The storming of the Capitol Building on Jan. 6th by unhinged, anti-American traitors was a terrible blow to our democracy. The pure definition of a putsch, what Americans saw on their TVs, phones and computers were scenes previously only seen in faraway countries or in chapters of history books covering early 20th century Germany. The strength of our governmental institutions was undeniably shaken; domestic terrorists, encouraged and emboldened by the sitting president, forced their way into the literal heart of the American government to overthrow a free and fair election in which their candidate sorely lost.
How was this able to happen in the first place? How was a violent mob able to successfully gain entrance into the Capitol at all? This answer lies in the dismal failure of the United States Capitol Police leadership. The violent mob was able to overwhelm and break through Capitol grounds security after an hour-long clash outside due to, as the opening statement of acting Chief of the Capitol Police Yogananda D. Pittman’s testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations indicates, the severely insufficient manpower of the officers against the insurrectionists, lack of clear lines of communication between officers and leadership and inability for the Capitol to be securely locked down as the mob approached. According to Pittman, Capitol police only had 1,200 officers working on site that day, of which, only 170 were equipped with riot gear. This puny force had zero chance against tens of thousands of seething, violent Trump-supporting insurrectionists.
I think Pittman’s assessment is an understatement. Poor communication, lacking sufficient supplies and struggling to carry out orders does not explain why a few capitol police officers removed some barricades themselves to allow insurrectionists through. Or, why the Pentagon withheld the sending of D.C. National Guard, despite former Chief of the Capitol Police Steven Sund and Mayor of D.C. Muriel Bowser pleading for help. This was completely avoidable, yet was not prevented due to, I believe, utter incompetence.
What are the solutions, then? How is an event like this to be prevented in the future? Pittman stated in a press release that “vast improvements” ought to be made to the physical security of the Capitol Complex. These vast improvements include “permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol.” The release was brief, but I have no doubt that among these considerations, in addition to the fencing idea, is the further restriction of the public to the Capitol. I unequivocally disagree with both of these recommendations.
Having visited D.C. and all of the wonderful buildings and monuments within it, I can say that restricting access to the Capitol is a mistake. The people should always be able to enjoy visiting the center of their government and the public spaces laid out for them. Politicians should not be locked away inside far removed from the public. The history and majesty of the Capitol Building, the National Mall and all of our beautiful and meaningful monuments are too precious to have the public shut out from them.
Instead of instituting unnecessary restrictions and likely unsuccessful new permanent fencing, the Capitol Police Department, the government of D.C., Congress and the Pentagon should investigate and resolve why exactly they failed in protecting the physical safety of members of Congress and the Capitol. It seems to me that the number one failing was not the barriers or the number of rioters, but rather incompetence. Had the force of officers on duty been increased, had a larger number of those officers been equipped with riot gear, had the National Guard been dispatched to the scene in a reasonable amount of time, had Sund’s request for National Guard support two days before the storming been granted instead of denied — we would have had a much different outcome. The failure of the Capitol police was simply not due to the lack of a physical barrier. It was due to incompetence.