If ever there were a need for an after-action report, it’s now, after the U.S. Capitol building was overtaken in a matter of minutes Wednesday by an angry mob of supposed Trump supporters, who scaled walls, broke windows and shoved their way past “security” to get inside, making themselves at home in the hallowed halls of Congress.
One man kicked back at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, feet up, while another — a horn-sporting, shirtless man in face paint (identified as Arizonian QAnon enthusiast Jake Angeli) — threw his head back and roared. Others wandered around aimlessly, destroying things.
The ridiculous group of rioters revealed just how easy it is to breach the Capitol building — with the U.S. vice president and sitting members of Congress inside, no less. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin was rushed off the Senate floor to a secure location, while Sen. Chris Van Hollen holed up in his office, and U.S. Rep Kweisi Mfume hunkered down in the Rayburn House Office Building.
Here’s the playbook for this terrorist takeover: If you get enough white guys together (face paint optional), you can basically walk right in. One video posted on TikTok showed U.S. Capitol police moving barriers out of the way as the mob surged forward.
Inside the Capitol, an officer meekly suggested to the rebels that they “just need to go outside,” telling the New York Times that people weren’t being forcibly removed because, “we’ve just got to let them do their thing now.”
(That, by the way, is the cue for all the conservatives who railed in 2015 about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s giving “those who wished to destroy space to do that” to unleash a fresh round of criticism, this time directed at the Republican Party.)
Now compare this reaction to the response we saw in June outside the White House, when helicopters and soldiers wielding tear gas were sent to disperse people peacefully protesting police brutality against Black Americans — all so the president could stroll across the street for a 17-minute photo shoot in front of St. John’s Church. Earlier that day, Mr. Trump had suggested protesters could be shot and set upon by the “most vicious dogs and most ominous weapons.”
But criminally breaking into the Capitol and endangering the lives of the nation’s elected leaders? That’s met with impotence. The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump — an official “Advisor to the President” — actually called these delinquents “American patriots” in a tweet asking them to “please be peaceful.” The post was quickly deleted amid backlash.
So, how did all this happen? After weeks of watching the president whip people into a frenzy with false claims of election fraud, how is it that security forces were unprepared to deal with the consequences? Is it even possible they didn’t understand that there was a threat such a thing might happen as Congress met to certify the presidential win of Mr. Trump’s opponent? Or did they just not care?
The massive U.S. Capitol building, Congress and visiting public are protected by the U.S. Capital Police, which is made up of 2,300 officers and employees and has a $460 million annual budget. And they were quickly, easily and embarrassingly overwhelmed.
But they didn’t have to be. Days earlier, the Pentagon offered to have National Guard power on hand as the Electoral College count commenced, and the day of, the U.S. Department of Justice offered up FBI agents to help keep control. Both offers were rebuffed. The Capitol police purposely prepared for a demonstration, not a riot.
The message? There’s no need to hijack any planes the next time the really bad guys want to harm America. They can just shove their way in if they dress the part.
Some have suggested that the mayhem makers weren’t real Trump supporters, but outsiders looking to stir up trouble for the president. That’s certainly a convenient explanation — and unsurprising given the way so many of those who support the president readily embrace conspiracy theories. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, however, as many of them were photographed and maskless, despite the pandemic. But whether they were pro-Trumpers or not doesn’t change the fact that they were believed to be. And what role that played in muting the police response is among the many, many questions that must be asked and answered about this incident in the coming months.
The world watched this debacle, and now everyone knows just how vulnerable we are.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.