To Insurrection and Beyond
The insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6th can be directly traced to Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, the Senator from Texas Ted Cruz, the Senator from Missouri Josh Hawley, Fox News and a number of other right-wing propagandists. But it goes way beyond any of those people. Trumpism has seeped its way into security organizations, making the riots at the Capitol all the more possible, and bringing about the idea that it impeded the responses of the security forces — intended or not.
The head of Chicago Police Department’s largest union, John Catanzara, went on radio and stated, “There was no arson. There was no burning of anything. There was no looting. There was very little destruction of property. It was a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way.” Despite all the evidence to the contrary, you can be sure that there are thousands of others in police departments across the country who feel the same way.
One of the biggest targets of investigations moving forward will be the Capitol Police, who, while the world was watching, was overrun by rioters. The “optics” of the images abandoning their posts while a few took selfies with the insurrectionists open up the opportunity for every conspiracy theory imaginable. From a strategic security perspective, those officers had no choice but to attempt to deescalate the situation. With the low number of officers that were shown to be guarding the Capitol, any show of force would have led to complete catastrophe. This suggests that it was a full-blown preparation failure. Yet, just because the Capitol Police are tasked with guarding government buildings and politicians does not make them immune from Trump’s calls for insurrection or Fox News and QAnon conspiracies. It does not make defense officials or local police officers immune to those same conspiracies either.
We have seen it turn out very differently. While thousands of Black Lives Matter protestors were tear-gassed, beaten, and arrested over the summer, images of domestic terrorists walking through the halls of the Capitol unimpeded showed who exactly the security organizations of the United States think are the actual threat. While the police helped the elderly delicately walk down the front steps of the Capitol building on Wednesday, just seven months earlier, a 75-year-old man in Buffalo was shoved to the ground by officers of the Buffalo Police Department for being out past curfew. Capitol Police arrested just 14 people and DC Police arrested just 70 more, while by the beginning of June, more than 10,000 protestors had been arrested across the country in relation to the George Floyd protests.
At those same protests, thousands of riot officers were mobilized and ready as peaceful protestors marched through the streets, while the National Guard was ready to pounce at any moment. Local police used drones and federal organizations used cell phone tracking to follow and identify protestors. Yet, on January 7th, the FBI pleaded to Twitter to help locate those who had barged the Capitol building. On June 1st in DC following peaceful protests, the National Guard, Secret Service, and US Park Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a nonviolent crowd. Secretary of Defense at the time Mark Esper said, “We need to dominate the battlespace.” On Wednesday, it took hours to mobilize enough forces to retake the Capitol.
This brings the question, how was January 6th allowed to happen?
There are two options: it was either incompetence or ignorance.
From a purely counterterrorism standpoint, it was complete incompetence. Somehow, the DC Metropolitan Police had no idea this was coming. DC Police Chief Robert Coutee said that they had “no intelligence that suggested there would be a breach of the US Capitol.” A shocking statement considering anyone with an internet connection and social media account could have seen the intentions of the rioters.
Former Capitol policeman Larry Schaefer said, “It’s not a spur-of-the-moment demonstration that just popped up. We have a planned, known demonstration that has a propensity for violence in the past and threats to carry weapons — why would you not prepare yourself as we have done in the past?” Given what we have seen over the summer, that information suggests that thousands of police in riot gear should have been mobilized hours prior right?
Former FBI Counterintelligence official Frank Figliuzzi said on MSNBC Wednesday night that he was baffled by the security failure. He too echoed Schaefer’s point that they (he didn’t specifically suggest the FBI) had received information that there would be a movement at the Capitol, and couldn’t understand how the Capitol Police were left significantly underprepared and left to fend for themselves.
The other aspect of this is the National Guard. Because Washington DC is not a state and does not have a Governor, it makes the jurisdiction situation murky. Reports suggested that Vice President Mike Pence was the one to activate the National Guard, along with the Governors of Maryland and Virginia after a delay from the Pentagon. This delay timeline occurred because the Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser does not have the authority to mobilize the National Guard. That comes from the Secretary of Defense, which the Governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan stated denied him initial authorization as well. Not only does this raise the future prospects of statehood for DC, but raises the question of why authorization was not given much sooner.
The United States has historically handled threats through a reactionary lens rather than being proactive, and Wednesday was not any different. The problem this time, however, was that everyone but the security apparatus saw this coming.