Since January 6, there have been multiple revelations about the inability of Capitol Police to secure assistance from the National Guard, and the D.C. National Guard being restricted in their actions in a way that’s not true of other guard forces. On Tuesday, the acting chief of the Capitol Police testified before the House Appropriations Committee in a closed door hearing, and what she told them seemed to signal a complete breakdown in preparations for an event whose nature was understood well before insurgents rushed the Capitol.
“By January 4th, the Department knew that the January 6th event would not be like any of the previous protests held in 2020. We knew that militia groups and white supremacist organizations would be attending. We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event. We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.”
They knew all that, but still had only 170 police in riot gear on Jan. 6. And despite a day of testimony, everyone is still lacking the answer to “Why?”
The New York Times reports on the frustration that met the testimony of acting chief Yogananda Pittman. That testimony spoke repeatedly to the Capitol Police’s knowledge about the nature of the protest that was coming, but despite Pittman saying that the police were “prepared in order to meet these challenges,” the level of preparation appears to have been woefully inadequate.
Not only where there a shortage of forces at the Capitol, and a small number of police equipped to face off with insurgents, those numbers were further depleted by the discovery of pipe bombs at the RNC and DNC headquarters. Dealing with those pipe bombs drew officers away from the already stretched-thin forces at the Capitol just as the insurgents were pressing their attack. Which certainly makes it appear that someone other than the police had done detailed planning for the day.
Pittman also confirmed previous reports concerning attempts to secure help from the National Guard in advance of Jan. 6. In particular, she recounted a meeting on Jan. 4 in which then chief Steven Sund appealed to the Capitol Police board to declare a state of emergency and make a request to the D.C. National Guard. However, two of the three members of that board—House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving, and Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger—denied that request. Since Jan. 6, Sund, Stenger, and Irving have all resigned.
Pittman’s testimony makes it clear that the Metro D.C. Police responded instantly when requests for assistance went out, but even together the two forces were overwhelmed by the thousands of insurgents around—and eventually inside—the Capitol. Her testimony also clarified some of the timeline around the final approval of National Guard forces being deployed.
1:34 PM—Mayor Muriel Bowser calls Pentagon to request National Guard be deployed.
1:49 PM—Capitol Police Chief Sund requests emergency assistance from D.C. National Guard.
3:00 PM—Army officials at Pentagon finally approve use of the guard.
5:40 PM—First National Guard forces arrive at the Capitol.
The hearing also featured testimony from D.C. National Guard commander William Walker. In an interview on Monday, Walker indicated that his power to deploy the guard in response to an emergency request had been curtailed following events in June in which National Guard troops used excessive force against nonviolent BLM protesters, including an incident in which a very low-flying helicopter was used to intimidate a crowd.
However, that doesn’t actually seem to explain why Walker lacked that authority on the day of the Capitol assault. Authority to deploy the guard in an emergency was once again given to Walker for the Fourth of July weekend, but the Pentagon “required additional approval for a request for the Guard during the Jan. 6 attack.” According to Walker, Sund called him directly, and he began preparing forces to meet the insurgency. However, he could not release guard forces before getting approval from the Pentagon.
Everything in the testimony on Tuesday made it clear that the police knew the nation and scale of the threat. But they failed to prepare meaningfully to meet it.
Multiple attempts to secure assistance from the National Guard both before and during the assault on the Capitol. But those attempts were either rebuffed or delayed.
As a result, decisions were made that placed police, lawmakers, and everyone else at the Capitol in danger. Understanding why that was allowed to happen is going to take talking to more of those involved—including the Pentagon officials who seem to have both restricted guard forces and delayed their deployment in the midst of a clear emergency that was being televised live to the nation.