The newest GAO report requested by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection adds to a mountain of evidence that federal law enforcement agencies didn’t miss signs of a violent attack on the Capitol, they ignored them.
Why they ignored them remains one of the biggest unanswered questions related to the day’s events.
Actually, it’s worse than an unanswered question, it’s also a largely unasked question. Media coverage of this particular issue has been shockingly weak, and has produced no credible explanation.
It’s a strange blind spot for the reporters who have so assiduously examined seemingly every other factor in the insurrection. My conclusion, after 16 months of trying to get them to pay attention to it, is that they are too squeamish to confront this issue head-on.
They are much more comfortable attributing law enforcement’s disastrous failure to prepare for an assault on the Capitol to “intelligence failures” and “unique breakdowns” in communication than they are confronting the obvious reality: that racism and Trumpism made key officials shrug off the threat presented by white men, while sympathy to their goals and the fear of incurring Trump’s wrath was a further disincentive to taking action. This was in stunning contrast to their overreaction to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.
Any other explanation defies the reality that Rep. Cori Bush described that very night on MSNBC: “Had it been people who look like me, had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and brown, we wouldn’t have made it up those steps… we would have been shot, we would have been tear gassed.”
The truth is worth exposing, acknowledging, and holding people accountable for.
Obviously, it’s a hard story to get at. The responsible parties have every reason to make other excuses. And so far, investigators have not made public the emails or contemporaneous notes and other accounts that would help the public understand who exactly dismissed the abundance of threat reports about violence that day, and how they explained their inaction. [As one reader points out, we also don’t know if any law enforcement leaders were operating under orders from the White House or elsewhere.]
This is not a trivial matter. The successful storming of the Capitol was not inevitable. It could have been prevented, if law enforcement had properly mobilized. The Capitol Police alone has a force bigger than the entire Atlanta Police Department — and with more than twice the budget.
The new GAO report is yet more evidence that there was no “intelligence failure” — at least when it came to gathering it and disseminating it. The failure came in applying it.
The report describes the huge amount of open source data that federal agencies obtained. And it explained how a whopping “26 threat products” created by those agencies “focused on planned events of January 6” — and “all included threats based on reactions to the counting of the electoral votes.”
Here’s just one section of the report:
Two agencies (the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police) developed threat products that indicated either that Congress was the target of a potentially violent attack or that a potentially violent uprising could take place at the U.S. Capitol. For example, on January 5, 2021, the FBI developed a report noting that its office received information indicating calls for violence in response to “unlawful lockdowns” starting on January 6, in Washington, D.C. Further, the report cited an online threat that discussed calls for violence, including “Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood… Get violent…Go there ready for war.” In addition, on January 3, 2021, the U.S. Capitol Police developed a special event assessment noting that events on January 6, such as the “StopTheSteal” protest, may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public. The assessment indicated that supporters of the then President could see January 6 as their last opportunity to overturn the election results. Further, the assessment noted that the sense of desperation may lead to violence, where the targets of supporters are not necessarily counterprotesters but rather Congress itself.
(There’s a footnote for that paragraph: “Information related to the specific field office and type of analysis completed was deemed sensitive and has been omitted.” The Jan. 6 committee got an unredacted version several months ago. They should release it.)
An earlier GAO investigation for the committee surveyed Capitol Police officers who were working the day of the attack. Most of the respondents (53 percent) said that the guidance they received on or before Jan. 6 was unclear. Another 33 percent didn’t answer the question because they didn’t get any guidance at all. One officers said that if police “had any information on the morning of the 6th aside from ‘Prepare for a long day’ they would have had a different mindset when the group approached.”
Why so many law enforcement officials shrugged off warnings like this has spawned an awful lot of euphemisms, but no plausible explanation.
One of the major entries in the Washington Post’s Pulitzer public-service-medal-winning Jan. 6 coverage, for instance, reported that the “red flags were everywhere” — but it completely whiffed on why no one acted on them, suggesting it was basically one big coincidence:
The paralysis that led to one of the biggest security failures in the nation’s history was driven by unique breakdowns inside each law enforcement agency and was exacerbated by the patchwork nature of security across a city where responsibilities are split between local and federal authorities.
Hesitation to involve the military was totally understandable, but where was the FBI? Why didn’t the Capitol Police fail to mobilize – compared to how over-enthusiastically the department deployed officers to Black Lives Matters protests that never posed any danger to the Capitol?
Why did Justice Department officials shrug off the need to synchronize and coordinate? Who made that decision and why?
And how can these organizations implement “reforms” if they don’t even acknowledge why they couldn’t “imagine” something that plenty of other people both inside and outside law enforcement imagined very clearly indeed?
On the day itself, the FBI had not one but two command centers staffed up with agents as well as officials from a variety of departments. What did they know? When did they know it? And why didn’t they act?
The Post story attributed the problems at the Capitol Police to “a pattern of miscommunication, poor planning and sloppiness.” It made the unattributed assertion that “To some inside the FBI,” its lack of alarm “was a telling example of how the bureau tempered its reaction to threats of violence from White, middle-aged and middle-class Americans.” But the Post left it at that.
Jason Paladino, a reporter for Grid News, reported in January that “the FBI received at least a dozen warnings about the possibility of violence that day. When the day came and the Capitol barricades fell, it became evident the FBI largely ignored them all.”
He tried to find out why:
We found that the FBI has given at least five different explanations for why it failed to heed these warnings and take steps to foil the Capitol attack or help other agencies prepare a sufficient response. Some of them support arguments the FBI should get more money and legal authorities. But given what we now know, none of them holds up.
It seems clear to me that the Capitol was sacked because key law enforcement officials were too racist and reactionary to take the threat from a bunch of white MAGA men seriously. That’s the thing we need to fix.