"But we’d be kidding ourselves if we treated it as a total surprise," former President Barack Obama said in a statement

By Gabrielle Chung
January 06, 2021 10:00 PM
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Riots outside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6
| Credit: Graeme Sloan/Getty Images. Inset: Getty

Former President Barack Obama is addressing the rioting of Donald Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol, calling it "a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation."

On Wednesday, after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building just as lawmakers inside prepared to certify President-elect Joe Biden's November election win, Obama, 59, released a statement on his social media accounts condemning the violent act.

"History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation. But we’d be kidding ourselves if we treated it as a total surprise," he said.

In the statement, Obama took aim at Trump and his supporters' baseless claims of election fraud, saying, "For two months now, a political party and its accompanying media ecosystem has too often been unwilling to tell their followers the truth — that this was not a particularly close election and that President-Elect Biden will be inaugurated on January 20."

"Their fantasy narrative has spiraled further and further from reality, and it builds upon years of sown resentments. Now we’re seeing the consequences, whipped up into a violent crescendo," Obama said.

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
| Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty

"Right now, Republican leaders have a choice made clear in the desecrated chambers of democracy," he continued. "They can continue down this road and keep stoking the raging fires. Or they can choose reality and take the first steps toward extinguishing the flames. They can choose America."

Obama then voiced his support for those who have condemned the riots, saying, "I’ve been heartened to see many members of the President’s party speak up forcefully today."

"Their voices add to the examples of Republican state and local election officials in states like Georgia who’ve refused to be intimidated and have discharged their duties honorably," Obama said, appearing to reference Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who told Trump in a leaked phone call that he was "wrong" when the president pressured him to "find" more votes in his favor to win the state.

"We need more leaders like these — right now and in the days, weeks, and months ahead as President-Elect Biden works to restore a common purpose to our politics," Obama added. "It’s up to all of us as Americans, regardless of party, to support him in that goal."

In addition to Obama, other former presidents such as George W. BushBill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have also spoken out about the violence at the Capitol.

"Laura and I are watching the scenes of mayhem unfolding at the seat of our Nation’s government in disbelief and dismay. It is a sickening and heartbreaking sight. This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic," Bush said in a statement provided to PEOPLE.

"I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement," he continued.

In a statement of his own, Clinton called the event "an unprecedented assault on our Capitol, our Constitution, and our country."

"The assault was fueled by more than four years of poison politics spreading deliberate misinformation, sowing distrust in our system, and pitting Americans against one another," he said in a tweet.

"Rosalynn and I are troubled by the violence at the U.S. Capitol today," Carter said in a statement provided to PEOPLE. "This is a national tragedy and is not who we are as a nation. Having observed elections in troubled democracies worldwide, I know that we the people can unite to walk back from this precipice to peacefully uphold the laws of our nation, and we must. We join our fellow citizens in praying for a peaceful resolution so our nation can heal and complete the transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries."

Earlier on Wednesday, a large gathering of rioters breached Capitol security after Trump had addressed his supporters at a nearby rally, in which the president spread baseless claims of election fraud and told attendees "we will never concede."

There were numerous photos and videos of looting and vandalism as the rioters moved throughout the Capitol, including the congressional chambers and lawmaker offices. At least one person was shot and was confirmed to have died in the violent incident.

Despite calls by countless lawmakers — including Biden — for Trump to condemn the rioters' actions, he only issued a brief video message in which he expressed support for the large mob, calling them "very special" and claiming, "We love you."  (The video has since been removed from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, citing violation of their respective company policies. He he has since been temporarily locked out of his Twitter and Instagram accounts and blocked from posting on his Facebook account.)