A timeline of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — including when and how Trump responded
Updated January 5, 2024 at 4:25 PM ET
January 6, 2021, was a Wednesday. A joint session of Congress was set to convene in the U.S. Capitol to certify Joe Biden's electoral vote win. Meanwhile, thousands of Donald Trump supporters gathered near the White House to hear him speak at noon ET.
Tensions were high on Capitol Hill. Protesters swarmed lawmakers outside.
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., was exasperated as protesters surrounded him on the steps of the Russell Senate Office Building at around 11:30 a.m.
"When it comes to the law, our opinions don't matter. The law matters ... I value your opinion ... I share your conviction that President Trump should remain president. I share that conviction. But the law matters. I took an oath. I took an oath under God. Under God. Do we still take that seriously in this country?" he said, emphatically waving his arms in the air.
Three years later, and as we begin an election year where Trump is the clear frontrunner for Republican nomination, we revisit the events of that day — and exactly what happened when. Here's how it unfolded.
At noon, Trump begins speaking to his supporters at a rally near the White House.
"We will never give up. We will never concede," Trump tells the cheering crowd.
He calls on Vice President Mike Pence — as the president of the Senate — to reject Biden's win and send the votes back to the states.
"Mike Pence, I hope you're going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country," Trump says. "And if you're not, I'm going to be very disappointed in you."
Meanwhile, Trump supporters head to both the Arkansas and Idaho state capitol buildings.
And even before Trump ends his speech, crowds from his rally start to gather outside the U.S. Capitol.
At about the same time, Pence releases a letter, calling his role in the certification of the electoral votes "largely ceremonial," essentially saying he will not act as Trump has asked.
"My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not," Pence writes.
An initial wave of protesters storms the outer police barrier around the Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bangs the gavel to call the joint session of Congress to order.
Shortly after that, Trump ends his speech.
"We're going to the Capitol," he says. "We're going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."
Trump returns to the White House. He does not go to the Capitol.
About two minutes later, in the House chambers, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., rises to question the election results from his state.
"I rise for myself and 60 of my colleagues to object to the counting of the electoral ballots of Arizona," Gosar declares.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joins in Gosar's objection.
The House and Senate split to deliberate the objection in separate parts of the Capitol building.
At the same time, in Michigan, hundreds rally in front of the state capitol, which protesters stormed less than a year earlier to decry pandemic restrictions.
In Washington, D.C., a large portion of the crowd at Trump's speech marches toward the Capitol, shouting, "USA, USA, USA!"
On the steps on the backside of the Capitol, protesters overcome the police, who run back into the building. Protesters watching from the sidelines cheer as a mob breaks through the final police barricades.
Inside the building, both the House and Senate proceed, with lawmakers seemingly unaware of the mayhem outside.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell takes the Senate floor.
"Voters, the courts and the states have all spoken — they've all spoken," he says. "If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever."
Around this same time, suspicious packages are found at the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., and nearby buildings are evacuated. The packages are later confirmed to be pipe bombs.
Shortly after 2 p.m.
Protesters break windows and climb into the Capitol. They open doors for others to follow.
Secret Service agents whisk Pence off the Senate floor.
A few minutes later, Pelosi is ushered off the House floor.
The Senate is called to recess, and the House is called to recess shortly after.
The building goes into lockdown.
Around this same time, Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman saves the Senate from a very close call, waving Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to safety and then diverting protesters who were steps from the Senate chamber.
Trump tweets: "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution."
He continues with more baseless claims about a fraudulent election.
Trump tweets again, calling for support of the Capitol Police and law enforcement. He urges people to "stay peaceful."
But at that moment, inside the Capitol, the riot continues to unfold.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., tweets a video from where he's sheltering in the House chamber. "We were just told that there has been tear gas in the rotunda, and we're being instructed to each of us get gas masks that are under our seats," he says.
Elsewhere in the country, protesters gather — at the Louisiana and Florida state capitols and the Ohio Statehouse. Several other state capitols are evacuated as a precaution.
Shortly before 3 p.m.
Rioters break into the Senate chamber. Many jump from the balcony to the floor below. They climb onto the podium and take photos and selfies, and they rifle through papers lawmakers left behind.
Many also march through the halls of the Capitol. They bang on doors, destroy property and eventually break into lawmakers' offices — most notably, that of Pelosi.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., tweets a video while sheltering in his office, saying that this was the cost of telling people they could overturn the election.
"Mr. President, you have got to stop this. You are the only person who can call this off. Call it off," Gallagher implores. "The election is over. Call it off."
Around the same time, a swarm of rioters chanting, "Break it down! Break it down!" overwhelms Capitol Police officers guarding the Speaker's Lobby, where lawmakers are sheltered.
They break windows and try to force their way in.
A Capitol Police officer shoots Ashli Babbitt as she tries to climb through the doors. She later dies of her injuries.
Simultaneously, Trump tweets again, asking everyone to remain peaceful. Notably, he does not recant any of his claims about election fraud.
More than two hours after protesters first breached the Capitol grounds, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweets that Trump has ordered the National Guard to the Capitol.
Meanwhile, Trump supporters begin to gather in Sacramento, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Denver and Minneapolis. Denver closes its city offices early, as does the Texas Capitol.
Shortly after 4 p.m.
Biden addresses the nation.
"I call on President Trump to go on national television now, to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege. This is not a protest — it is an insurrection," Biden says.
Trump does not go on TV. Instead, he tweets a video talking to his supporters inside the Capitol.
"I know your pain. I know your hurt," he begins. "We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You've seen the way others are treated. ... I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace."
Around the same time, Maryland and Virginia send National Guard and state troopers to the District of Columbia.
In the next hour, protesters in Arizona pound on the state capitol doors and break a window. A demonstration in Salem, Ore., turns violent.
Shortly before 6 p.m.
Almost five hours after the rioting began, police start to clear the Capitol and eventually secure the interior.
Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C., places the city under a 12-hour curfew.
Trump tweets again.
"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. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"
Facebook removes Trump's video and one other post from the day. In a statement, the company says, "We removed from Facebook and Instagram the recent video of President Trump speaking about the protests and his subsequent post about the election results. We made the decision that on balance these posts contribute to, rather than diminish, the risk of ongoing violence."
Facebook then bans Trump for 24 hours. He is currently under a two-year ban.
Twitter removes Trump's tweets from the day and shuts down his account for 12 hours. His account is later suspended permanently.
The Republican National Committee condemns the day's violence.
Just after 8 p.m.
Pence reopens the Senate.
"Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol. ... Let's get back to work," he says to applause.
And McConnell makes a statement.
"The United States Senate will not be intimidated," he says. "We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats."
The debate over Arizona's ballots continues, more than six hours after it began.
Around 9 p.m.
Pelosi brings the House back into session.
"We always knew this would take well into the night, and we will stay as long as it takes. Our purpose will be accomplished," she says.
In a blazing speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says, "Count me out. Enough is enough." Graham says he hates to see his journey with Trump end this way.
The House and Senate come back together to resume the joint session, and the vote that began some 10 hours earlier continues.
3:42 a.m., Jan. 7
Pence calls a majority of the Electoral College votes for Biden.
"The announcement of the state of the vote by the president of the Senate shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and vice president of the United States," Pence says, and officially affirms the election results certifying Biden as the 46th president.
Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.