Every Time There Was An Attack On The U.S. Capitol

The events of January 6, 2021, will go down as one of the darkest periods of American politics. But it did prompt the question: Has there ever before been a breach in security so bad that people were able to mob the United States Capitol? The answer is yes — several times. The Capitol has seen violence in its centuries of existence. According to PBS, the last time the Capitol building was invaded was 220 years ago, when British troops first looted and then tried to burn it all down.

During the War of 1812, which did not end in 1812, British troops laid siege on Washington. As History pointed out, they ransacked and burned the Capitol, the White House, and the Library of Congress. Fortunately, a rainstorm prevented its destruction. Congress was not in session at the time.

Twenty years later, a man tried to assassinate President Andrew Jackson. Jackson was leaving the Capitol when Richard Lawrence aimed his pistol at him. Lawrence's gun failed to ignite, and Jackson, along with bystanders, tackled the would-be assassin, wrote National Geographic.

There have been other instances of violence, to varying degrees. Congress began debates over slavery in 1856. Leading the anti-slavery charge was Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. On May 22 that year, Sumner delivered a speech in which he characterized two colleagues as villains. South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks took offense over Sumner's words about Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina and proceeded to enter the chamber, explained the Senate website.

Not so fictional bombings

Brooks found Sumner preparing to leave. He swung his metal-tipped cane to the back of Sumner's head. He kept hitting the lawmaker, who began blindly stumble around the chamber. Sumner was carried out of the Senate chamber. Brooks resigned, but was reelected the next year. Sumner recovered and served as a Senator for 18 years.

Some television shows have dramatized what would happen if the Capitol exploded. They could have been drawing from real life, because the Capitol has been bombed before. During the Fourth of July weekend of 1915, a former professor, Erich Muenter, detonated three sticks of dynamite in the Senate Reception Room. It happened after midnight, at a time when Congress was in recess, so no one was hurt. Muenter, said PBS, had previously murdered his pregnant wife and went on to shoot J.P. Morgan.

In 1971, the anti-war group Weather Underground planted a bomb inside a bathroom in the Senate side of the building. The bomb went off in the early hours and caused much damage. In 1983, another group hid a bomb beneath a bench outside the Senate chambers. When it went off, it blew the hinges off the door to an office. No one was hurt.

One of the most violent attacks in the Capitol happened in 1954. Four people entered the House chamber as visitors, the House website said. Security protocols were not as strong then, so they were able to bring in handguns.

The modern era

Around 2:30 p.m., the gunmen opened fire and unfurled a Puerto Rican flag in the gallery. They shouted "Freedom for Puerto Rico" and fired at least 30 bullets. They wounded five members of Congress. The gunmen intended to bring attention to an independence movement for Puerto Rico, which the US annexed in 1898. The leader, Lolita Lebron, claimed they did not want to kill anyone, but were ready to die for Puerto Rico. All four were imprisoned before President Jimmy Carter pardoned them after international pressure.

The Capitol has remained a large target. It was the planned destination of Flight 93 on 9/11 before passengers subdued the hijackers, forcing it to crash in Pennsylvania.

In 1998, a gunman ran through Capitol security and shot two police officers. He was making his way towards the office of Rep. Tom DeLay. He was eventually subdued. The two slain officers were the first private citizens to be honored by lying in state inside the Capitol.

In 2013, a woman attempted to breach the security of both the White House and the Capitol. CNN reported Miriam Carey tried to drive her car onto the White House grounds before being blocked by officers. She turned around, speeding down Pennsylvania Avenue, before crashing into barriers surrounding the Capitol. Officers fired at her, hitting her five times and killing her. Her one-year-old child was in the back seat, but unharmed.

And in 2016, as WTOP reported, a man pointed a BB Gun at security in the Capitol Visitors Center and was shot twice.