'I Was There When The Rioters Stormed The Capitol'

Although I suspect no-one could have predicted how shocking the events of January 6 would turn out to be, the day started in a way that was fairly unremarkable. We held a meeting in our bureau newsroom in Washington, D.C. and discussed the day ahead as President Trump was to hold his final rally.

Thousands of his supporters had descended on the capital, and so cameraman Mark Davey, correspondent Robert Moore and I, as producer, headed out onto the streets to see the size of the crowd assembling and interview some of Trump's supporters. As we made our way to the Washington Monument it immediately seemed that the crowd was larger than the previous two rallies in D.C. in 2020.

We spoke to men in Trump hats, the distinctive Q of the QAnon badge proudly fastened to the side, husbands and wives with their kids shivering in prams and groups of young men and women. All there for one reason: to hear the President discuss his claims of a "fraudulent election."

Trump eventually took to the stage, more than an hour late, to the roar of the crowd. Immediately he called the result "bulls***" to great cheers and laughter before continuing in his usual, off-script rambling style.

Yet one part of his speech really resonated with those stood staring up at him. "We will never give up; we will never concede," Trump said to thunderous applause. "We will stop the steal," he told the crowd, and later: "We're going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, and we're going to the Capitol...We're going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones...the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."

At that point Robert had to go back to the bureau to edit for our evening news programme so Mark and I decided to walk down the Mall and towards the Capitol building, watching as slowly the crowds from the rally did the same.

It was only when we were about 200 metres from the Capitol that we realized something about the situation felt different. The energy in the air changed and I quickly looked at my phone to see a contact had written: "fight broken out on steps of Capitol." We then heard two loud booms—what we later learned were tear gas cannons—and started running towards the House.

The following two hours were as shocking as they were unprecedented. As we approached the historic Capitol building, fences were trampled on and crowds were scaling 6ft walls to get towards the very stage that will see Joe Biden's inauguration as the 46th President of the United States in less than two weeks' time.

U.S. Capitol building, rioters, riots
Protesters supporting U.S. President Donald Trump break into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

As we approached the stage, police in close proximity fired teargas into the crowd but it made no difference, they were woefully outnumbered and underprepared. I counted about 15 officers trying to prevent a crowd of hundreds from entering the House. I also saw a protestor with a fire extinguisher shooting what appeared to be pepper spray back into the faces of the officers.

The crowd on the inauguration stage were mostly men, some wearing all black with gas masks and vests. One man behind me said to three others, "You guys Proud Boys?" and they replied that they were. The three doors under the scaffolding of the stage were broken down by foot and with screams of jubilation the crowd had free reign to run towards the Capitol building.

Robert had met up with us again and we followed the mob, watching in disbelief and horror as they smashed windows and crawled into the building. We later found out that we were the only TV news crew to successfully follow the mob into the building.

Inside, chants of "our house" and "stop the steal" rang through the historic chambers as more and more rioters flooded through open doors, police incapable of stopping them. "They work for us," one man in a MAGA hat told us. "They don't get to steal it from us." Another adding: "We paid for this House. This is our country and our House and they will not steal it from us."

News crews in America are no stranger to aggression from extremist right wing groups and we regularly hear chants of "fake news" while going about our reporting. After interviewing a few people, a crowd of furious men in camouflage wielding heavy wooden sticks surrounded us, demanding to know which outlet we were from.

Once we told them we were in fact from British TV, interest waned. We followed the group down a corridor where chants of "Pelosi, Pelosi, Pelosi" could be heard. Although Congress, who had been in session ratifying President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win, had been moved to safety, the mob discovered the office of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. In a gleeful moment we saw them rip her plaque from above the door, before posing with the shattered pieces.

Among the screaming and hollering, both of anger and ecstasy, we heard a man on the phone to his loved one saying: "If I don't make it out of here I love you. Tell the boys to fight for what they believe in." There was no doubt that on this day, at least some of those who hijacked the Capitol were prepared to fight to the bitter end for what they believed in.

Waking this morning to fully understand the enormity of what we witnessed yesterday. Myself, @robertmooreitv and @MarkDaveyITN had no idea we were the only crew in the world to report on this first-hand. https://t.co/UzrFNmHsLq

— Sophie Alexander (@SophieAlex1) January 7, 2021

As we entered the rotunda tempers calmed and turned to jubilation. The rioters posed for selfies and smoked cigarettes, enjoying an unconventional an unlawful party. About 10 officers were forced to watch from the edge of the room, aware that their total lack of man-power rendered them useless.

After about 30 minutes of this sheer bravado, the National Guard—having been deployed by Vice President Mike Pence, not Trump—finally formed ranks and the violence erupted again. People were pepper sprayed in the face and hit with batons in a large-scale effort to clear the building.

After getting pushed to the ground and out of the room by the National Guard we decided to call it, and race back to the bureau to make sure our footage made it in time for our news at 10 programme. There was a feeling of relief that we had made the call to get out but it was tinged with regret that we were not able to see through the final stage of the siege.

We managed to push our way out into the fresh air, as we left, rioters were still making their way into the building and we now know that a number of people died, including one woman who was shot, during the mayhem and unrest. It is both awful and remarkable to think that we were witness, in person, to the first time anyone has stormed the Capitol since 1814.

Sophie Alexander is a journalist for ITV News currently based in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter @SophieAlex1.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.