As angry Donald Trump supporters smashed through barricades to gain access to the US Senate chamber, lawmakers were being ushered out of the building using a little-known network of underground tunnels.
After protesters were reported to be using tear gas to aid their assault, politicians and Senate staff were told to grab the gas masks stored underneath their seats.
Even as the demonstrators bust into the rotunda that connects the House of Representatives and the Senate, politicians were arguing about the cause of the unprecedented assault.
Steve Cohen, the Democratic representative for Tennessee, shouted to Republicans "Call your friend! Call Trump.
His colleague from Minnesota, Representative Dean Phillips, pointed to the Republican benches and yelled "This is because of you!”
As windows shattered and Capitol police officers drew their guns, a long-established plan to use the tunnels beneath the Capitol building swung into action.
The House sergeant-at-arms issued a memo just weeks ago clarifying the action plan in the event of violence connected with Joe Biden’s inauguration as America’s 46th president.
It read “Members and staff should expect demonstration activity and street closures” and advised members of the House and Senate to use the tunnels whenever possible.
That advice proved prescient after Donald Trump, who had tweeted “See you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Don’t miss it!” whipped his supporters into a frenzy and they smashed their way into government buildings.
US Capitol Police warned Cannon House Office Building staff: “If you are in the Cannon Building, take visitors, escape hoods, and Go Kits and report to the South tunnel connecting to the Longworth Building.”
One group of political staff and reporters had become isolated on the second floor of the building. They were guided by security personnel down a staircase to a secure tunnel and out of the building.
There’s a huge network of tunnels connecting the various government buildings on Capitol Hill. There’s even a small underground railway line. Built in 1912 the “shortest and most exclusive railway in the world” only carries Congressional members and and a few select guests.
The underpass used by fleeing politicians yesterday, the Cannon subway, is no dingy escape tunnel, it offers a post office, a café, a shoe-shine and is even home to a small art gallery.
Fast food franchises such as Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts have concessions in the tunnels, so busy politicians can grab a snack as they rush between meetings.
But there was no time to stop for a coffee yesterday, as panicked politicians in anti-gas hoods raced to safety as chaos reigned above.
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