lies and threats.”
Twitter said in a statement it will take action against tweets that violate its rules. “Let us be clear: Threats of and calls to violence have no place on Twitter, and we will enforce our policies accordingly,” the company said. (Its tweets can be found here.)
Facebook, which also has rules against inciting violence, likewise faced criticism for allowing Trump and his supporters to push false claims of voter fraud on its site. Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower in Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, tweeted that the violence that broke out at the US Capitol was an “inevitable manifestation of the conspiracy, vitriol and hate fed to people daily on Facebook.”
Facebook said it was reviewing and removing any content that violates its rules against inciting violence.
“The violent protests in the Capitol today are a disgrace. We prohibit incitement and calls for violence on our platform,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement.
The mayor of Washington, DC, ordered a 6 p.m. ET curfew as the events unspooled on television. CNN reported that a woman was being treated for gunshot wounds on the Capitol grounds and showed video of rioters scampering through bashed-in windows.
Photos showed unprecedented scenes of the pro-Trump mob milling in the Capitol. In one photo, a member of the mob sat a desk that CNN identified as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s.
President-elect Biden addressed the nation, calling on Trump to do the same. “Our Democracy is under unprecedented assault,” Biden said.
Moments after he was finished, Trump tweeted a video in which he repeated baseless grievances that the election was stolen. Still, he called on the rioters to go home. The tweet was also labeled by Twitter, which repeated concerns its contents presented a risk of violence.
Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate had gathered Wednesday to count the electoral votes transmitted by the states. Trump and some lawmakers sought to use the process, which is usually ceremonial, to challenge the results of the election. Trump had pressured Pence, who presides over the process, to support his unfounded claims the vote was stolen.
Hours before the vote count began, Trump tweeted that states wanted to correct their votes and repeated bogus claims of “irregularities and fraud.” He called on Pence to send the votes back to the states. “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” he wrote in a tweet that was labeled as disputed.