The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

World stunned by subversion of U.S. democracy after pro-Trump throng breaches Capitol

The U.S. Capitol Police on Jan.6 were unable to hold back the mob outside the building, some of whom pushed their way inside. (Video: The Washington Post)

The world watched with dismay as a surreal scene at the U.S. Capitol, like little else seen in its history, unfolded on Wednesday.

Rioters loyal to President Trump burst through police barricades and mobbed the building, disrupting at the 11th hour a vote to formalize Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. Shortly before the breach, Vice President Pence had announced that he would not reject the election results, as Trump had urged.

Many foreign observers, already glued to news of the final chapters of the election saga, reacted with alarm and even grief, especially in allied countries that have looked to U.S. democracy for inspiration.

“The United States Congress has been the symbol of freedom and democracy around the world for centuries,” tweeted Armin Laschet, the leader of Germany’s most populous federal state. “The attacks on the Capitol by fanatical Trump supporters hurt every friend of the United States.”

Leaders around the world condemned the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and reaffirmed their faith in American democracy. (Video: The Washington Post)

Across much of Europe, top officials echoed these sentiments. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the scenes of chaos “disgraceful.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canada’s News 1130 radio station in Vancouver that his government is concerned and “following the situation minute by minute.”

“I think the American democratic institutions are strong, and hopefully everything will return to normal shortly,” he said.

The surge of reactions from allies and foreign observers illustrated one of the Trump era’s key consequences, which has become only more apparent as it winds to a chaotic close: The beleaguered but persistent role of the United States as a model for democratic norms and institutions — in its own self-conception and in the eyes of friends — has been severely tarnished.

In the view of the world, the Trump era provided no shortage of captivating spectacle, sometimes grim. Wednesday’s events went beyond that, into disconcerting territory: far-right attacks on democracy made literal. Chilling footage from the scene circulated globally, of lawmakers fleeing, Capitol Police with their guns drawn inside the Capitol building and a mob of angry Trump supporters running loose in the halls. One photo showed a man sitting in the chair of a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) staff, his feet on the desk. Another showed a man appearing to carry away the speaker’s lectern.

The turmoil also gave an opening for countries with poor track records on human rights and democracy to lecture a superpower.

Turkey, a NATO ally that has been widely condemned for jailing thousands of critics, academics, journalists and artists and has seen its partnership with the United States deteriorate in recent years, called on “all parties in the U.S.A. to show restraint and common sense,” in a statement released by its Foreign Ministry.

In Venezuela — which has been embroiled in political and social crises for years — Jorge Arreaza, the foreign minister in authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro’s government, issued a statement condemning “the political polarization and the spiral of violence that reflects the profound political and social crisis the United States is currently experiencing.”

Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader who was supported by the Trump administration in his claim to the interim presidency of Venezuela, said the “attack on the Capitol was an attack on democracy. My thoughts are with the citizens and officials who feel the roots of their country were attacked.”

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, also took the opportunity to allege U.S. hypocrisy.

Allies struck a different tone.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, described the situation as “utterly horrifying” and called for “solidarity with those … on the side of democracy and the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power.” Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin tweeted that the people of Ireland have a “deep connection with the United States” and that “many, like me, will be watching the scenes unfolding in Washington DC with great concern and dismay.”

“Enemies of democracy will be happy to see these unbelievable pictures from #WashingtonDC. Riotous words turn into violent acts — on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the #Capitol,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted, referring to far-right protesters who rushed the historic German parliament building in August. “The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating.”

Some foreign outlets, including the BBC and the Australian newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald, maintained live coverage of Wednesday’s developments in Washington.

Many eyes were already turned on the United States, as foreign observers tracked the closely contested runoff Senate race in Georgia. By Wednesday afternoon, both Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, had been declared winners — tipping the Senate to the Democrats, thereby granting the party control of both the White House and Congress.

“How I would like to be a voter of the #DekalbCounty in #Georgia! And vote #Ossoff,” former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta tweeted earlier in the day, referring to a Georgia county with a large number of Democratic voters.

“U. S. and international politics over the next few years will depend on his victory,” he wrote. “Those votes will affect us too.”

Letta has been a vocal critic of Trump’s handling of the election. When Trump tweeted, “STOP THE COUNT” the day after polls closed in November, Letta responded, “IT’S CALLED DEMOCRACY!”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described a man sitting at the desk of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The story has been updated to correct that the man was sitting at the desk of a member of Pelosi’s staff.

Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem, Chico Harlan in Rome, Rick Noack in Paris, Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia, Anthony Faiola in Miami, Karla Adam and Jennifer Hassan in London, and Adam Taylor in Washington contributed to this report, which has been updated.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.