Worldwide, leaders reacted to the sudden storming of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob with a mixture of shock and sadness, calling on the president to back down from his baseless claims of election fraud and ensure a peaceful transition of power.
Throngs of pro-Trump supporters breached security perimeters at the Capitol after violently clashing with police, interrupting the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over the president’s protests. The violence marks the first time the Capitol has been breached since the British burned Washington in 1814.
U.S. allies who have looked to American democracy for inspiration suddenly found themselves issuing the sorts of statements normally reserved for unrest in the world’s most politically fragile countries.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that the “enemies of democracy will celebrate today’s unfathomable pictures out of Washington.” He warned that “inflammatory language leads to violence, whether on the steps of the Reichstag or, now, in the Capitol.” Norbert Röttgen, who chairs the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, added that “this is the last chance for Republicans to decide between democracy and Trump.”
“Horrible images from Washington,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted, calling on Trump to recognize Biden as the next president immediately.
Some allied leaders avoided calling out Trump specifically but urged the democratic process to be respected. “Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet.
“American democracy tonight appears under siege,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, tweeted, calling the unrest an “unseen assault” on “institutions and the rule of law.” His boss, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, opted not to dwell on the ongoing siege at the Capitol and instead put her trust in the “strength of US institutions and democracy.” She added that Biden won the election and that she looks forward to working with him.
“Disgraceful scenes in U.S. Congress,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted. “The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.” Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted that the scenes from Washington were “utterly horrifying” and expressed solidarity with those “on the side of democracy. … Shame on those who have incited this attack on democracy,” she wrote.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a tweet that he was following the news with “great concern” and that “violence is incompatible with the exercise of democratic rights and freedoms.”
Other European leaders were less circumspect, pinning the blame directly on Trump. “We must call this out for what it is: a deliberate assault on Democracy by a sitting President & his supporters, attempting to overturn a free & fair election! The world is watching!” Irish Foreign and Defense Minister Simon Coveney tweeted.
And while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern, he gave a more restrained response. “I think the American democratic institutions are strong, and hopefully everything will return to normal shortly,” he said on the News 1130 Vancouver radio station.
Meanwhile, the State Department has issued a gag order to some U.S. embassies abroad, according to officials familiar with the matter, instructing them not to issue any public statements on the chaos unfolding in Washington.
Autocratic governments, including U.S. adversaries, were quick to issue statements flipping U.S. concerns about democracy abroad on their head.
Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro retweeted a number of posts criticizing the protesters as “fascists,” while one post compared the storming of the Capitol to the attempt to scale the perimeter fence of Venezuela’s National Assembly by pro-democratic opposition leader Juan Guiadó and his supporters last January.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, gleefully tweeted out photos of the mob storming the Capitol.
“Quite Maidan-style pictures are coming from DC. Some of my friends ask whether someone will distribute crackers to the protesters to echo Victoria Nuland stunt. My guess is that chances are meagre, there is no US Embassy in Washington!” he tweeted with a winking emoji, referring to 2013-2014 pro-democracy protests in Kyiv and the alleged role of Nuland, a top Obama administration diplomat and Russia hawk—and future Biden administration fixture.
FP senior staff writer Colum Lynch contributed to this report.
U.S. Allies Abroad Condemn Pro-Trump Mob Storming U.S. Capitol The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Foreign Policy.