‘Something big is going to happen’: Trump voters blindsided
Tens of thousands of Donald Trump supporters came together in the sea of red, white, blue and khaki that spilled south from the White House to the Washington Monument.
They came on planes from Montana and Portland, in car convoys from Louisiana, California and Florida and they stood waving American flags, Trump placards and anti-abortion posters, some wearing stars and stripe costumes, most in heavy coats and gloves.
In a freakish horned helmet and topless in the near freezing morning, prominent Q Anon conspiracist Jake Angeli was roaring senselessly into the sky on the packed corner of 14th St and Constitution Ave.
Three generations of the Johnson family from Missouri openly laughed at the pale thirty-something from Arizona, his face in full war paint.
"This is our day," he yelled back at them, grinning.
Trump arrived late and aired his usual grievances about the "stolen election" and fake news, the Biden family and Hillary Clinton, before saying he would lead his gathered supporters on a march to the Capitol and salvage his presidency.
"We're going to walk down and I'll be there with you," he said.
"You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong."
This turned out to be another lie from their leader, who would spend the afternoon watching safely from the White House as the mayhem he unleashed became America's national shame.
But as he spoke, there was still a lot of hope among those in the mostly maskless crowd, some of them toasting each other with minibar size bottles of spirits. Others sipped moonshine.
Mother-of-three Mandy Collins, 38, had driven from Columbia, South Carolina, with her 17-year-old daughter Emma because she was convinced Mr Trump "has a plan" that would keep him in power.
"He is the only person who can stop the corruption," she said.
Mrs Collins was not alone in believing that Mr Trump has been orchestrating a multi-dimensional plot to expose the "fraud and cheating" of November's election count.
"I do believe he knew the election would be stolen and is showing the people what they are capable of doing," she said.
"I don't know exactly how it works, but … you can tell people 'they are going to rig an election', but until you show them, well they are not going to believe it.
"We are the party of Trump - he's got his own party now."
Her sister Emily Voitier, 41, drove overnight from her home in Lafayette, Louisiana because "President Trump called us to support him and be a part of this movement."
Few at the Save America March seemed to understand that in reality there was little that could be done to keep Trump in power.
"Something big is going to happen," said more than one of them.
The president had been publicly demanding fealty from Vice President Mike Pence for days, ordering him to refuse to certify Joe Biden's election victory.
And even though this was technically not possible, another common refrain in the crowd echoed Trump's words that "I hope Mike Pence does the right thing".
The vast bulk of the mob that overran the Capitol building headed there after Trump wound up his speech.
But the first invaders arrived about the same time that the fiction was pierced: Mike Pence could not and most importantly, would not, save Trump.
In a lengthy public statement he said that his oath was to the constitution and not the master he had loyally served for the past four years.
Those still marching along Constitution Ave to the Capitol were shocked, then angry. Some picked up their pace as the word spread.
The closer they got to the now seething Capitol, the more chaos spread.
What had started as early hostility to Trump's "enemies" in the media became open violence and thousands of dollars of camera gear were destroyed by a furious mob about 100m from the occupied building.
Inside a tragedy unfolded with the fatal shooting of a protester by Capitol police.
For the next three hours the crowd split into those who were enjoying themselves and those who felt cheated.
"This is not what we came for," said a forty-something woman shielding her daughter as they tried to work their way out of the hordes.
Rioters were throwing steel rods they pulled out of metal barricades along the street and an increasing police presence was thinning their numbers with flash bangs or stun grenades.
Angeli, who had started the day as a family's punchline, was filmed at a dais in the Senate chamber, one of hundreds who was part of the first physical breach of the Capitol since 1814.
Other insurgents took selfies inside the offices of the hastily evacuated Congressional offices, including those of Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, second and third in the presidential line of succession.
"Our whole government is in that building," said one voice in the crowd.
As the city's 6pm curfew approached and the dark brought the temperature down to five degrees, the streets emptied with surprising calm.
By 9pm, as Congress resumed the constitutional procedure to ratify Joe Biden's presidency that they started before the siege, there were more media than protesters forming a thin line against dozens of police in riot gear.
One security expert, still stunned at what had unfolded earlier, said what had finally saved the country was the ineptitude of the rioters.
"Can you imagine what they could have done if they were properly armed and organised, instead of some random guys who wanted to take selfies when they got inside the Chamber?"
As something approaching normality resumed inside the Capitol, more of Trump's most loyal supporters turned their backs on him.
Finally, with his failure to call off his army and his limp appeals for "peace" while still arguing that he was robbed, the outlier president had done the unforgivable.
A red-faced Senator Lindsay Graham told the Chamber: "Trump and I, we had a hell of a journey. I hate it being this way."
"All I can say is: count me out. Enough is enough. I tried to be helpful."
Originally published as 'Something big is going to happen': Trump voters blindsided