President Trump on Wednesday urged his supporters who laid siege to the Capitol to “go home in peace,” hours after they first forced their way into the building.
In a one-minute taped video released on social media, Trump urged his supporters to disperse. But he reiterated his false claims that his election defeat was “fraudulent,” which was the basis for the protest in the first place.
“You have to go home now. We have to have peace,” Trump said. “We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.”
"This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people," he continued. "We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace."
The video did not contain any clear condemnation of the violence at the Capitol, despite pleas from current and former White House officials and lawmakers for the president to speak out against the mob.
Instead, Trump continued to stoke conspiracy theories about the election result and painted his supporters as victims even as they were the ones who initiated violence on Wednesday.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who had described the riot in the Capitol as a "coup attempt," called the president's video message "cowardice."
President-elect Joe Biden addressed the nation moments before Trump released his video remarks. In his prepared speech, Biden called on Trump to "step up" and issued a televised denunciation of the violence.
"Let me be very clear: the scenes of chaos at the capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are," Biden said. "What we’re seeing a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent. This is disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition and it must end, now."
Trump has long been reluctant to explicitly condemn any of his supporters. He was ripped for arguing there were fine people on "both sides" during the Charlottesville, Va., protests of 2017, and he declined to clearly condemn white supremacist groups during a presidential debate last year.
Chaos engulfed the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon as throngs of Trump supporters swarmed the building to protest the count of the Electoral College vote affirming Joe Biden as the next president.
Those inside were evacuated or ordered to shelter in place after rioters breached the building, and images circulated of Capitol Police inside the House chamber with guns drawn.
The House and Senate were less than an hour into debating the first GOP objection to a state that Biden won — Arizona — when they were forced to abruptly recess as mostly maskless people crowded into the hallways around each chamber.
Pence presided over the joint session of Congress, and he had issued a letter earlier Wednesday outlining why he did not believe he had the "unilateral" authority to reject electors or intervene in the electoral count. The statement dealt a final blow to Trump and his supporters, who for several days had insisted falsely that Pence could somehow act to deny Biden's victory.
Shortly after Pence was evacuated, Trump tweeted that the vice president "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our County and our Constitution."
Trump has for weeks pushed the false claim that he was the true winner of the presidential election, despite courts, elections officials and experts dismissing or debunking his claims of fraud.
At a rally at the White House Ellipse earlier Wednesday, Trump encouraged supporters to march toward the Capitol and urge lawmakers to refrain from certifying Biden as the winner.
"You'll never take back our country with weakness," Trump said. "You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated."
"I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically, make your voices heard today," he added.