The news media’s continuing failure to explore why the U.S. Capitol was so scantily defended against an angry horde of white Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, has now been compounded by the House select committee’s refusal to connect the most obvious dots or ask the most vital questions.
It’s true that there were countless law enforcement failures that day — indeed, far too many to be a coincidence.
But the singular point of failure — the one thing that could have prevented all of it from happening — was that Capitol Police leaders brushed off ample warnings that an armed mob was headed their way.
They lied to everyone about their level of preparedness beforehand. Then they sent a less-than-full contingent of hapless, unarmored officers out to defend a perimeter defined by bike racks, without less-than-lethal weaponry and without a semblance of a plan.
Even the insurrectionists who actively intended to stop the vote could never have expected that breaching the Capitol would be so easy.
Exploring why Capitol Police leaders chose not to prepare for combat, despite mounds of intelligence pointing directly toward such a scenario, should have been a key goal of the Jan. 6 committee.
That Capitol Police leaders — like so many others in law enforcement — were unable to imagine white Trump supporters as a clear and present danger remains one of the most tragically under-addressed elements of that day’s legacy, leaving crucially important lessons entirely unlearned.
The committee was instead focused on one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump. To that end, its report actively made excuses for law enforcement leaders, calling their failures essentially irrelevant. The “best defense,” the report concluded — should another president ever incite an attack on his own government — “will not come from law enforcement, but from an informed and active citizenry.”
Yes, Trump was the instigator. But going forward, the law enforcement community’s blindness to the threat of white nationalism is a more immediate danger.
Learning the lessons of Jan. 6 requires understanding the role of racism, both conscious or unconscious, in law enforcement. It requires understanding whether individual law enforcement leaders flinched for political reasons. And it requires an adjustment in the law enforcement community’s skewed perception of the danger from white nationalists as compared to people of color.
The committee’s members and investigators, however, didn’t ask witnesses anything remotely along those lines.
Then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund was the single person most responsible for the failure to protect the Capitol. But no one even asked him (or anyone else) to address how and why the lackadaisical preparations for Jan. 6 compared to the overenthusiastic deployments for Black Lives Matter protests that never posed any danger to the Capitol, and that weren’t even on the Capitol grounds.
Nobody asked any law enforcement officials if they viewed the Jan. 6 insurrectionists sympathetically, or if they were under political pressure not to upset Trump, or if they feared for their jobs.
And certainly nobody asked Sund or anyone else to consider whether the white privilege they shared with the Jan. 6 mob had made it seem unthreatening to them.
It’s no secret why none of these issues were brought up. Committee vice chair Liz Cheney is why.
As multiple committee staffers have told the Washington Post, Cheney’s leadership on the committee came with strings attached. She insisted that the focus of the hearings and the committee’s final report be exclusively on Trump, rather than on any other lessons learned — especially those that might not reflect well on law enforcement.
Asked about the committee’s plans in November, a month before the report was released, Cheney made her goals very clear at a University of Chicago event: “There’s one thing we will not do, and that is we will not blame the Capitol Police,” she said. “We will not blame law enforcement for Donald Trump’s mob, armed, that he sent to the Capitol to stop the electoral count.”
And unlike the excellent media coverage of Jan. 6 overall, reporting on the failure to protect the Capitol has been uniquely lacking every step of the way. I’ve literally been begging reporters since one week after the insurrection to explore how it was allowed to happen, to no avail. (This January 13, 2021, analysis by USA Today was a rare exception.)
To the contrary, press reports. particularly by the otherwise accomplished Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, have repeatedly cast Sund as a martyr and truth-teller when he is neither.
The lack of any public exploration as to why these white Trump supporters got as far as they did leaves us with a statement by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., only hours after the Jan. 6 attack, as the most insightful analysis of the day’s events.
“Had it been people who look like me,” she said that very night, “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.”
What Committee Investigators Heard
An examination of the committee reports, the accompanying depositions and supporting documents leads to the following conclusion:
- The failure was not due to lack of intelligence. There was plenty. “I don’t think it was a failure of intelligence. I think it was a failure to operationalize the intelligence,” Julie Farnam, assistant director of the Capitol Police intelligence unit, told committee investigators. “They should have been ready for war, and they weren’t.”
- The lag in mobilization of the National Guard is a red herring. No one at the Capitol requested their presence until after police lines had been breached. To the extent that it was discussed beforehand, it was in order to have the Guard help direct traffic on surrounding streets.
