'Our house': Inside the Maga riot that rocked America
Similarly to when the Vatican elects a new pope, white smoke rose from the US Capitol as lawmakers were certifying Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election. It was tear gas.
The process could not be concluded.
Supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol amid lax security while Congress was in session. Outside, thousands had gathered around Washington, carrying Maga (Make America Great Again) symbols and Trump flags.
"No Trump, no peace"; "Stop the steal"; "USA, USA"; and "move forward", the protesters chanted near the Capitol, as "pop" sounds erupted nearby, likely from tear gas canisters.
"Just stop the steal and get into that house; that's our house we pay for," said Trump supporter Marylin Fassell, pointing at the Capitol. "We pay taxes for them to do their job, and they're not doing their job."
Fassell, who had driven her family to Washington from Florida, was convinced that Trump won the November election by a wide margin, and she went on to accuse all those who challenge that notion of treason.
She even described Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has shrewdly advanced the conservative agenda in Congress over the past four years, as a Rino - Republican in name only.
Later on Wednesday, McConnell called the Capitol rioters a "failed insurrection" as Congress resumed the process of certifying the election.
'Iranians for Trump'
Earlier in the day, dozens of demonstrators held up Iranian flags of the pre-Islamic Revolution monarchy and carried signs supporting the outgoing US president.
"Iranians for Trump," read a banner featuring the old flag, which displays a lion holding a sword.
Ali Mohseni, who was holding one side of the "Iranians for Trump" sign, said Democrats had stolen the election from Trump, repeating baseless theories about election fraud.
"The progressive Democrats who are coming and setting the policies for this country are eroding all of the American values," Mohseni told MEE. "And that's why Mr Trump looks like such an attractive candidate to support, and we're here for him."
Mohseni praised Trump's maximum pressure campaign against Iran, claiming - against reports by human rights organisations - that the sanctions have only weakened the Iranian government without hurting the general population.
"There is physical and statistical evidence that unequivocally shows that Trump was the winner of the election, with rigging the election by the Democrats and the globalists. That's what brought America to this division that we're experiencing today," Mohseni told MEE.
Of the more than a dozen protesters interviewed by MEE, none acknowledged Biden as a legitimate incoming president. In fact, many were convinced that Trump will somehow secure a second term in the White House before the president-elect is sworn in on 20 January.
They repeated debunked conspiracy theories about dead people voting, vote counting machines being rigged and a greater number of voters than people casting ballots in the election.
Their remarks parroted the talking points of right-wing commentators and Trump himself. For example, in a call with election officials in Pennsylvania earlier this month, Trump claimed that voter turnout in Detroit fraudulently reached 139 percent, when in reality it did not exceed 50 percent.
'Propaganda is alive and well'
Trump rallies are often filled with cartoonish, if not clownish, costumes - oversized Maga hats, wigs depicting the outgoing president's comb-over blonde hair and flags featuring Trump as Rambo or a mythical hero wearing a red necktie astride a tank.
On Wednesday, alongside the circus-like Maga-clad demonstrators, there were also protesters in military gear with bullet-proof vests, army helmets and walkie-talkies.
MEE witnessed several rioters who left the Capitol after being exposed to tear gas without being arrested.
"They're evacuating. They're scaredy-cat mother-f**kers," one middle-aged woman shouted on the Capitol's steps, referring to legislators.
A fellow demonstrator responded in solidarity: "You are America's giant f**king balls."
Phyllis Straight, a retired business owner, accused the Democratic Party and Republicans who acknowledge the results of the presidential election of stealing Americans' sole voice in society - their votes.
"We've been very patient, too patient. They've taken over our schools; they've taken over what we're allowed to do, and it's wrong. And now they've taken over the vote and they're lying. We don't have any voice except the one we've been given, and that's our vote. And they've taken it away."
She suggested that the storming of the Capitol was a natural reaction to the election fraud that she alleged. "Can you imagine that out of hundreds of millions of people, that wouldn't happen?" she said.
Straight said people who believe Trump lost the election are brainwashed by the mainstream media. "Propaganda is alive and well in this country," she told MEE.
White supremacist symbols and an Israeli flag
Alongside white supremacist symbols, QAnon badges and Confederate flags, flew an Israeli flag on the west side of the Capitol.
"My lord and saviour was Jewish. He was from Israel. The Bible says, if you bless Israel, you should be blessed. So we're a nation that supports Israel," said Kelly, who was carrying the Israeli flag and chose to be identified by her first name only.
Trump supporters, including prominent white supremacists, have been condemned by Jewish advocacy organisations and accused of peddling antisemitic conspiracy theories in rallies ahead of Wednesday's protest.
Mary Miller, a Republican Congresswoman from Illinois, was urged to apologise on Wednesday for comments at a Trump rally in which she said that "Hitler was right on one thing", and appeared to quote the leader of Nazi Germany.
Footage of Trump supporters storming the Capitol building appeared to show a man wearing a "Camp Auschwitz" t-shirt.
'This country has a history of excusing violence and chaos by white people'
- Jinan Shbat, Arab-American activist
As Trump supporters breached the Capitol and posed for photos in Congressional offices with relative ease, many drew a contrast with the stern security that had confronted Black Lives Matter protesters in Washington months earlier.
Armoured vehicles and heavily armed federal agents had taken over the streets of Washington at the time. A wall was erected around the White House and a security perimeter guarded by officers was set up around the Capitol. Even the streets in the downtown area were filled with law enforcement agents in what resembled a military occupation.
"This country has a history of excusing violence and chaos by white people - the definition of white privilege was on display today," Jinan Shbat, a Washington-based Arab-American activist, told MEE. "During the BLM protests, we saw excessive surveillance and force used against protesters simply asking for Black lives to matter. It's frustrating to see what unfolded today, but also expected."
She added that the precedent set by the "mob" on Wednesday will resonate for years.
"The double standard has been cemented. As someone who lives in DC, the lack of police presence at the Capitol, one of the most secure buildings in DC, is proof in and of itself that what happened today was allowed and even encouraged. If the groups were reversed, brown and black people would have never even made it onto the steps."
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