As I walked towards the “People’s House” on Capitol Hill, I passed a man in a Trump hat carrying a sign that read “Big Tech Censorship Killed Democracy.”
A pair of young men, dressed in black military-style suits, rushed past me onto the sidewalk, walking away from the building. “Let’s get out of here before any of these cops start asking questions,” I heard one say to the other.
The worst of the US Capitol Riot was already over. I didn’t yet know that the violence had turned deadly. From my point of view, on the west side of the huge building, a large and aggressive crowd was still fighting with the police.
A man fell on top of me. Her body was hard and heavy. I turned to see he was wearing a bulletproof vest. He apologized. I asked if he would speak to a reporter. “No,” he said sharply and rushed over.
Moments later, on the steps of the US House of Representatives, I approached two men waving a large Trump flag and an American flag respectively, asked them if they were going to talk to me, identifying me as a reporter at Al Jazeera.
The man with the Trump flag immediately started screaming. “You are fake media! Why don’t you print the truth for once? They stole this election, ”he yelled, waving his pole near my head.
The other man with a flagpole joined us, while a third man – dressed in black and carrying a small video camera on a Capitol Police selfie stick and riot shield – is came behind me.
I put my notepad back in my pocket, put my credentials in my jacket, and politely stepped back. Finding it unsafe to attempt to conduct interviews, I decided to join the crowd to observe.
While walking towards the center of Capitol Square directly in front of the dome, I came across a large group of Trump protesters who had occupied the steps and pedestals of the building. A police helicopter hovered north, its rotors cutting through the air with a constant thwack-thwack-thwack.
A group of protesters wearing megaphones stood atop a police crowd control vehicle. They were pouring out a flood of conspiracy theories. The election had been stolen thanks to an elite conspiracy against Trump and they had come to take back “the people’s house” as theirs, they said.
Two men standing next to the police vehicle were dressed in military style clothing. They had Thin Blue Line, Israeli flag and “Don’t Tread on Me” badges affixed to their bulletproof vests and wore tactical combat gloves.
With goggles dangling around their necks, they were talking into radios. It seemed that they were in contact with people inside the building. They weren’t Make America Great Again tourists. They appeared to be militiamen.
A large group of policemen in riot gear suddenly formed a phalanx near the steps of the House. From the crowd of Trump supporters who had stormed, the building let out anxious cries: “Here they are!” and “Lock and load!” But the police kept their position.
About 30 yards away, disparaging sounds and screams could be heard as Trump supporters attacked and demolished television equipment in an area where members of the media were working.
From inside the building, a line of about 16 police officers emerged to gradually push the Trump crowd out of the balcony and up the stairs. A woman started to cry. “You killed her. She was innocent, ”she said, referring to, I would later learn, Ashli Babbit, a QAnon conspiracy theory believer who had been killed inside.
Further north, on the Senate side of East Square, a group of around 50 police officers with riot shields and gas masks had formed protective training outside the Senate entrance commonly used by staff and officials. senators.
Trump supporters carrying a flag with the outline of an AR-15 assault rifle and the words “Come and Take It” taunted them with slogans and slurs. The police did not move.
Traces of pepper spray came on a cold wind blowing over the square. People started to cough and walk away. The sun had set and most of the people were dispersing.
A warning was broadcast over loudspeakers that the city’s 6 p.m. (11 p.m. GMT) curfew would go into effect in 10 minutes and anyone still in the area could be arrested.
But by then most of the crowd had moved away.