- The Capitol Police were vastly unprepared. Despite Sund’s insistence that he was getting “all hands on deck,” he didn’t even cancel officers’ days off.
- The perimeter was defined with bike racks, which are good only for protests where most people are law-abiding. They do nothing to stop a horde. In fact, they get turned into weapons to use against the police.
- The Capitol Police had no backup plan in case multiple protesters posed a threat. Even as police lines had already collapsed, clueless police leaders were trying to deploy more bike racks.
- Incredibly, chief Sund ordered the removal of some bike racks late on Jan. 5, for reasons that some of his colleagues considered suspect.
- Actual calls for help were only made after it was too late. Justice Department officials said that even after they saw TV footage of insurrectionists parading through the Capitol Rotunda, Capitol Police officials told them they had things under control.
- Police leadership simply could not conceive of white Trump supporters as the enemy. Time and again, law enforcement leaders were presented with intelligence showing that desperate Trump supporters were targeting the Capitol, but didn’t take it seriously.
- Anti-scale fencing — the kind erected around the White House during the Black Lives Matter protests — would have stopped any of this from happening. It was never even considered.
The Depths of the Failure
The most damning assessment of the Capitol Police is not in the committee’s final report. It’s in the transcript of the deposition of Richard Donoghue, who on Jan. 6 was serving as acting deputy attorney general.
Donoghue was no hero that day, nor on any day during the Trump administration. But he was one of the few people not to mince words about what he saw.
A committee investigator asked him:
What’s the single most — what do you attribute as the single most — biggest failure of that day in terms of securing the Capitol? Who do you attribute that to? What do you attribute that to?
The Capitol Police failure to maintain the perimeter. I mean, there were certainly heroic acts by the Capitol Police that day. I would never undercut what those individual officers did, but there was a complete failure of planning and leadership.
There’s no reason they should have gotten in that building. The Capitol Police had more than enough manpower. They were the agency that was best equipped and best positioned to defend the Capitol. Everyone knew that the Capitol was at risk.
Everyone knew that there were going to be thousands of angry protesters showing up at the Capitol. Certainly, no one anticipated this type of breach, but you plan for the worst, and the Capitol Police should have planned for the worst, and they should have been prepared to defend that perimeter.
And, to this day, I’m completely shocked that they were unable to do so, because they had the manpower to do it. Why they failed to do so, I don’t know. And, again, that doesn’t take away in any way, shape or form from the heroic acts of those individual officers, but there’s a leadership failure there. And it doesn’t shift blame off the individuals who committed crimes to get into that building; that’s entirely on them, and that’s disgraceful criminal conduct. But they should’ve been able to hold that perimeter. I don’t know why it didn’t happen.
Donoghue said plenty of intelligence was widely shared among law enforcement agencies. He added::
But you didn’t need an intelligence report to know that thousands of angry people were going to be showing up at the Capitol that day who were upset about the election and who wanted to disrupt the congressional proceedings that day. And Capitol Police should’ve been prepared to handle that. I think they had the personnel. I think they had the intelligence. I’m not sure why it went the way it did.
There is no analysis of the law enforcement failures that day in the main part of Jan. 6 committee’s final report. That was relegated to a short appendix intended to summarize the work of the “blue team” — one of the committee’s five color-coded investigative teams – titled “Government Agency Preparation for and Response to January 6th.”
Its penultimate paragraph, sandwiched in between excuses, summarized the actual evidence they collected:
Federal and local law enforcement authorities were in possession of multiple streams of intelligence predicting violence directed at the Capitol prior to January 6th. Although some of that intelligence was fragmentary, it should have been sufficient to warrant far more vigorous preparationsfor the security of the joint session. The failure to sufficiently share and act upon that intelligence jeopardized the lives of the police officers defending the Capitol and everyone in it. [Emphasis added.]
