The masses came as asked. They came because something, they believed, had been taken from them.
“Media will not show the magnitude of this crowd,” President Donald Trump bellowed from the Ellipse, south of the White House, on January 6. “We have hundreds of thousands of people here, and I just want them to be recognized by the fake news media. Turn your cameras, please, and show what's really happening out here, because these people are not going to take it any longer.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
No one had. In the hours that followed, thousands of Trump supporters marched on the Capitol, where Congress was officially counting electoral ballots, to protest President Joe Biden’s election. A mob broke into the building, forcing senators and representatives to flee for cover as insurrectionists roamed the hallways and tear gas floated through the Rotunda.
For this special episode of Source Material, an immersive series aimed at giving viewers the experience of being in the center of a story, VICE News scoured hundreds of hours of footage from the insurrection to distill how a spectrum of ideologies, conspiracies, and political beliefs converged that winter day.
This film also reflects the years of groundwork laid by Trump and his staffers that ultimately culminated in the insurrection. In 2015 on the campaign trail, he falsely claimed that elections are rigged and the only way he could lose would be through systemic voter fraud. He said it again in 2016 when he won. He repeated it throughout his presidency. And he claimed fraud again—and again, and again—when he lost.
“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing,” Trump said during his January 6 speech.
“We will not take it anymore, and that's what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with: We will stop the steal.”
The protesters had descended on D.C. from all over the country, and the diverse crowd showed what a big tent Trump had created. A mix of competing ideologies coalesced on January 6: Angry Trump voters marched alongside sovereign citizens, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, and Christian Nationalists.
They didn’t all come to storm the Capitol, but the hordes that did can be seen in videos posted widely on social media both abusing and warmly greeting police officers. There were parents with children next to armed militiamen. Some were confused about why the police were trying to keep rioters out of the building. A few people said they were ready to die for the cause, while others turned back when the reality of the violence sunk in.
“Many of you have traveled from all across the nation to be here, and I want to thank you for the extraordinary love,” Trump said. “That's what it is. There's never been a movement like this, ever, ever. For the extraordinary love for this amazing country, and this amazing movement, thank you.”