As a mob of Trump-supporting insurrectionists attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the Capitol Police were not ready, and a National Guard deployment was delayed. Those are facts that cannot be seriously contested. The details of how and why law enforcement agencies were so unprepared and by whom the National Guard deployment was delayed, though, are questions that are going to be fought out for some time to come.
The New York Times has a new effort at a timeline of the requests for help from the National Guard, a question that Steven Sund, the former chief of the Capitol Police, will no doubt face when he testifies to Congress on Tuesday.
This is how this timeline breaks down:
1:09 PM: The mob breaks through police barriers and Sund calls the House sergeant-at-arms, Paul Irving, to ask for the National Guard. (Irving, like Sund, has since resigned.) Irving tells Sund he needs to take the request “up the chain of command.”
1:40 PM: After a 30-minute delay, Irving takes that request to staff of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
1:43 PM: Staff can be seen on video of the House proceedings passing Pelosi a note and asking for permission to call in the National Guard. Pelosi immediately says yes, and asks whether then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs to be involved. Irving and the then-Senate sergeant-at-arms (also since resigned) Michael Stenger were already meeting with McConnell’s staff.
2:10 PM: Irving lets Sund know that Pelosi and McConnell approved the request for National Guard support. But at this point, the request still needs to go to the Pentagon, since Washington, D.C., is not a state and its National Guard is under federal control.
2:30 PM: In a conference call including Sund and local Washington, D.C., leaders, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, the director of the Army staff, says he will recommend against sending the National Guard because “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a line with the Capitol in the background.”
3:04 PM: The Pentagon approves a National Guard deployment.
5:40 PM: 154 National Guard troops arrive at the Pentagon.
But by then, the damage was mostly done. Around 2:44, the mob made it into the Senate chamber and, on the House side, an officer shot and killed Ashli Babbitt as she tried to climb through a window to get to the House chamber. Around 4:25, the mob was beating police officers with flag poles and dragging them down the Capitol steps. Around the same time, a member of the mob was trampled to death.
Maybe the National Guard deployment couldn’t have arrived by 2:44 even if everyone had immediately acted on Sund’s 1:09 request. But it could have been there by 4:25. And, while every minute of that hour and 55-minute delay after Sund’s first ask for help will need to be accounted for, the bigger question is why it was such an emergency to begin with. Why the Capitol Police just had a few little barriers up that the insurrectionists could go straight through and had only 170 officers in riot gear. Why the small number of National Guard troops active in the District that day were blocked from “interacting with” the crowd of Trump supporters in town at Trump’s bidding. Why the Pentagon has changed its story about the lead-up to Jan. 6 and that 2:30 phone call. Why Sund had told members of Congress that he was totally prepared for what was coming on Jan. 6, only to be so badly underprepared. Why Irving waited half an hour before asking Pelosi for permission to ask for a National Guard deployment, which he could have asked for on his own anyway.
We know why this mob was in Washington, D.C.: because Trump asked them to be there. We know what they wanted to do: prevent Congress from certifying the results of the election. And maybe “hang Mike Pence” if they had the chance. But their unprecedented success, the first time the Capitol has been stormed since the War of 1812, the first time the Confederate flag has been carried inside the Capitol ever, that was due to failures at every level of law enforcement to take the threat seriously and respond accordingly. The leaders involved in that failure need to answer for it, in detail.