So Much Intelligence
The most jaw-dropping proof that the Capitol Police was amply warned of what was coming is a Jan. 3, 2021, memo that we’ve known about since a few days after the insurrection. It came from the Capitol Police’s own intelligence division, and it starkly concluded:
Due to the tense political environment following the 2020 election, the threat of disruptive actions or violence cannot be ruled out. Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021, as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election. This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent. Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th. As outlined above, there has been a worrisome call for protesters to come to these events armed and there is the possibility that protesters may be inclined to become violent. Further, unlike the events on November 14, 2020, and December 12, 2020, there are several more protests scheduled on January 6, 2021, and the majority of them will be on Capitol grounds. The two protests expected to be the largest of the day — the Women for America First protest at the Ellipse and the Stop the Steal protest in Areas 8 and 9 — may draw thousands of participants and both have been promoted by President Trump himself. The Stop the Steal protest in particular does not have a permit, but several high profile speakers, including Members of Congress are expected to speak at the event. This combined with Stop the Steal’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence, may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.
The following day, Jack Donohue, the head of the Capitol Police intelligence unit, and his assistant director, Julie Farnam, briefed Capitol Police leadership.
Farnam told committee investigators how she ended her presentation:
And then I said: Supporters see this as the last opportunity to overturn the election. There was disappointment and desperation amongst the protesters, and this could be an incentive to become violent, because they have nothing left to lose. The targets are not the counter-protesters; the target is Congress. The protests are heavily publicized. Stop the Steal has a propensity for attracting white supremacists, militia groups, groups like the Proud Boys. There are multiple social media posts saying that people are going to be coming armed, and it’s potentially a very dangerous situation.
A congressional investigator asked what the response was on the call. Farnam replied: “I did not receive any questions.”
The Danger Was Obvious to Anyone Paying Attention
The media frenzy in the days after Jan. 6 to find out who had or had not sent or seen which memos was ludicrous. There was no “one memo” needed.
The facts were already in evidence. The danger was obvious to anyone who wasn’t willfully blind to the destructive potential of angry white election deniers. And the Capitol Police leadership kept on insisting they had everything under control.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told committee investigators about a number of intergovernmental calls involving key federal agencies and the Pentagon, as well as the Capitol Police, culminating in one on Jan. 4:
Everyone knew. I can’t imagine anybody in those calls that didn’t realize that on the 6th was going to be the certification of an intensely contested election, and there were large crowds coming into town, and they were coming in to protest. And everybody knew there was a probability, more than a possibility, a probability of violence.
In fact, one official, then-Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, saw precisely what was coming, Milley said:
So during these calls — I only remember it in hindsight because he was almost like clairvoyant — Norquist says during one of these calls: The greatest threat is a direct assault on the Capitol. I’ll never forget it.
Why, then, did no one act?
“The Capitol Police actually were very emphatic about [how] they could defend the Capitol,” Milley told investigators.
Capitol Police Resisted Scrutiny Before 1/6
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press briefing on Jan. 4. She told committee investigators:
On Monday, I had just my regular press briefing, and I invited the Capitol Police, the Metro Police, MPD, our police, and the Park Service Police. And they all came. And then the Capitol Police person who was there to speak got pulled out of the press conference. And I just — that should have been like a trigger to me. Like these people, they don’t want to answer questions about their preparation. We had like a little pre-meet, and I asked them something like, you know, where does your perimeter start? He gets up out of the room, calls somebody. And the next thing I know he can’t participate in the press conference. So that, like, it just kind of should have been a trigger that they just approached it differently.
D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency director Christopher Rodriguez also couldn’t get anywhere. “We had had issues understanding, getting the full picture of U.S. Capitol Police’s operational posture and what their planning was,” he told investigators.
That wasn’t unusual, he said, explaining that there had been “a lot of challenges getting the operational and tactical plans from the U.S. Capitol Police … for years.”
In stark contrast to the Capitol Police, D.C.’s police department (MPD) canceled previously scheduled days off after a Dec. 30 intelligence briefing, truly putting “all hands on deck.”
The committee appendix states that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chief of staff, Terri McCullough, spoke to Sund and was given a readout of the briefing Sund had given to another member of Congress. “So I believed and the Speaker believed the security professionals were in charge of the security and they were prepared. We were told that there was a plan,”McCullough said.
There Was No Plan – At Least No Plan B
The Capitol Police’s plan, to the extent that there even was one, envisioned only scattered violence, with maybe a handful of people trying to breach the perimeter. There was no Plan B.
