By Elle Reeve, Samantha Guff, Deborah Brunswick and Steve Almasy, CNN
Updated: Fri, 08 Jan 2021 03:37:11 GMT
They came to Washington to protest an election they think has been stolen, and when violence began at the US Capitol, mob logic took over.
CNN spoke to people who stormed the building. They said they felt like they were doing something good.
"What are we supposed to do? OK?" a man who'd been maced by police said during Wednesday's riot that saw the halls of Congress broken into, offices vandalized and five people die. "The Supreme Court's not helping us, no one's helping us. Only us can help us. Only we can do it."
The rally started off peacefully as tens of thousands of people from all over the country gathered outside the White House.
They cheered President Donald Trump and his allies as they continued to lie that the election was stolen.
"Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked, the ballots that are fraudulent, and if we're wrong, we will be made fools of, but if we're right, a lot of them will go to jail," Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said. "So, let's have trial by combat."
One man watching Giuliani speak said: "He just said trial by combat! ... I'm ready! I'm ready."
A couple of miles away at the Capitol, Congress was meeting to certify the election, a moment that would cement the President's election loss.
At the end of his speech, Trump told supporters they were going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to give the "weak" Republicans "the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."
The crowd marched down two avenues to the Capitol, and once they got there some broke through barricades. After a few rioters broke into the building, more followed.
CNN stood on a short stone wall filming as people in their 40s, 50s and 60s climbed over it as if they were teenagers trying to get backstage at a concert.
They were trying to get to a set of stairs that would take them closer to the doors of the Capitol. A man shouted, "Go upstairs!" -- and into the building -- "either go upstairs or get out of the way!"
Nearby, people climbed a steep wall to get to the upper terrace of the Capitol, even though they could have just gone around a corner and walked up the stairs.
Asked why they were storming the Capitol, one woman became angry, saying they weren't storming, and that that was a "media narrative." They were just making their voices heard, she said. Then she continued climbing over a wall.
Rioters overwhelmed Capitol police and many made it into the building. Others stayed outside demonstrating on the steps or climbing the scaffolding being set up for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration in two weeks.
One man who went inside told CNN there was a brief discussion over whether to force their way in.
"I was actually here when this guy started breaking in with a cane. Obviously there's a power struggle, there's peaceful guys that were like, 'No, no, we don't want to do that,'" he said.
"Then there was that guy. You know, he just said, 'Well, oh well, I'm breaking it in.'"
Another man described the scene this way: "We broke down the barriers, and we rushed them, we charged them.
"We got all the way to the steps and made a line, so we stood there and we tried to push them back a little bit until finally they started getting rough with us, so we tried to push them back. So that's what we did, we pushed them back.
"We tried to get up the steps. They wouldn't let us up. So then they started pepper-spraying and macing everybody."
For the next three hours, the Trump supporters moved in and out of the Capitol, posing for pictures, while security teams rushed senators and representatives to safety.
Four people died during the riot, one of whom was shot by a US Capitol Police employee in a Capitol hallway. Three people died after medical emergencies.
A Capitol Police officer was placed on life support following the riots, according to Capitol Police union chair Gus Papathanasiou.
One man said some of the police inside were supportive of the rioters.
"The cops were very cool. They were like, 'Hey guys, have a good night.' Well, some of them. It's just crazy. It's really weird. You can see that some of them are on our side."
CNN reached out to the Capitol Hill police for comment but have not heard back.
CNN asked one man what their point was.
"We're losing our freedoms," he said. "What you do you mean, what's the point?"
Clashes with police happened sporadically throughout the day, and waves of tear gas wafted over the crowd.
Everyone CNN spoke to Wednesday said they believed the election was stolen.
From there, their beliefs were on a spectrum. Some said that if Congress certified Joe Biden as president, they'd be disappointed, but would go home. Others said they fully expected Trump to be sworn in for a second term, and a couple said after that, they expected military tribunals of prominent Democrats who they believed had betrayed the country.
Federal prosecutors in Washington have charged 15 criminal cases stemming from the unrest, Michael Sherwin, the acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, said Thursday.
Sherwin called the 15 charges a "good start" but not the end.
He added that an additional 40 cases were charged in Superior Court, many of them including charges ranging from unlawful entry to certain areas of the Capitol grounds.
The FBI and Washington police are asking Americans to help them identify people who participated in Wednesday's riot and insurrection at the US Capitol.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the Capitol Police officer's condition. He is on life support.