Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley blamed chaos and violence that erupted in the nation’s capital squarely on President Donald Trump and other national leaders, faulting them for allowing disinformation to flourish and lead to the disturbance.
A crowd broke into Congress and violently clashed with police as the nation’s lawmakers began certifying the 2020 election on Wednesday, forcing Merkley and other members of Congress to evacuate to a secure location.
“I did look around the room and say, ‘If somebody bursts in with a gun, what do you do?’ Thoughts like that were going through people’s heads,” Merkley said on a press call.
He said people from across the nation came to the capital to protest what’s typically a constitutional formality and call for Congress to reject electoral votes from several key states for former Vice President Joe Biden. Merkely, who was re-elected to a third term in November, called the incident a “coup.”
“I think this situation is the result of really what has been the failure to have a strong bipartisan pushback to the lies and conspiracy theories promoted by the president of the United States since the November 3 election,” said Merkley on a press call on Wednesday.
Trump has insisted the 2020 election was marked by wide-scale voter fraud, a claim that hasn’t held up in court and was debunked by his own attorney general. But Trump has refused to concede the election to Biden and his supporters have called on Congress to reject the outcome. Dozens of members of Congress intended to object to the results, echoing the president’s claims.
“The way I’m thinking about where we are right now is, I envision a mob gathering that is being fed bad information and local leaders know that mob’s getting bad information, but it’s kind of popular information,” said Merkley. “And so they decide not to speak up. And because they don’t speak up and bring the right facts, the mob grows stronger and more powerful and then the local leaders see how strong the mob is and they’re afraid of it.”
Merkley said that he and his staff are safe. But when he heard very sudden noises outside the chamber and saw people running, which he said is unusual, he knew something was amiss. He said he had to turn to media to find out what was happening.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was overseeing the proceedings, was rushed off the floor, said Merkley. He said there was concern shots would be fired and he and others were told to stay in the locked chamber.
“It’s a strange feeling to be locked in a room that you know is not really designed to be secure when they’re angry people outside,” he said.