Robert Glover, head of the MPD’s Special Operations Division, told investigators what he saw when he arrived, just after the violence had begun:
On January 6th specifically, upon my arrival, I noted that there was very few uniforms of the United States Capitol Police visible on the grass area, the West Front, or around the two circles, Peace and Grant Circle. I noticed the officers that I encountered on my walk up toward the West Front seemed to be very hectic and scattered, with no clear direction. They weren’t running toward the problem, and it almost seemed like they didn’t really have an assignment at that point. And when I did get onto the West Front plaza, the officers that were there were fighting for every inch on the line. The pepper ball team that I saw above me seemed paralyzed. They weren’t being given good direction. They had the capability, but they weren’t using it. I saw the deputy chief out there, but didn’t see a whole lot of command and control.
Then word got out that the police were abandoning the perimeter. Glover said:
The decision to pull back into the building was done in a blind and without consultation or understanding of the impact. There was no discussion about why they were pulling back in…. I had been told, to come up to help. And it kind of became the MPD direction at that point.
Committee investigators asked Sund to respond to the lack of a plan — or of any leadership, for that matter — citing the testimony of two deputy chiefs:
One of the things that they told us was, in hindsight, they did not feel like there was a lot of internal coordination amongst all these moving parts, that sort of — people were sort of moving in different silos of excellence, you know, doing the best they can, but there wasn’t any sort of cross-discussion or sort of unified plan going into the 6th. And I was just wondering what your reaction was to that.
Sund said he found it “a little disheartening that they feel there wasn’t a lot of discussions,” and vaguely blamed his deputies for letting him down.
Bike Racks Are a Joke
Bike racks are useful to signal to law-abiding citizens where they’re not supposed to go. When someone jumps or pushes past a bike rack, that’s an easy way to tell that they’re trespassing. When it’s a lone actor or two, police can then arrest them.
But bike racks don’t actually keep anybody out.
“It’s considered just temporary perimeter security,” Valerie Hasberry, the head of security for the Architect of the Capitol, told committee investigators. “You use it to channel crowds. It is a demarcation on where they can go and where they can’t.”
Everyone knows this.
Yet bike racks were the Capitol Police’s main line of defense.
It’s hard to explain just how over reliant the Capitol Police was on bike racks. But consider that at about 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, as police were under assault, Capitol Police leadership asked Hasberry to send more.
In her deposition, Hasberry said a senior Capitol Police official, Robert Ford, called her to say, “We need you to get bike racks to the East Front. They’re being overrun.” In fact, by that time, members of the mob were actually using the bike racks to attack police.
Hearing this, a committee staffer was stunned. The following exchange ensued:
Q. And is it fair to say, you know, in addition to the fact that they could be used as weapons, I mean, did it appear to be too little too late at that point? I mean, what additional — at the point that people are breaching the perimeter, what would laying down additional bike racks do if they are not, you know, obeying the limits of what the bike rack is meant to contain?
A. My personal opinion is it would not have made a difference and that is — again, I did ask something similar when I got the request, because you could see on TV that the bike rack wasn’t connected and to try to put down additional bike rack in the middle of a mob, they just would have taken the bike rack probably off of the truck and started using it.…
I did ask the question verbally to Robert Ford when I talked to him, “Do you really want us to deliver more bike rack since they’re using the bike rack to assault the Capitol Police officers?” I was told yes.
Did Sund Clear a Path?
The faith that Capitol Police had in bike racks makes one of Sund’s last-minute decisions even more puzzling, and arguably even suspicious.
This is not even mentioned in the committee report, but on Jan. 5 at 9:10 p.m., Hasberry reported getting a late request from Capitol Police “to remove approximately 500 bike racks along First Street, Northeast/Southeast and along the south curb of Constitution Avenue between the north barricade and First Street Northeast.” That’s exactly where Ford, the next day, asked for them to be delivered in the middle of a melee.
Hasberry said she was told there was a concern about demonstrators being trapped in the two egg-shaped grassy areas just east of the Capitol. But she said that “did not track with past setups” and “didn’t make sense from a security perspective.” She explained:
My concern, as I noted, was, again, expecting this to be a larger event, potentially more violent event and we’re in essence not using the same setup, not that bike rack again is a security measure, but it was so different than what we would normally do.
Hasberry suggested that “there may be other factors driving the change,” namely Sund’s desire not to appear to be responding more aggressively to these protests than to the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. She explained:
My personal opinion was the original response was based on the volume of people expected and the potential that decisions to remove it may have been based on “you didn’t have this during the social justice demonstrations, why do you have it for this demonstration?”
