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The Latest On Occupation Of The U.S. Capitol Building By Pro-Trump Extremists

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We are continuing to follow the story of today's violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol building by pro-Trump insurrectionists. In Washington, D.C., a curfew has now taken effect from 6 p.m. Eastern tonight to 6 a.m. Thursday morning. We're going to continue updating the show with the latest developments. And joining me now is NPR's Tom Bowman, who I understand is still at the U.S. Capitol.

Is that right, Tom?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: That's right, Ailsa. We're outside of the Capitol. And a line of police with shields has pushed back protesters. There aren't that many protesters here compared to earlier today. I would say several hundred waving American flags, Trump banners. Some of them are heckling the police. But they've been pushed pretty far away from the Capitol grounds.

CHANG: OK. So the level of tension has dissipated significantly, would you say?

BOWMAN: Oh, absolutely. It is far different from what we saw just a couple of hours ago. We were in the Senate side of the Capitol, and these rioters pushed through. And initially, you know, it was, you know, it was not that bad. It was not violent, but it quickly turned violent. And on the Senate side, they were pushing in a door to the side of the Senate, these two heavy wooden doors. And actually, we could see a number of them get inside the building to be pushed away by police.

Then rocks, bottles cans started to be thrown at the police. The police pushed them out again. There was tear gas by the police. There were paint pellets being shot. They pushed them back pretty hard. At one point, we saw a police officer actually fall into the crowd and, again, more tear gas. So it's a definitely a different scene now. And finally, the police are here. Earlier, we only saw about a dozen D.C. police on the grounds, but that was after everybody knocked fences over and covered the Capitol ground as well as the terrace right above the Senate.

CHANG: OK. So you're seeing a lot more presence of police now. Are you beginning to see some presence of National Guard?

BOWMAN: Haven't seen any National Guard. There's D.C. police, police from Prince George's County just outside of Washington. Also, we spoke with an FBI agent that had an armored vest on. He said hundreds of FBI agents from the Washington field office were called out tonight. And I asked him, how could something like this have happened? How could rioters get inside the Capitol itself? He said, that's a really good question.

CHANG: Well, I'm curious, Tom, because you've been such a longtime Pentagon correspondent. Can you talk about the role of the U.S. military at times like this, including the role of the National Guard, especially given that the 10 living former secretaries of defense had just written an op-ed in The Washington Post saying that they did not wish to see the U.S. military involved in any way in any election disputes?

BOWMAN: Not only former defense secretaries but the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, has said publicly the military has no role here. It's really up to local police, to National Guard, if necessary, if things get out of hand. And former Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the very same thing a few months back in July, when there were protests after George Floyd's death. He said, I don't see a role for the active-duty military. He was quite firm on that. And it was at that point that Trump really soured on him and, of course, terminated him in a tweet a few months later. Again, we'll - I mean, I haven't seen any guard here. I've been told they will be coming.

CHANG: OK. We will have to leave it there. Thank you so much.

That is NPR's Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.