BERLIN — As an angry mob stormed the heart of the world’s most powerful democracy, the rest of the world watched the once-unimaginable scenes unfolding in Washington with dismay and disbelief — and deep concern about what the turmoil could mean as authoritarian forces gain strength around the globe.
Many of those following live broadcasts of armed rioters forcing their way into the Capitol saw it as a stark and disturbing warning for all the world’s democracies: If this can happen in the United States, it can happen anywhere.
“We currently witness an attack on the very fundaments of democratic structures and institutions,” said Peter Beyer, the German government’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic affairs. “This is not merely a U.S. national issue, but it shakes the world, at least all democracies.”
One by one, officials around the globe responded with the sort of statements previously issued by the United States State Department when political violence consumed other countries.
“These pictures made me angry and sad,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said on Thursday. “I deeply regret that since November, President Trump has not accepted that he lost, and did not do so again yesterday.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia condemned the violence, calling what unfolded inside Congress “very distressing,” while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand said she and others in her country were “devastated” by the events.
“The right of people to exercise a vote, have their voice heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully should never be undone by a mob,” she wrote on Twitter.
The secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, took the highly unusual step of weighing in on a domestic issue in a member state, writing, “The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.”
Even some of Mr. Trump’s most vocal admirers distanced themselves from the violence that unfolded. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party in Italy, wrote on Twitter, “Violence is never the solution, ever,” while Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India called for an “orderly and peaceful transfer of power.”
The attack on the Capitol — coming less than a day after the Hong Kong police arrested more than 50 democracy activists — was seen as a deep blow to America’s global credibility, making it harder for the United States to hold to account authoritarian leaders around the world who trample on democratic values.
The world’s authoritarian leaders “must be in euphoric and celebratory mood,” wrote Yossi Melman, a writer for Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, mentioning President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In Cambodia, Sok Eysan, a senator and spokesman for the governing Cambodian People’s Party, cited Mr. Trump’s claim that the U.S. election was tainted when he asked, “If the U.S. has election fraud and corruption, which country is cleaner?”
Many laid the blame directly on the American president.
“This is what happens when you sow hatred,” Stéphane Séjourné, a member of the European Parliament and close ally of President Emmanuel Macron of France, wrote on Twitter. “Let us defend and protect our democracy, because it cannot be taken for granted.”
Chancellor Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany and had welcomed President Trump into office in 2016 by reminding him of the principles of democracy, did not mince her words.
“He stoked uncertainties about the election outcome and that created an atmosphere that made the events of last night possible,” she said.
Charles Santiago, an opposition lawmaker in Malaysia who is also the chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said that Mr. Trump had joined other world leaders “in subverting democracy and the will of the people.” He cited Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
“The U.S. has lost its moral authority to preach democracy and human rights to other countries,” he said. “It has become part of the problem.”
Marzia Rustami, a women’s rights activist in Afghanistan, read the news about what was happening in the United States as Taliban fighters attacked a military base near her home in the northern city of Kunduz.
“In the United States, I see that the dialogue has given way to chaos,” she said, describing how she heard explosions and gunfire in the distance as she followed the news online. “In my country, it has been like this for 40 years, and now the failure of the United States in this country has made the situation worse for us.”
For many foreign leaders, the scenes in America were also reminders of recent political attacks on democracy at home.
Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, drew a parallel between the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the recent attempt by a far-right German mob to enter the Reichstag, the building that houses Germany’s Parliament.
“Inflammatory words will lead to acts of violence — on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the Capitol. The contempt for democratic institutions has a devastating effect,” Mr. Maas wrote on Twitter. He added, “The enemies of democracy will be happy about these unbelievable pictures from Washington, D.C.”
And they were.
