Protester sits in House Speaker's seat
A pro-Trump protester in the Senate chambers at the Capitol. Image from C-SPAN broadcast

Members of the San Diego congressional delegation reported safely sheltering in place after pro-Trump protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Rep. Mike Levin said he sheltered in his office, and Rep. Sara Jacobs told supporters she was in a protected zone in the building.

After the Capitol reopened, Jacobs warned Trump and his supporters, “I stand with my colleagues calling for the immediate impeachment of President Trump and the expulsion of those Members of Congress who continue to stand in the way of the certification of our free and fair election.”

Rep. Scott Peters tweeted, “I’m safe. Thanks for the texts. More later.”

Rep. Juan Vargas tweeted, “I am here today to fulfill my constitutional duty and certify President-elect Biden’s historic victory. My staff and I are safe. We are asking Americans to stand together for the rule of law and integrity of our nation’s democracy.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, the lone Republican congressman representing San Diego County, said, “The violence we saw today is totally inexcusable. Nothing justifies it, and I condemn it in the strongest way possible. Everyone protesting in the Capitol should leave immediately.”

However, he said he would still support efforts to object to certification of Biden votes in some states.

Hundreds of protesters overpowered Capitol police and entered the building as lawmakers were debating challenges to Joe Biden’s election victory. There were reports of gunshots and tear gas being deployed. A protester from San Diego was shot and killed during the melee, and three other people died of medical emergencies. Two explosive devices were found and defused. By midnight local time, 52 people had been arrested, several for carrying weapons.

President Donald Trump had urged protesters to converge on Washington on Wednesday, and spoke to a rally shortly before Congress convened, urging those present to head to the Capitol to object to Biden’s certification.

Capitol Police draw guns
Capitol Police draw guns as protesters attempt to enter one of the chambers. Courtesy C-Span

Trump later turned to Twitter to ask the protesters to remain peaceful. He finally posted a video asking for calm, but reiterating his false claim that the election was stolen. In response, Twitter locked his account for 12 hours and Facebook for 24 hours to halt the spread of false information.

Video from the scene showed protesters carrying Trump signs breaking windows to enter the Capitol building. One protester carried a giant Confederate flag through the halls. Another sat in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. There were reports of widespread vandalism.

Pro-Trump mob storms Capitol
Pro-Trump protesters storm past police into the Capitol. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The mayor of Washington ordered a citywide curfew for 6 p.m.

National Guard troops from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia were quickly mobilized, reportedly over the objections of Trump, who had returned to the White House to watch the events unfold on television.

In a video posted along with his written statement, Vargas said, “We’ve had people now breach the security here in the Capitol. We are prepared here. We are going to defend democracy. The people voted. The people voted for Joe Biden to be president. Joe Biden will be president.”

Pointing off camera from inside his office, Vargas said, “As soon as they breach that wall, we will fight back. We’re ready to fight. This is not democracy you’re seeing. That’s anarchy out there. We’re here to fight for democracy. God bless America.”

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez from San Diego also weighed in.

“OK. Honestly. What if the protesters charging the Capitol, armed, were mainly Black and brown men? What do you think would happen then?” she wrote.

In another tweet, she questioned the terminology used to describe those storming the building, writing, “At what point do we call ‘armed protestors storming the Capitol’ what they are … terrorists.”

Mayor Todd Gloria and City Council President Jennifer Campbell labeled the events a “dark day in our history and we must quickly set about the work of repairing the damage done to our democracy.”

In a joint statement, they said: “What we saw today in Washington was an assault on our democracy emboldened by the president of the United States,” they said. “The violent actions of these extremists were infuriating and must be condemned by every American who believes in our Constitution and the rule of law.

“We are grateful for the law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol and the people inside it. We have personally been in touch with San Diego’s congressional delegation and are thankful that they are all safe. … We are heartened by congressional leaders’ decision to get back to work to affirm the will of the voters and declare Joe Biden and Kamala Harris our new president and vice president tonight.”

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, eyeing a run for governor, called the violence unacceptable and un-American.

San Diego Bishop Robert McEloy released a statement, saying, ““On this tragic day on which we have witnessed a violent and insurrectionist assault upon the heart of our democracy, we must dedicate ourselves to completely transforming our political and cultural life so as to emphasize unity over division, dialogue over confrontation and character over political and personal gain.

“We are in the midst of a profoundly spiritual crisis in our country, and we must pray that God will walk with us as we seek to reclaim the dreams and aspirations of the generations of Americans who have sacrificed so greatly to build and continually improve our nation,” the Catholic bishop said.

The Rev. Shane Harris, the San Diego civil rights leader relocating to Washington, released a statement on what he saw as hypocrisy from the Capitol’s police force.

“Let us be clear. The anarchy taking place in America’s Capitol is showing that our police know how to have restraint,” he said. “It shows that the expectations set out when Black people arrive to protest versus the majority of white Americans protesting today breed different responses and expectations in our country.”

Updated at 8:45 p.m.. Jan. 6, 2021

— City News Service and Reuters contributed to this report.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.