Audio recordings of police officers trying desperately to control the increasingly riotous crowd of Donald Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 show the rapid escalation from what appeared to be a relatively small crowd to a full-fledged mob that had turned violent.
Exhibits filed by prosecutors in the government’s case against Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four other members of the extremist group — Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl, Joseph Biggs, and Dominic Pezzola — show the growing sense of urgency among law enforcement as the crowd of thousands descended on the building.
The group describes its members as “Western chauvinist,” but organizations that monitor hate groups have cited multiple examples of the group’s leaders embracing antisemitic, bigoted, and white supremacist ideas.
Tarrio and his codefendants are facing a raft of charges, including seditious conspiracy and obstruction, for allegedly plotting to use force to keep Trump in power despite losing the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden. Pezzola in particular is accused of being one of the first in the building — and enabling others to follow —after smashing a window with an allegedly stolen police riot shield.
On Jan. 6, Proud Boys members allegedly played crucial roles in breaking through police forces and enabling the crowd to breach the building. Congress was forced to stop the certification of Biden’s win as lawmakers and staffers either fled the building or sheltered in place for hours as the violent chaos drew closer.
The jury heard the recordings as U.S. Capitol Police Inspector Thomas Loyd testified as a witness for the prosecution on Friday. The tapes offer an inside perspective of law enforcement’s response to the crowd that started as a protest and, within hours, grew into a violent mob.
Shortly before noon that day, U.S. Capitol Police observed what was described as a few hundred protesters making their way toward the Capitol along Constitution Avenue, which connects the Capitol grounds to the Ellipse, where Trump spoke at the so-called “Stop the Steal” rally and urged his supporters to demand Congress stop certifying the election.
“Yeah, so that group of about 200, 250 people are walking down on [Constitution] Avenue, approaching Delaware, by checkpoint one and the units and the north barricade,” an officer can be heard saying at 11:58 a.m., adding that “they are taking over the street.”
Less than one hour later, members of the Proud Boys broke through an area of the Capitol grounds known as the Peace Circle. The House Committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack indicated that members of the Proud Boys had found what they believed to be a security vulnerability at this location.
“Priority, we just had protestors at Peace Circle breach the line, we need backup,” an officer can be heard saying at 12:53 p.m.
Another security breach was reported moments later.
“We have more breaches!” someone is heard yelling at 12:55 p.m.
“Breach, multiple units, send all you have,” another person says.
“Lock the lower west terrace door, lock the north and south of the building,” an officer is heard saying. “They’re going to get up the terrace.”
Law enforcement’s crowd-dispersal techniques weren’t working, and chemical spray was apparently ineffective against the crowd.
“I need more than less-than-lethal teams over here, the indirect firing is not working,” an officer said at 1:09 p.m. “They are still not compliant. We’ve continued to give […] multiple warnings about chemical munitions being released. They’re not dispersing.”
For the next hour, police officers are heard exchanging updates about the escalating violence and breaches across various points on Capitol grounds. Law enforcement reported that rioters were assaulting officers, deploying chemical spray, throwing various projectiles. At one point, an officer called for an all-out effort to stop the crowd.
“We need the munitions,” an officer said. “Unload, unload all. Take them out.”
It didn’t work, and the officers found themselves under attack.
“We have an individual breaching the West Terrace, breaching the West Terrace up the stairs,” an officer said at 1:50 p.m. “We need backup.”
“[B]e advised, we have people climbing up the outside of the northwest side stairs, approaching the officers with pepperball, less-than-lethal,” another is heard saying. “We need shields on this side immediately.”
“They’re coming up the stairs, they’re coming up the stairs on the west side!” another says. “They’re spraying officers.”
At that time, all units were called to the Upper West Terrace to respond.
“We need every single unit on the Upper West Terrace right now!” an officer yelled. “[E]very single unit you got that side of the building. They’re breaching the Upper West Terrace.”
Shortly before 2:00 p.m., one officer warned his colleagues to keep weapons away from the rioters.
“I need you to pull back and I need you to respond inside, because we’re not going to use lethal force, and we can’t risk them taking the M4s from us,” an officer ordered. “So if you have an M4 I need you to respond inside of the Lower West Terrace door now.”
“Our situation here is dire,” one officer said at 1:58 p.m. Other officers were told to prepare to retreat.
Shortly after 2 p.m. — less than 15 minutes before the building is breached — police were scrambling to save their own as the situation got increasingly dangerous.
“I need all units be advised, they are actually trying to push down the scaffolding,” an officer said at 2:02 p.m. “They’re trying to push down the scaffolding.”
Officers were given an “immediate order” to descend from the scaffolding.
In the moments before the first breach, an officer called for a plan to keep the officers safe from the raging mob.
“I’m telling you what we need,” an officer is heard yelling at 2:08 p.m. “We need some kind of a tactical plan just to divert these breachers so we can get everybody in the Lower West Terrace door. We do not have any hard gear up here. We need a plan to get these people, these officers back in the building. They’re coming, and we can’t stop them from breaching.”
Five minutes later, that’s exactly what happened.
“They’re in the building,” an officer is heard yelling at 2:13 p.m.
“Okay, the Capitol has been breached,” another said.
One minute later, officers learned the rioters were heading toward the Senate.
“Additionally, the breach is in the Capitol,” one said. “Units to acknowledge about the breach inside the Capitol [inaudible]. Can anyone advise on the breach of the Capitol building itself?”
“They’re going to the second floor!” another said seconds later.
“OK that was the second floor has been breached?” an officer said. “The second floor of the Capitol has been breached?”
“Simulcasting all units, I need the unit that’s coming from – I copy – Senate Chambers, I need units to respond to the Senate Chambers at this time,” an officer is heard saying. “We have a breach of the Capitol. Again units to respond to the Senate Chambers, we have a breach of this Capitol at this time, 14:15.”
After that initial breach, rioters streamed in and out of the building for hours, with many entering multiple times. Law enforcement finally regained control of the Capitol at around 6 p.m., and Congress resumed the certification proceedings, ultimately confirming Biden as president in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2021.
The trial of the Proud Boys continues Wednesday.
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