In Russia, the violence fit neatly into the Kremlin’s propaganda narrative of a crumbling American democracy. Russia’s state-controlled news channel, Rossiya-24, broadcast the chaos in the Capitol on a split screen, one side showing happy Orthodox Christmas festivities in Russia, the other the violent mayhem in Washington. President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela took to state television to lecture his ministers on the virtues of democracy, while Iran’s official state media offered minute-by-minute updates highlighting Mr. Trump’s role in instigating the violence by making false claims about election fraud.
In China, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, pointedly raised American expressions of support for the huge protests that took place in Hong Kong, which at one point included the takeover of the legislature in 2019. She noted a widely criticized statement at the time by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, who said the protests in Hong Kong were “a beautiful sight to behold.”
“You may still remember that at the time, American officials, congressmen and some media — what phrases did they use for Hong Kong?” she said in Beijing on Thursday. “What phrases are they using for America now?”
One of the territory’s beleaguered opposition activists was quick to distinguish the brief takeover in Hong Kong from the storming of Congress.
“Let me be clear, there is no way for anyone to justify what is happening in the States today with what happened in Hong Kong,” Joey Siu wrote on Twitter. “Yes both went inside the legislative chamber but one with determination to sacrifice for defending democracy and one trying to damage it.”
A feeling of schadenfreude surfaced in other parts of the world that had been on the receiving end of advice on good governance from Washington.
“As Africa we call for Americans to respect democracy, to respect rule of law and allow for a peaceful transition to power,” Mmusi Maimane, South Africa’s former leader of the opposition, wrote on Twitter. “Follow the example of great democratic states like South Africa which respect outcomes of elections.”
Amid the expressions of alarm, there were several hopeful voices insisting that this was a last convulsion of the Trump presidency rather than the beginning of the end of Western democracy — and that a Biden presidency would turn things around.
“I trust in the strength of America’s democracy,” tweeted Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain. “The new Presidency of@JoeBiden will overcome this time of tension, uniting the American people.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada also struck an optimistic tone in a tweet. “Democracy in the U.S. must be upheld — and it will be,” he wrote.
Others warned that the crisis of democracy went beyond Mr. Trump and that America might take years to repair.
In Germany, where democracy once succumbed to Nazi rule following a volatile decade of marauding far-right militias and failed coups, the images of an armed mob attacking the U.S. seat of national power conjured uneasy echoes of history.
“After our catastrophic failure in the 20th century, we Germans were taught by the U.S. to develop strong democratic institutions,” said Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to Britain. “We also learned that democracy is not just about institutions. It is about political culture, too.”
Still, others found dark humor in the day’s events.
The Lebanese-British comedian Karl Sharro drew a winking parallel between Mr. Trump’s encouragement of the Capitol mob with the United States’ history of helping to overthrow other countries’ leaders. “Trump basically imported the US’s foreign policy to the US,” he wrote on Twitter.
Felipe Neto, a popular Brazilian political commentator, took a shot at the United States.
“I’m waiting for the USA to invade the USA so they can ‘re-establish democracy,’” he wrote on Twitter.
Katrin Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul. Reporting was contributed by Melissa Eddy and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin; Andrew Higgins and Anton Troianovski from Moscow; Natalie Kitroeff and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City; Aurelien Breeden from Paris; David M. Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner and Adam Rasgon from Jerusalem; Mark Landler, Megan Specia and Benjamin Mueller from London; Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro; Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas, Venezuela; Julie Turkewitz from Bogotá, Colombia; Vivian Yee from Tunis; Jason Horowitz from Rome; Catherine Porter from Toronto; Farnaz Fassihi from New York; Ruth Maclean from Dakar, Senegal; Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Steven Erlanger from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Emily Schmall from New Delhi; Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Najim Rahim from Kabul, Afghanistan; Damien Cave from Sydney, Australia; Hannah Beech and Richard C. Paddock from Bangkok; Sun Narin from Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Choe Sang-hun from Seoul; Motoko Rich and Makiko Inoue from Tokyo; and Amy Chang Chien from Taipei, Taiwan.