So, the investigators asked, was it ideological? Was there political pressure involved?
I’m not aware of political pressure. But, again, my personal opinion is that that may have played a part in why there was bike rack removed prior to January 6th.
The National Guard as a Red Herring
In the days and weeks after Jan. 6, Sund used the media — in particular, the Washington Post — to deflect blame onto those who he said stymied his efforts to summon the National Guard.
“If we would have had the National Guard we could have held them at bay longer, until more officers from our partner agencies could arrive,” he told the Post, three days after the insurrection.
Even two years later, Leonnig reported without any pushback that Sund “blames cascading government failures for allowing the brutal melee.” And that “In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, Sund struggled to make sense of the military’s inaction that day, something he considered a dereliction of duty.”
But the National Guard angle was all misdirection, based on a lie.
Neither Sund nor anyone else requested the Guard’s presence until after the Capitol had been breached. Their presence shouldn’t have been needed. And it might not have helped.
Sund did vaguely raise the idea of getting help from the D.C. National Guard on Jan. 3, in conversations with House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, who would have had to sign off on the request. But according to the committee’s report, Sund told Irving and Stenger “that the National Guard would be utilized in similar fashion to the assistance provided to the D.C. police, namely, staffing intersections, and for traffic control to free up officers… although he acknowledged that the Capitol campus does not have many intersections in need of staffing.”
According to the committee:
The Capitol Police Board, including Chief Sund, later agreed that a request for the DC National Guard would not be necessary, particularly if the USCP was in an “all hands on deck” posture. Chief Sund agreed with Stenger and Irving that the intelligence did not support a request for DC National Guard assistance. According to Irving, Chief Sund did not believe the National Guard would add much to the USCP security plan for January 6th.
And according to Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, a last-minute request for the National Guard without any advance planning might not have done much good. He told committee investigators:
If you’re bringing National Guard in — and, you know, you all work around the Capitol. Imagine if you’ve never been there … and just go to the Capitol. Well, where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do?
The “Command Centers” Were Useless
There were command posts set up all over Washington in the days before Jan. 6, including two for the FBI alone. One was hastily set up at FBI headquarters on Jan. 5, even as another one was already operating at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, a few blocks away.
What happened — or rather, what didn’t happen — makes a complete mockery of all the self-congratulatory rhetoric you constantly hear from law enforcement about cooperation and coordination and joint task forces and multi-agency command centers.
When Push came to shove, the command centers compounded the law-enforcement failures of Jan. 6, rather than identifying and fixing them. Both command centers had open lines of communication with the Capitol Police. But no one sounded any alarms.
Richard Donoghue told investigators about this shocking exchange with then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen:
Sometime in the early afternoon, I walked into [Rosen’s] office. He had his television on. You could see that people were in the rotunda of the Capitol.
And he said to me, “Do you see this? Do you see what’s going on? Can you believe this?” And that was the first that I learned that the Capitol had been breached.
And he said, “You know, I’m trying to get ahold of FBI. I’m trying to find out what’s going on. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe people got in there.” Something to that effect.
If Donoghue’s recollection is correct, that would make it around 2:30 p.m., more than half an hour after MPD commander Glover yelled into his radio: “1349 hours. Declaring it a riot.”
Donoghue told Rosen he’d find out what was going on and report back. He headed over the command center at FBI headquarters.
They didn’t have a lot of information. They had the screens showing people marching through the rotunda as well, but they didn’t have a lot of information as to exactly what was going on at the Capitol.
They did tell him one thing:
I do recall someone saying that Capitol Police say they don’t need help at this point, they’ve got it covered.
He then went to the other command center, at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, but nobody seemed to know what was going on there, either. At that point there was no FBI or Department of Justice presence at the Capitol at all.
He and the FBI’s deputy director eventually headed over to the Capitol to see the bedlam for themselves and start marshaling federal resources.
To whatever extent racism, empathy for Trump supporters and political pressure were factors in the Capitol Police’s failure, sheer incompetence undoubtedly played a role, too.
The Capitol Police are the Keystone Kops of D.C., secretive, massively overfunded and excelling at removing petite Code Pink protesters from congressional hearings, but not much else.
