As police in Washington tried to restore order after rioters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, tough questions were asked about who was leading the protest, whether it was organised and what those involved hoped to achieve.
Hundreds of angry supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in a chaotic bid to derail the transfer of power to president-elect Joe Biden, forcing politicians to flee the buildings or seek shelter in their offices.
They were among thousands of Mr Trump’s supporters who had massed in Washington to rally from Tuesday until Wednesday, when legislators were set to certify Mr Biden’s win in the November 3 election.
Many carried Trump flags and placards bearing such slogans as “Stop the Steal” and “Keep the Republic” at the Save America rally on the Ellipse, south of the White House, fuelled by Mr Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.
After hearing his speech, hundreds of men and women from the crowd appear to have walked along the Mall to Capitol Hill and pushed their way past barriers and police to gain access to the buildings of Congress.
Widely shared online videos of the rioters showed them walking casually through the buildings, taking selfies with mobile phones.
Most intruders appeared to be unarmed, although some carried sticks.
Other videos showed scuffles between rioters and Capitol Police, including a group of men wearing Trump baseball caps and US flag face masks, who tried to enter the Senate floor.
Other widely shared posts showed rioters posing for selfies on the Senate floor.
One member of the mob who wore animal furs, horned headgear and red, white and blue face paint shouted, “Freedom”.
A Twitter user described a “revolution in process” and “full anarchy” as protesters were “breaking windows, and knocking down doors” through Congress.
It remains unclear whether members of far-right extremist groups were among the mob, although few rioters wore clothing or other markings associated with such groups as the Proud Boys or the Boogaloo Boiz.
Politicians questioned to what extent the mob had been organised and operated in a co-ordinated manner.
“What on earth do those overrunning Capitol Police hope to achieve?” Republican politician Mike Huckabee asked on Twitter.
“There is a way to legally protest, but disobeying law enforcement and destroying public property is the logic of the loons on the left, like Antifa.”
Before Wednesday, local officials and law enforcement had been braced for potential violent street clashes.
The Mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser, had advised people to avoid the protests taking place in the city this week.
Many businesses in central DC boarded up their windows, fearful that the planned rallies could break down into a repeat of the unrest seen in May and June when dozens of businesses were vandalised.
But Capitol Police did not appear ready for the size and anger of the crowd, begging the question as to whether they should have been better prepared, or if they should have tried harder to confront the mob.
Before the protesters descended on Capitol Hill, Trump supporter Nirav Peterson, who flew in from Seattle to attend the rally, described to AP widespread frustration over the results of last year’s election.
“People are angry. This isn’t going to go away,” Ms Peterson said.
“You have a huge, huge portion of the people who aren’t going to take it any more.”