The District of Columbia is filled with an alphabet soup of police agencies that operate within the city. With the largest number of police officers per capita of any city in the United States, why were there not enough forces at the ready to protect the thousands of people who work in the U.S. Capitol complex, including many of our neighbors in Loudoun County and across Northern Virginia?
Police agencies had plenty of notice about the potential for violence at the “Stop the Steal” event of Jan. 6. Local leaders in surrounding jurisdictions, including Loudoun County Board Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), urged any constituents thinking about counter-protesting to stay away from D.C. out of concern for their safety.
In the days leading up to Wednesday, it was clear the event had all the makings of another Charlottesville — but on a much larger scale — if proper security measures were not taken. Right-wing extremist groups had chattered online about their plans to react violently to the final step of certifying Trump’s 2020 election defeat.
And federal and local law enforcement were openly talking about security concerns they had in the days leading up to Wednesday’s rally.
But rather than acting on those concerns, the U.S. Capitol complex was left exposed to Trump’s followers.
Among the Capitol Police officers who were on duty Wednesday, some were seen removing barricades so Trump supporters could enter the Capitol complex. Once the rioters were inside the Capitol, videos posted to Twitter showed a Capitol Police officer taking a selfie with a Trump supporter.
Other Capitol Police officers were caught on camera actually performing their duties. One Black officer was attempting to hold back a rampage of Trump rioters but was forced to retreat until backup arrived.
Two pipe bombs and a cooler of Molotov cocktails were found near the U.S. Capitol as the takeover of the complex was gaining momentum, according to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
Even the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union and strong supporters of Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, called on the president to “forcefully urge” protestors to end their siege of the Capitol, labeling the riots unlawful activity.
Despite a 6 p.m. curfew, the situation remained tense at the Capitol and across downtown D.C. through Thursday morning.
Federal lawmakers began calling for an investigation into the U.S. Capitol Police’s inability to secure the complex and why the rioters were not arrested upon exiting the building.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, blasted the Capitol Police for its failure to protect the Capitol.
“The Capitol Police were unprepared, ineffective and some were complicit. All of them should be held to account,” Fudge said.
In Loudoun County, Board Chairwoman Randall had been in close contact with local officials, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, about the best ways to protect their constituents leading up to Wednesday’s “Stop the Steal” event.
Randall predicted Trump’s supporters would react violently in the face of counter-protesters. That’s why she encouraged local residents opposed to Trump’s presidency to stay away from downtown.
But the “Stop the Steal” crowd did not need political adversaries to provoke them into turning a day designed to symbolize the peaceful transfer of power into what long-time Washington Post reporter Dan Balz concluded “will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of the United States.”
Disgusted by what she saw happening at the Capitol, Randall responded to people expressing surprise by the actions of Trump’s followers.
“Please stop asking who could have seen this coming,” she tweeted. “Who the hell didn’t see this coming?”