The finger-pointing has begun between different law enforcement agencies over who failed the hardest by allowing the Capitol to be overrun by domestic terrorists. But all of them—the Capitol Police, the House and Senate sergeants at arms, the Defense Department officials in charge of the National Guard—should rest easy: There’s more than enough blame to go around. They can all send some the way of their counterparts and still get plenty themselves. And the failure of all of these agencies to give public briefings so that people know what’s going on and what the official response is—including what they’re doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen again—compounds the problem.
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who is resigning over his failures, told The Washington Post that the House and Senate sergeants at arms (both of whom have also resigned) refused to allow him to have the National Guard on standby. Instead, he was only able to ask the National Guard to informally “lean forward” for a quick response. According to Sund, he had an inkling he was underprepared, but his hands were tied.
However, Reps. Maxine Waters, Zoe Lofgren, and Tim Ryan all told the Post that they had asked Sund about his preparations for the Wednesday event and he had insisted he was all set and plenty prepared. They did not get the message that he needed the House sergeant at arms to get out of the way of having the National Guard formally on call, for instance.
“I was told by the police chief and the sergeant-at-arms that everything is under control and they had provided for every contingency,” Lofgren told The New York Times. “That turned out to be completely false.”
On Wednesday, as the Capitol was flooded by a violent mob and its police force was completely overwhelmed, the sergeants at arms failed to call for the National Guard, and when Sund made that request, military officials put the brakes on. Half an hour after the mob entered the Capitol, with Sund on the phone begging for help, Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt sat at the Pentagon recommending against deploying the National Guard, saying: “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background.”
Apparently he preferred the visual of Trump supporters beating a police officer with a flag pole.
Law enforcement leaders are claiming that they didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in the many, many social media posts threatening—you might say planning—exactly what happened on Jan. 6. To the FBI, it was all protected by the First Amendment. To Sund, “You might see rhetoric on social media. We had seen that many times before.”
But plenty of people outside of these government who watch for these things knew there was a serious threat.
“The evidence is starkly clear that the momentum of violence has shifted to the right in this country. We’ve seen this in city after city,” according to former counterterrorism official R.P. Eddy. “There was a failure among law enforcement to imagine that people who ‘look like me’ would do this.”
That failure is also likely related to the fact that it was Donald Trump himself inciting the violence. Do we trust Trump’s defense officials to accurately assess the threat his words to his supporters pose?
Again: We need to hear directly and in detail from every agency that was supposed to prevent this and failed. They need to offer extensive information and answer tough questions. And until that happens, they cannot expect us to believe a word of the one-on-one interviews and transparently self-interested leaks that are currently what we’re getting.