The attack on the Capitol on Jan 6 was an organized, coordinated attempt to flood the building with people and shut down the process of certifying the electoral votes. Planning for the Capitol riots began long before January 6th, 2021.
President Donald Trump’s Stop the Steal Rally was seeded with members of organized extremist groups (e.g. Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, “Groypers” from America First) who intentionally planned to transform a peaceful rally into chaos. These groups attempted to manipulate Trump supporters into joining them in attacking the Capitol through disinformation ahead of January 6th. Some people came to the Stop the Steal Rally prepared for violence, wearing helmets, tactical vests, and radios.
Incendiary language from President Trump further encouraged participation in the riot from those who otherwise would not have. Tweets like "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" and “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency. Many States want to decertify the mistake they made in certifying incorrect & even fraudulent numbers in a process NOT approved by their State Legislatures (which it must be). Mike can send it back!” in particular riled protesters up ahead of the riot.
Extremist groups began the attack on the Capitol while civilian protesters remained at the Stop the Steal Rally. Before President Trump’s rally could end, would-be attackers began advancing on the West side of the Capitol, where there were less police and windows were not reinforced. They quickly took the West and followed with an attack on the better-defended East side
This tactic allowed attackers to push the crowd into the Capitol through multiple entry points at once (basement - Lower W Terrace, 1st floor - W side, 2nd floor - E side) and block police reinforcements from retaking the building by using the crowd as a human shield.
Protesters Gather outside the West Entrance of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo
12:48-1:20 PM (33 minutes) 1. Taking the Lower W. Plaza
Over 200 Proud Boys assembled at the Peace Monument and initiated an attack to seize the W. Plaza, just as the Joint Session was beginning to certify electoral votes. Attackers raced up the walkways and breached the Lower W. Plaza in minutes. They seem to have anticipated a walkover of the rest of the Plaza, but police reinforcements arrived and stopped their advance.
1:21-1:49 PM (29 minutes) 2. Faceoff and delay on the W. Plaza
After the advance on the W. Plaza stalled, attackers pulled back and revised their plan. Almost everyone left the plaza.
1:50-2:14 PM (26 minutes) 3. Starter breach of the Capitol
By 1:50, a large crowd of civilians was arriving following the Stop the Steal Rally in Ellipse Park. Rioters used the large civilian crows to confuse defenders and spread police out and away from the Capitol Building. On the West side of the Capitol Building, an organized attack started under the NW Scaffolds and broke successive police lines, letting attackers climb the stairs, run to the “soft” NW Courtyard, and smash the unreinforced windows there to enter. As soon as the West-side breaches began, organizers moved East to initiate the breaches there, ensuring that actions on both sides were synchronized. By the end of this period, the attackers were streaming into the Capitol from the NW Courtyard door, and on the East, a crowd mobbed the E. Main Doors.
2:15-2:41 PM (27 minutes) 4. Prepping a multi-pronged attack
This period saw attempts to open multiple breaches to flood the building. Police closed the 1st breach, but invaders inside opened 2 doors on the W + the E Main Doors. Inside, a group pushed down to the Visitors’ Center. On the W. Plaza, a swift rush broke police lines and the rioters raced up to the Lower W. Terrace tunnel.
Minute by Minute Events
Police Retake Capitol
Enough police were able to get into the Capitol Building by 2:40pm to hold the Capitol tunnel from attackers, forcing them to turn back. The increased police presence was enough to begin pushing attackers out of the building and taking an offensive approach to retaking the Capitol. Rioter violence increased, resulting in a police officer being dragged into the crowd and beaten. A rioter was shot and killed. By 6:15pm the Capitol was fully secured.
Police defend tunnel of Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021. Photo: US Department of Justice.
Minute by Minute Events
2:42-3:01 PM (20 minutes) 5. Rioters fail to take the interior
This period is the turning point when the plan to overwhelm the Capitol building failed. Attackers re-breached the NW Courtyard door, but police held the tunnel, and early tunnel entrants pulled back. By the end of this period, more police reinforcements began arriving inside, gaining the upper hand.
3:02-3:29 PM (28 minutes) 6. Police pushback
Police largely cleared the Capitol interior during this period. Many reinforcements had arrived inside via the tunnels and began forcing rioters out of the building. On the Lower W. Terrace, police pushed back to the tunnel mouth, and Officer Fanone was dragged into the mob.
3:30-4:18 PM (49 minutes) 7. Last-chance strategic fighting
Violent attempts to breach the building continued at the tunnel and the North Doors, where groups of well-equipped men seemed to be standing by. Near 4:17 PM, police informed attackers that they would use lethal force, Trump sent his “go home” tweet, & Miller authorized state National Guard units.
4:19-4:30 PM (12 minutes) 8. Mop-up at the tunnel
Continued attacks at the tunnel seem related to rescuing trapped rioters. During this time, Rosanne Boyland died and Officer Miller was dragged into the crowd.
4:31-6:14 PM (1 hr 45 mins) 9. Diffuse violence while Capitol grounds were secured
During this period the DC National Guard was finally deployed, but police had already largely regained control of the Capitol exterior grounds without its assistance. Police sweeping the North Terrace pushed a large angry crowd including many militiamen onto the NE Plaza and NE Path. Violent and disorganized fighting continued at the tunnel until after 5 PM, and the mob attacked journalists in the NE Media Pen. The Capitol grounds were fully secured 45 minutes after the National Guard finally arrived.
AFTER THE ATTACK
LEADERS DENOUNCE VIOLENCE IN DAYS AFTER ATTACK
Both Republicans and Democrats have come out fervently denouncing the riots.
“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol… We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms… To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins.”
—Vice President Mike Pence
“Those storming the Capitol need to stop NOW. The Constitution protects peaceful protest, but violence—from Left or Right— is ALWAYS wrongAnd those engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support.”
—Senator Ted Cruz
“United States Capitol Police saved my life. Attacks on law enforcement officers trying to do their jobs are never acceptable. Period. We can passionately protest without being violent.”
––Representative Steve Scalise
“Those who stormed the US Capitol today are criminals who must be condemned and denounced. They are not patriots. Nor are those who encouraged them.”
––Representative Tulsi Gabbard
Four Capitol Police died by suicide in the months following the attack. Jeffrey Smith of the D.C. Police and Howard Liebengood of the Capitol Police, died by suicide within a month of the attack. Gunther Hashida and Kyle deFreytag, died by suicide in the months after defending the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. The widows are attributing their deaths to trauma and exhaustion suffered from responding to the riots and asking that more resources be given to police officers. GoFundMe accounts were set up to care for the families they left behind.
Subsequent congressional hearings attempted to understand the stress of the day and how it impacted officers. In one of these hearings, four officers described being attacked, berated and threatened with death by rioters, many of whom had weapons.
“I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm, as I heard chants of, ‘Kill him with his own gun,’” MPD Officer Michael Fanone testified.
Since the attack on January 6th, 2021, 772 people have been charged for their part in the Capitol Riots. The FBI continues seeking the public's help to identify people who took part in one of the most documented crimes in US history.
On January 13, 2022, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against the leader of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, and 10 associates, charging them with "seditious conspiracy," the most severe charge levied against any of the alleged Capitol rioters so far.
A full list of names of those who breached Capitol Building on January 6th, 2021.