As Amelia Strauss and Daniel Schuman wrote for the Washington Monthly:
The U.S. Capitol Police is the security-force/police-department hybrid tasked with keeping Congress safe and open for business. The little-known department has a budget that exceeds $515 millionfor FY 2021 — constituting almost 10% of Legislative branch funding — and nearly 2,450 employees, around 2,000 of whom are sworn officers. The size of the Capitol Police’s budget can compete with major municipal police forces such as San Antonio’s, which is responsible for a population of 1.5 million, and USCP’s workforce size eclipses that of major city departments like New Orleans and Miami. Notably, their extended jurisdiction covers less than 2 square miles, and there are many other police and security forces in Washington, D.C.
The department’s internal politics appeared to be utterly dysfunctional, with different groups working at cross purposes. The Intelligence and lnteragency Coordination Division (IICD) was notoriously plagued by structural and interpersonal issues.
“Is it fair to say IICD was considered a joke within the department?” one committee investigator asked John Donohue, who had been hired as its director only two months before Jan. 6.
“I wouldn’t have taken a job if it was a joke,” Donohue replied. “What I would say is that it had its challenges and they were significant, given the people, the technology, the lack of training and the mindset within IICD. I can say that I heard other people refer to it as a joke.”
What They Needed Was Fencing
What did committee witnesses think the Capitol Police should have done differently? Several said it was obvious: They should have put up fences.
As Army Chief of Staff McConville explained, if the Army had been in charge of a similar situation, there would have been a fence.
You know, it’s not, like, a bicycle rack. It’s actually a fence that would take some effort to get over. And then there was another fence. And then you can start to array your law enforcement in a way that would make it very, very challenging to get to the Capitol. So there’s things you can do.
With a fence, the difference between exercising your First Amendment rights and trespassing is clear, McConville said.
You cross this fence, now you’ve trespassed, okay? Now you’re starting to get into a situation. Now there’s another fence. Now you’re getting to the point where you’re starting to, you know, be in a situation where, you know, what are you doing here? And by setting it up that way, you start to give depth, and you don’t necessarily have to have as many people, and you can respond to different situations, and you kind of spread it out. And, that way, you start to see what maybe people’s intents are when it comes to our security situation.
D.C. Mayor Bowser told investigators:
The biggest thing — and I haven’t, like, thought through every aspect of this, but there would have been a fence around that Capitol. Period. Like, you may have had — we may have had a bigger problem on the streets, but you would not have had people take over the Capitol.
Even former Capitol Police deputy chief Sean Gallagher told investigators:
I think we needed not only additional officers onsite, outside of Capitol Police, but I think we needed a fence. And even if we had a fence, I think that fence would have toppled. But it still would have gave us time, distance and stuff like that.
Investigators asked several witnesses if a fence had ever been considered, or even mentioned, as a possibility by the Capitol Police or anyone else. The answer was no.
In the absurdly short 18-page appendix about “government agency preparation for and response,” the committee takes a firm “nobody could have known” approach to the events of the day:
Few in law enforcement predicted the full extent of the violence at the Capitol, or that the President of the United States would incite a mob attack on the Capitol, that he would send them to stop the joint session knowing they were armed and dangerous, that he would further incite them against his own Vice President while the attack was underway, or that he would do nothing to stop the assault for hours.
The appendix nevertheless acknowledges that “there are additional steps that should have been taken to address the potential for violence on that day.”
There are no specifics, however, and no finger-pointing. Every missed opportunity the committee describes is accompanied by an excuse, blaming not law enforcement but Trump and his cronies. For instance:
To keep these exchanges in perspective, we note again that we are aware of no evidence that these individuals were privy to President Trump’s plans to instruct tens of thousands of his supporters to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to help “take back” their country. Nor were they aware of how President Trump would suggest to his followers that Vice President Pence had the authority to change the outcome of the election, or how President Trump would behave in the hours that followed.
And the appendix’s concluding paragraph lets law enforcement off the hook entirely:
While the danger to the Capitol posed by an armed and angry crowd was foreseeable, the fact that the President of the United States would be the catalyst of their fury and facilitate the attack was unprecedented in American history. If we lacked the imagination to suppose that a President would incite an attack on his own Government, urging his supporters to “fight like hell,” we lack that insight no more. And the best defense against that danger will not come from law enforcement, but from an informed and active citizenry.
So even the tiny section on law enforcement failure appended to the end of the report was a whitewash.
What Lessons Could Have Been Learned?
A Jan. 6 committee truly committed to making sure something like that never happens again would not have focused exclusively on Trump.
