While supporters of Donald Trump continue to claim that their deadly attempt to overthrow the United States government was “peaceful” more details are emerging that detail the waves of violence, hate, and sedition that rolled over the nation’s capital on January 6. Police are recounting pitched battles that took place at various locations around the capital. In those battles, Trump supporters sprayed police with chemical agents, battered them with iron pipes, even beat them with flag poles … all the while the crowd was waving “thin blue line” flags.
Hampered by poor planning, isolated in locations ranging from the top of the Capitol steps to tunnels beneath the building, small groups of police from two different forces were often unable to communicate with each other, unaware of what was going on in other locations, and absolutely convinced they were the last barrier between raging insurrectionists and the mass murder of congressmembers. Meanwhile, the forces they faced included other police and military members, who had been planning for this event for weeks, and who—as part of white supremacist militias—coordinated an assault with the intent to capture and assassinate America’s leaders.
The Washington Post’s coverage of first person accounts from police is absolutely harrowing. It includes the story of two officers captured by the mob and dragged down the Capitol steps as they were kicked, beaten, and repeatedly struck by flags and signs. Another officer was pinned between two sets of doors, with just his head and shoulders sticking from the building, as insurgents repeatedly beat him with his own baton. Meanwhile, in a tunnel below the building, a small group of officers fought a desperate pitched battle against hundreds of rioters, thinking all along that they were the only barrier between lawmakers and the mob.
For all the incidents over the summer in which large groups of heavily armed police dragged civilians off the street, fired tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters, or left elderly individuals bleeding on the sidewalk, what happened in D.C. was exactly the opposite. Two different police forces—the Capitol Police and the Metro D.C. Police—found themselves outnumbered by a factor of several hundred to one, facing off with violent forces that pushed down barriers, ignored warnings, and directly assaulted officers. This wasn’t someone being accused of tossing a water bottle from somewhere back in the ranks. This was men grabbing up pieces of iron scaffolding and smashing police across the face.
D.C. police were only called in to assist the Capitol police after the Trump forces had begun overrunning barriers and were threatening to push into the Capitol. There had been no planning for this event. No one had run through scenarios, staked out fallback positions, or even harmonized communication. And the result of that was horror stories from all points of the compass as each group of police had no idea what was happening elsewhere, where reinforcements were needed, or even when a position they were fighting desperately to hold had already been overrun.
In the tunnel beneath the Capitol, a group of officers picked themselves up again and again, trying to hold the narrow space against a force that numbered in the hundreds or the thousands. And as could be seen in many videos of the battle taking place on the Capitol steps, that force was coordinated. They lifted bear spray and fired in ranks at the surprised police, many of whom lacked gas masks. They came complete with their own shields, their own batons. And there was a very good reason police didn’t begin firing their guns at the charging crowd—they knew the invaders were also armed.
Something else the invaders had was training. As the Los Angeles Times reports—and announced arrests have demonstrated—the forces assaulting the Capitol were laced with current and former military, as well as off duty police and firefighters. These military and police insurgents were members of groups like the Oath Keepers, which specifically fills its ranks with ex-police and veterans, as does the Three Percenters militia.
Police fighting it out with these groups were astonished to see them using signal flags and radios to coordinate movement around the Capitol. Insurgents located points of weakness, concentrated forces, and responded quickly to movements by police. As videos have shown, insurgents were also well aware of the layout of the Capitol building, and had pre-planned routes of access, including knowing which windows could be knocked out to provide access to supposedly restricted areas.
The other thing that shocked police wasn’t the fact that they were facing off with forces at least as well equipped as they were, but the goals of those forces. From the beginning, it was obvious that insurgents entered the Capitol not with the intent of just waving flags at statues, but to assault members of Congress directly.
As The Washington Post reports, that was made explicitly clear during the assault and it’s become clear that even those insurgents that at first appeared comical came with a very serious intent to take hostages, carry out executions, and topple the government. So-called “Q Shaman” Jacob Chansley, who donned faux American Indian garb and carried a spear as he invaded the building, scrawled out a note for Mike Pence saying “it’s only a matter of time, justice is coming,” He left that note on Pence’s desk in the Senate.
On Thursday, Chansley’s attorney—the same St. Louis attorney who represented gun-toting couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey—stated that his client didn’t do anything wrong. “He just walked in with the whole crowd that was walking in on the peaceful side of things.” The attorney then asked that his client receive a presidential pardon because Chansley “felt he was answering the call of our President."
There’s no doubt about that. Chansley was answering the call of Trump. But that call, and Chansley, were anything but “peaceful.”
As people in the mob dragged Fanone down the steps, he said he feared he would be stripped and dragged through the Capitol.
“I was being beat from every angle,” he said. “I thought, maybe, I could appeal to somebody’s humanity.”
Good luck with that.