The riotous mob that laid siege to the US Capitol was the product of the destructive forces that President Donald Trump has been stirring for years, culminating in the disruption of a democratic ritual that would formally end his unconstitutional bid to stay in power.
The scene that unfolded on Wednesday – pushing through police barricades, breaking windows, then occupying seats of power – was one that Americans are accustomed to watching in distant lands with authoritarian regimes.
But the violence, which included gunshots fired in the Capitol, one death, and an armed occupation of the Senate floor, was born from the man who swore an oath to protect the very democratic traditions that rioters tried to undo in his name.
The rioters chose to storm the Capitol, a building symbolic as a citadel of democracy, and stirred echoes of the the angst and blood of the Civil War era. Only this time it was instigated by a duly elected president unwilling to honour the foundational creed of a peaceful transfer of power.
As his presidency enters its final days, Trump’s speech was a valedictory that seethed with anger, and roused those who took it as a call to insurrection.
Rioters overran and overmatched Capitol security forces, breaking windows, stealing mementos and mocking the institution with photos showing them in seats of power.
One in the mob seized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s dais, another her office. A sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats stormed through Statuary Hall, a part of the Capitol familiar to tourists.
One man carried a Confederate flag under the same rotunda where Abraham Lincoln – and, just last year, the congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis – had lain in state. A noose was photographed not far from the Capitol’s west front.
And the inauguration stand where Biden will put his hand on a Bible in two weeks was used by US Capitol Police to fire pepper spray into the violent crowd.
Few escaped Trump’s rage – not even his most loyal lieutenant, Vice President Mike Pence, who had, for once, said he could not honour the president’s wishes that he overturn the electoral vote count because there was no legal authority for him to do so.
But the groundwork for the violence was laid far before the rally, which also included a call from the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, for a “trial by combat” to settle accusations of election fraud.
Trump, who has long shied away from committing to a peaceful transfer of power, spent the better part of 2020 declaring that the election was “rigged” while making baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud that numerous federal courts and his former attorney general said did not exist.
The president was enabled by dozens of his fellow Republicans, who said they were willing to object to the count, a manoeuvre they knew would delay but not change the outcome.
Even when it became clear he had lost the election, Trump refused to acknowledge reality, insisting repeatedly that he had won in a landslide. He lost to Biden by seven million votes.
But his supporters were more than willing to accept his effort to subvert the verdict of voters.
He spent most of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office, watching the violence in Washington on a large mounted television, though most of his attention was fixated on Pence’s disloyalty.
He reluctantly taped a video in which he called for “peace” and told the rioters to “go home,” but he bracketed his request with further false claims of election fraud and told the insurrectionists: “We love you. You’re very special.”
In a tweet, rather than directly criticising the mob, he offered an apologia for them. The post was later removed by Twitter.