After months of making false claims that the election was stolen from him, U.S. President Donald Trump told his supporters Wednesday at the ‘Save America’ rally in Washington, “Our country has had enough, and we will not take it anymore,” and then urged the crowd to “fight like hell.”
The crowd cheered and yelled, “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!”
Hours later, thousands of protesters marched to Capitol Hill, swarming the building, breaking windows, battling police in the hallways and delaying the certification of Democratic president-elect Joe Biden’s victory for hours.
And the president’s messaging helped sparked the violence, critics said.
British interior minister Priti Patel told the BBC on Thursday, the events were “terrible beyond words,” and Trump had not only failed to de-escalate the violence but fueled it.
“His comments directly led to the violence, and so far, he has failed to condemn that violence and that is completely wrong,” Patel, who is in charge of security and policing in Britain, said.
Ryan Hurl, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said he believes Trump’s words “promoted” his supporters to storm the Capital building.
But whether it was intentional, Hurl said he’s not sure.
“I’m not too sure if that’s exactly what he wanted … but I think what he’s done is clearly an impeachable offense.”
‘You have to show strength’
On Dec. 19, Trump tweeted about the Washington protest, saying “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
During the protests, but before the breach of the Capitol building, Trump spoke to a large crowd.
“And after this, we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump told the protesters.
“And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
Trump then told the crowd the presidential election was “rigged” by “radical democrats” and the “fake news media.”
“We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said.
“Our country has had enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.”
Later, as the protesters broke through barriers and swarmed the U.S. Capitol building, Trump took to Twitter and called out Vice President Mike Pence.
Despite repeated pressure from Trump to help overturn his election loss, Pence formally certified Biden as the winner of the presidential election on Wednesday.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
About 10 minutes later, Trump followed with a tweet asking the rioters to “stay peaceful and support law enforcement.”
Some of Trump’s tweets addressing the riot were deleted. Twitter then suspended Trump’s account for 12 hours, saying the posts were “repeated and severe violations” of the platform’s Civic Integrity policy.
During the riots, Trump posted a video to Twitter, which was also taken down, that addressed the violence.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order … So go home. We love you, you’re very special … I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.”
On Thursday, Facebook and Instagram announced the blocking of Trump’s accounts “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
‘A call for action’
Edward Schatz, an associate pressor of political science at the University of Toronto, said: “there is no question” that Trump’s speeches and tweets over the past few weeks, months, and even years had an impact on his followers.
“They think of it as a call for action and a call for solidarity,” he said. “In a way, he’s been priming them for years … all it takes is what they call a ‘dog whistle’ to set people in motion.”
Schatz said although it’s hard to ignore the chain of events that led to the riots, legally, it’s difficult to say whether Trump will be held accountable.
Hurl agreed, adding that he hopes Trump has seen “he’s gone too far.”
“The only way for him to rescue his reputation is to take every opportunity to condemn the violence and extremists,” he said.
Politicians from the left and right were also quick to call out the president for inciting violence.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday said that Trump must be held accountable for the Capitol Hill riots, claiming what happened on Wednesday “is what he wanted to happen.”
The same day, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger called on invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
“Sadly yesterday, it became evident that not only has the president abdicated his duty to protect the American people … he invoked and inflamed passions that only gave fuel to the insurrection we saw here,” he said on a video posted on Twitter.
GOP Senator Ben Sasse said in a statement on Wednesday that the Capitol “was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard — tweeting against his vice president for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution.”
“Lies have consequence,” Sasse added. “This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to constantly stoking division.”
— With files from Reuters