(Headline USA) Three days before Wednesday’s protest at the Capitol in support of President Donald Trump, the Pentagon asked the U.S Capitol Police if it needed National Guard manpower.
And as the protesters descended on the building Wednesday, Justice Department leaders reached out to offer up FBI agents. The police turned them down both times, according to a defense official and two people familiar with the matter.
Despite plenty of warnings of an insurrection—potentially led by anarchist Antifa members who had infiltrated the crowd—and ample resources and time to prepare, the Capitol Police planned only for a free-speech demonstration.
Still stinging from the uproar over the violent response by law enforcement to protests last June near the White House, officials also were intent on avoiding any appearance that the federal government was deploying active duty or National Guard troops against Americans.
The result is the U.S. Capitol was overrun Wednesday, and officers in a law enforcement agency with a large operating budget and experience in high-security events protecting lawmakers were overwhelmed for the world to see.
Four protesters died, including one shot inside the building and three from other medical complications.
The rioting has raised serious questions over security at the Capitol for future events.
“This was a failure of imagination, a failure of leadership,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, whose department responded to several large protests last year following the death of George Floyd. “The Capitol Police must do better and I don’t see how we can get around that.”
Acevedo said he has attended events on the Capitol grounds to honor slain police officers that had higher fences and a stronger security presence than what he saw on video Wednesday.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said that as the rioting was underway, it became clear that the Capitol Police were overrun.
There was no contingency planning done in advance for what forces could do in case of a problem at the Capitol.
“They’ve got to ask us, the request has to come to us,” said McCarthy.
A day later, the House sergeant-at-arms—the chief security officer for the House of Representatives—had resigned, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had called for the resignation of the Capitol Police chief.
“There was a failure of leadership at the top,” Pelosi said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the incoming majority leader, said he will fire the Senate sergeant-at-arms.
Embattled Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said there had been a robust plan what he had expected would be a display of First Amendment activities.
“The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “But make no mistake—these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior.”
Gus Papathanasiou, head of the Capitol Police union, called for Sund to be replaced, saying planning failures left officers exposed without backup or equipment against surging crowds.
“We cannot leave our officers and the Capitol Hill community they protect to the mercy of further attacks amid a vacuum of leadership,” he said.
The U.S. Capitol had been closed to the public since March because of coronavirus. But normally, the building is open to the public, and lawmakers pride themselves on their availability to their constituents.
It is not clear how many officers were on-duty Wednesday, but the complex is policed by a total of 2,300 officers for 16 acres of ground who protect the 435 House representatives, 100 U.S. senators and their staff.
By comparison, the city of Minneapolis has about 840 uniformed officers policing a population of 425,000 in a 6,000-acre area.
Even so, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators—even though all but a small number were peaceful—posed a daunting prospect.
A day after Georgia’s runoff elections dubiously secured the Senate majority for Democrats, some of the rally-goers came loaded for bear to object credible allegations of widespread vote fraud during the joint session to count the Electoral College votes.
Both Acevedo and Ed Davis, a former Boston Police commissioner who led the department during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, said they did not fault the responses of clearly overmatched front-line officers, but the planning and leadership before the protest.
“Was there a structural feeling that well, these are a bunch of conservatives, they’re not going to do anything like this? Quite possibly,” Davis said.
“… Was there a lack of urgency or a sense that this could never happen with this crowd? Is that possible? Absolutely,” he added.
Capitol Police had set up no hard perimeter around the Capitol. Officers were focused on one side where lawmakers were entering.
Barricades on the plaza to the building were set up, but police retreated from the line and a mob of people broke through.
Justice officials FBI and other agencies began to monitor hotels, flights and social media for weeks and were expecting massive crowds.
Mayor Muriel Bowser had warned of impending violence for weeks, and businesses had closed in anticipation.
She requested National Guard help from the Pentagon on Dec. 31, but the Capitol Police turned down the Jan. 3 offer from the Defense Department, according to Kenneth Rapuano, assistant defense secretary for homeland security.
The Justice Department’s offer for FBI support as the protesters grew violent was rejected by the Capitol Police, according to the two people familiar with the matter. They were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.
By then, it was too late.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police Department descended. Agents from nearly every Justice Department agency, including the FBI, were called in. So was the Secret Service and the Federal Protective Service.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent two tactical teams. Police from as far away as New Jersey arrived to help.
It took four hours to disperse the protesters from the Capitol complex.
By then, they had roamed the halls of Congress, posed for photos inside hallowed chambers, broken through doors, destroyed property and taken photos of themselves doing it. Only 13 were arrested at the time, but scores were arrested later.
In the aftermath, a 7-foot fence will go up around the Capitol grounds for at least 30 days. The Capitol Police will conduct a review of their planning and policies. Lawmakers plan to investigate how authorities handled it as well.
The acting U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, said the failure to arrest more people is making their jobs harder.
“Look, we have to now go through cell site orders, collect video footage to try to identify people and then charge them, and then try to execute their arrest,” he said. “So that has made things challenging, but I can’t answer why those people weren’t zip-tied as they were leaving the building by the Capitol Police.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press