It would have grilled law-enforcement leaders about why they failed across the board — and particularly within the Capitol Police.
It would have made some obvious, yet desperately needed, recommendations for law enforcement agencies going forward, including:
- Don’t discount the threat posed by white people.
- Don’t assume that right-wingers are law-abiding.
- Don’t let political pressure affect your decisions.
- Do become acutely aware of the enormous threat posed to the rule of law, its institutions and the general public by violence from supporters of right-wing extremism, Christian nationalism and white supremacy.
The Way Forward
Supporting documents posted at GovInfo, including depositions and other committee documents, are an incredible resource for reporters who don’t think the only lesson to be learned from Jan. 6 is that Trump was responsible.
For instance, one of the committee investigators, Jacob Glick, co-authored an article for Just Security earlier this month, calling attention to material about ongoing threat posed by far-right extremists.
Information that didn’t make it into the final report – but is included in the committee’s supporting documents – “has given the public the chance to better understand extremist paramilitaries and the perils they continue to pose, with or without Trump in the Oval Office,” he wrote.
In a Tech Policy Press podcast, Glick explained:
There is a lot of material about our extremism investigation that didn’t fit into this narrative that all nine members could agree on to make public in an unprecedented way. And the same thing goes for things about law enforcement failures, and fundraising, and social media investigations as well.
I asked Glick what his takeaways were related to law enforcement. Although he wasn’t on the blue team, he suggested that law enforcement in general has failed to come to terms with the threat posed by organized groups of right-wing domestic extremists.
“I think overall that January 6 was indicative of a much more intractable struggle against an authoritarian far-right that our government and society doesn’t know what to do with – like, at all,” Glick said.
Realistically, the committee wasn’t likely to spend a lot of time rehashing the age-old law enforcement reflexes that lead officials to see danger from communities of color and not from white nationalists.
But a more expansive investigation and report could have called for an urgent realignment of law-enforcement threat assessment, to make sure it acknowledges the danger from organized right-wing extremists as well as the threat from abroad or from domestic lone actors.
In their depositions, law enforcement leaders including Sund repeatedly cited the lack of “specific and credible threats” from individual actors as their excuse for inaction.
“The desire to put these incidents into previously conceived buckets doesn’t take into account a sustained desire by groups on the far-right to undermine democracy,” Glick said.
The January 6 insurrectionists essentially stormed right through a gigantic law-enforcement blind spot. An intelligence and law enforcement community that devotes untold resources to entrapping and prosecuting individuals –they think are supportive of international terrorist organizations has no clue how to protect the nation from an overwhelming number of “unspecific” threats from hordes of angry white people.
The Committee’s Averted Gaze – and the Media’s
Donell Harvin, a homeland security expert, wrote in Politico on the second anniversary of the attack:
“Prior to Jan. 6, it was unimaginable” that a violent mob would attack the Capitol at the behest of the president, the report states. This premise is the critical flaw in the committee’s logic. The events of Jan. 6 represented the most telegraphed and predictable attack on the homeland in history.
Harvin wrote that the report should have included an “analysis of what should have occurred and who was responsible for the massive security failure of that day.”
Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., was asked in December about the failure to hold anyone in law enforcement accountable. Michael Isikoff, the co-host of Yahoo News’s now-defunct ”Skullduggery” podcast, scolded Raskin for the committee’s failure to say more “about the performance of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the events related to Jan. 6.”
I’m not averse to doing what you’re talking about. You know, we — you know, if we want to engage in a completely different investigation, we can go further into detail on all of that. But we laid out all the facts that we got. We spent a lot of time doing interviews on it.
And it seemed like the kind of thing to me where there was no coherent theory of how to deal with this and nobody took responsibility for being in charge. And ultimately, it was because the president of the United States had no interest in anybody being in charge. And he played on the fact that he just left everybody to their own devices, and some of them may have been trying to intuit what Donald Trump wanted them to do. It’s just — it’s very hard to know.
Where is your profession? Have the journalists figured out who was the person who dropped the ball? I don’t know. But we have not been able to figure that out.
That is, indeed, the only question going forward. The committee is gone. But journalists remain. It’s on us now.
After more than two years, we still don’t know, and haven’t really asked, what toxic brew of retrograde thinking was responsible for this epic failure. So why should we believe it won’t happen again?
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