WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told his supporters on Wednesday to “go home” after they stormed the Capitol in protest of his reelection defeat, but he also praised their mission even after it had erupted in violence and suggested it was justified.
In a video message tweeted as authorities struggled to take control of Capitol Hill, Trump insisted on promoting his baseless allegations of mass voter fraud and said loyalists who had swarmed the seat of American democracy were “very special.”
“I know your pain. I know your hurt. But you have to go home now,” he said. “We can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”
The video statement came more than an hour after protesters stormed the Capitol as lawmakers convened for a joint session to confirm the Electoral College results and affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
In a later tweet, Trump said: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.”
Before Trump released the video, Republican lawmakers and former administration officials had begged the president to take more decisive action that would help quell the violence by his supporters. He had taken to Twitter earlier to ask backers to “remain peaceful,” but he did not call for them to disperse.
Trump spent most of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching the violence in Washington on a large mounted television, according to a White House official. But most of his attention was devoted toward ire at Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to overturn the will of voters in the congressional electoral count, rather than the violent occupation of the Capitol by his supporters.
Trump reluctantly issued a pair of tweets and taped a video calling for an end to the violence at the insistence of staff, said the White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and requested anonymity. The video was subsequently removed by Facebook, “because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence,” said the site’s head of integrity, Guy Rosen.
Pence, not Trump, spoke with the acting defense secretary to discuss mobilizing the D.C. National Guard.
The nation’s capital descended into chaos when protesters overwhelmed police and bulled their way into the Capitol, forcing a delay of the joint session of Congress where lawmakers were counting electoral votes that will affirm Biden’s White House victory two weeks before Inauguration Day.
In the earlier tweets, Trump had offered only a muted response to the violence as loyalists brandishing his paraphernalia clashed with police, occupied the Capitol and even stormed the Senate chamber.
At a rally near the White House, Trump had encouraged supporters to march on the Capitol and suggested at one point that he would join them on Capitol Hill. In his remarks, he used incendiary language with violent undertones.
Trump had urged his supporters to “get rid of the weak Congress people” — presumably through primary challenges. He said “get the weak ones get out. This is the time for strength.”
Republican lawmakers pleaded with Trump to do more to stop the violence. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California said he told the president to “calm individuals down.”
“I’ve already talked to the president,” McCarthy told Fox News. “I called him. I think we need to make a statement, make sure that we can calm individuals down.”
A Senate ally, Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, appealed directly to the White House in a tweet: “Mr. President @realDonaldTrump the men & women of law enforcement are under assault. It is crucial you help restore order by sending resources to assist the police and ask those doing this to stand down.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, posted a video message urging Trump to “call it off.”
“This is banana republic crap that we’re watching right now,” said Gallagher, who had spoken out against objections from fellow Republicans to certifying the Electoral College vote that Biden won.
Former White House staff also joined the pleas in tweets.
“Condemn this now, @realDonaldTrump — you are the only one they will listen to,” tweeted former White House communications director Alyssa Farah.
Added his former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney: “The best thing @realDonaldTrump could do right now is to address the nation from the Oval Office and condemn the riots. A peaceful transition of power is essential to the country and needs to take place on 1/20.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who was ushered out of the Senate chamber to a secure location as protesters breached the building, called for protesters to disperse.
“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now,” he tweeted. “Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”
Story by Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press. Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.