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The New York Times

Inside a Deadly Siege: How a Series of Mistakes Caused a Dark Day on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON – Crammed into an operations center Wednesday afternoon, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and her aides saw a photograph showing bloodstains on a temporary Capitol grandstand, a makeshift structure built for the new president’s inauguration in two weeks. The enormity of the lethal failure was evident. A group of rioters had broken through the thin police fence on the steps of the Capitol and was looking for hundreds of legislators who were performing the quadrennial ceremonial act of certifying the presidential vote. And the mayor and her team hadn’t been able to stop the attack. Bowser and his chief of police called the Pentagon to request that they mobilize additional troops from the DC National Guard to support what authorities realized was inadequate protection on Capitol Hill. But they were told that such a request had to come first from the Capitol Police. In a call to Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, they learned that their force was under siege, that lawmakers were quickly being brought to safety, and that the insurgents were trampling on any hint of authority. Sund kept repeating the same phrase: “The situation is critical.” To cut to the chase, one person on the call asked a blunt question: “Chief Sund, are you requesting the presence of National Guard troops on the Capitol grounds?” There was a pause. “Yes,” Sund replied. However, days before, the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police of the city had rejected several offers of greater support from the National Guard – except for a relatively modest contingent to control traffic – so no additional soldiers were scheduled. on hold. It took them hours to get there. That was just one of a dizzying list of mistakes made that day – and in the weeks leading up to it – that resulted in the first occupation of the United States Capitol since British troops burned the building during the Anglo-American War of 1812. But in this time, the death and destruction were caused by Americans, united in favor of the incendiary rhetoric of an American president who refused to accept the will of more than 81 million other Americans who had decided to remove him through vote. President Donald Trump’s call at a rally earlier that day for the crowd to march on the nearby Capitol was undoubtedly a spark that helped ignite the deadly riots that left five dead – including a government official. police and a woman who broke into the building — dozens injured and damage to the country’s reputation for peaceful transfers of power. Yet the fuel from that fire had been building up for months, with every tweet that the election had been stolen, every refusal by Republican lawmakers to recognize Joe Biden as the next president, and every incendiary “whistle for dogs ”that emboldened white supremacist groups to attack violently. It will take months or even years to complete a full reckoning, and many lawmakers have already called for a formal commission to launch an investigation. However, an initial analysis of the siege by The New York Times revealed numerous flaws. The chaos demonstrated that government agencies do not have a coordinated plan to defend against an attack on the Capitol – especially one specifically targeting powerful elected officials – even as law enforcement agencies have been warning for years of the growing threat of domestic terrorism. QAnon, a well-represented online conspiracy group among the insurgents, has been labeled a national terrorist threat by the FBI. During the days leading up to the riots, federal agencies and the Capitol Police apparently did not issue any serious warnings that the rally could turn violent, despite countless posts on social media and right-wing websites that promised clashes and even bloodshed. The Department of Homeland Security convened local law enforcement agencies for a meeting in its crisis room – held online during the pandemic – just the day before the riots, which some security experts say was too late. Poor planning and communication between a constellation of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies disabled the response to the riots. Once the Capitol’s security fence was breached, a makeshift amalgam of reinforcements was forced to attempt to navigate a labyrinthine complex of unfamiliar passages and paths that would prove dangerous. Above all, the fiasco demonstrated that government agencies were unprepared for a threat that, until recently, seemed unimaginable: when the person inciting violence is the president of the United States. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department did not respond to requests for comment. Bowser’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, said Defense Department officials were the ones who determined the number of personnel deployed. But Pentagon officials said they made those decisions based on the specific requests they received. The recriminations began almost immediately, and the violence also brought with it a sad reality: the country was lucky. Hundreds of insurgents with long guns and Molotov cocktails stormed the seat of US power, some with the clear intention of injuring, taking hostages or even assassinating federal officials to prevent them from certifying the elections. In the end, all the legislators were able to be brought to safety. “It was an enormously embarrassing failure that immediately became an infamous moment in American history,” said RP Eddy, a former diplomat and counterterrorism official who now runs a private intelligence company. “But it could have been a lot worse.” Within minutes of the mob storming the Capitol, the insurgents began pounding on the doors of the gallery of the House of Representatives, where a group of nearly two dozen legislators were trapped. The sounds of breaking glass echoed through the chamber. “I thought we would have to hold out as long as possible or fight to get out,” said Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army ranger who was in Iraq. “It was a pretty dangerous situation.” An outnumbered group of Capitol Police had tried various tactics to keep the riots at bay: They put up barricades, used pepper spray and tried to block the crowd at the doors and windows of the building. All these measures failed. As the mob entered the Capitol, Senator Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, said a quick prayer. As he and the other senators walked out of the chamber into the basement, an officer asked them to hurry because the rioters were hot on their heels. “’Move faster people, you’re right behind us,’ the officer said. It was serious, ”Cramer recalled. Out of imminent danger, the senators took the roll. Four senators were missing, including Tammy Duckworth, a Democratic senator from Illinois, who uses a wheelchair due to injuries she suffered in Iraq. He had barricaded himself in his office. Inside the safe haven, some senators grew increasingly enraged at Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who had vowed to fight voter certification unless a commission was established to investigate the unsubstantiated claims. Trump on electoral fraud. Sen. Joe Manchin III, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, said he had approached Republican Senators Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma who planned to oppose the election result to send a message. “’Steve, come on, you don’t want to be a part of this,’” Manchin recalls saying. “I said, ‘James, you’re better than this.’ Manchin said both were affected by the exhortations, but Hawley showed no remorse. “Josh Hawley started all of this, and everyone who helped him, everyone must be held accountable,” Manchin said. When asked for a response, spokesmen for Hawley said he was quick to condemn the violence and never claimed widespread voter fraud existed, but only made a specific argument about voting by mail in Pennsylvania. Hawley has declined to give interviews after the riots. For others, the blame for the debacle is much broader. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said she and other senators are investigating what went wrong and are focusing on how to keep Biden’s inauguration ceremony safe. “Clearly there must be a restructuring of security,” he said. But ultimately, he said, the blame rests with the president of the United States. “He convinced them that this was just cause to make an insurrection,” Klobuchar said. “And they did.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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