Nearly two months after insurrectionists violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers are asking those tasked with protection why there seemed to be so little during the January 6 riot that left five people dead.
On Wednesday, March 3, national security officials testified in the second Senate hearing on the deadly Jan. 6 attack, which is being held in an effort to better understand why security officials were ill-prepared for the insurrection despite intelligence identifying the potential for violence at the Capitol.
On Jan. 6, a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, forcing elected officials, staff and journalists to flee for their lives as insurrectionists -- some armed with weapons -- looted and wreaked havoc on government property in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Five people died during or as a result of the violence that day, including a police officer.
During the first Senate hearing on the insurrection, former security officials testified that bad intelligence was to blame for the failure to anticipate the violent intentions of the pro-Trump mob. An internal FBI report was published on Jan. 5 that suggested the extremists were preparing for “war.” Washington security officials claim they were not sufficiently notified of the report in time to prepare for such an attack the next day.
Though the FBI’s report was released just one day ahead of the deadly insurrection, several news outlets reported long before Jan. 6 that extremists were planning to riot and storm the Capitol as members of congress met to certify now-President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters from Michigan led the Senate’s second hearing as Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in conjunction with the Rules and Administration Committee, to press for explanations regarding the intelligence shortcomings and the botched effort to quickly deploy National Guard troops to the site of the insurrection.
“There were clear intelligence failures; important information didn’t get into the hands of people who needed to see it,” Sen. Peters said during an MSNBC interview Wednesday morning, ahead of the hearing. “When you’re talking about intelligence to act on, there was plenty of information out -- you didn’t need to be a sophisticated intelligence analyst to know what was happening online, that violence was likely to result from the mob that was going to gather on the Capitol grounds. It was very clear that there should have been better preparation.
“But there was also more specific intelligence that was available that didn’t get disseminated properly,” Peters added.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the head of the National Guard for Washington, D.C., Maj. Gen. William Walker, says that troops were deployed to Capitol grounds far later than they should have been because the Pentagon was concerned about “optics.”
Walker says he received an “unusual” memo from the Pentagon on Jan. 5 requiring him to seek advance authorization from the secretary of the Army and the secretary of defense for specific measures and equipment, like weapons and body armor, to be used on Jan. 6. According to Walker’s testimony, senior Army leaders reportedly opposed sending uniformed troops to the Capitol amid the attack, because they “did not think that it looked good.”
Sen. Peters says the disconnect between security officials on the ground that day and senior leaders appears to be to blame for the delay in sending soldiers to protect the Capitol and those inside.
“Last week, I asked the chief of D.C. police, and he talked about how he was stunned by the tepid response that he got from the Pentagon and the secretary of Army’s office,” Peters said Wednesday morning of the request for Nation Guard troops on Jan. 6. “We heard from the former chief of the Capitol police that he was basically pleading for assistance. And today, we’re going to hear from Gen. Walker who was on that call, as well. And certainly, he believed that he should have had the authority to act much quicker. He had people in place, and he is sure that, had he been able to deploy those folks earlier, it would have had an impact on the violent mob that was assaulting the Capitol.”
During his testimony Wednesday, Gen. Walker noted that the Pentagon did not express any concerns about “optics” when the Washington, D.C. National Guard was called out in response to civil justice demonstrations during the spring and summer of 2020.
Walker is not the only individual to compare security planning for the Jan. 6 riot with preparations made ahead of civil rights and social justice protests in Washington. Far more advanced security measures were in place during the largely peaceful civil justice protests last year, compared to the lack of security measures in place for the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Sen. Peters is hoping to identify why D.C. and Capitol security officials did not appropriately plan for the arrival of the pro-Trump mob after showcasing their ability to implement security procedures on Capitol grounds ahead of protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
“It is stunning. It is stunning that it is a surprise. There should have been, certainly, force necessary to stop an attack of this magnitude ... There is no question that those preparations were not made,” Peters said Wednesday. “I think you’ll also hear (in Wednesday’s hearing) that there was a difference in preparations for this event, despite all of what we saw online, than what occurred during the protest in the summer here in Washington, D.C., after the murder of George Floyd. So the question is: Why were the preparations for this event on January 6 -- that, clearly there was immense traffic about it turning violent -- why was the preparation so different than what we saw during the summer?”
The rise of extremist and domestic terror groups -- especially white nationalist extremists, like those tied to the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol -- have officials and the public concerned, especially amid reports of another “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
Sen. Peters says he intends to continue pushing the Department of Homeland Security to address these domestic terrorism threats -- which officials say are now the primary threat to the United States.
“There is no question the rise of violent extremist groups have increased, particularly over the last four years, and ... the insidious ideology of white supremacy is a big factor in that,” Peters said on MSNBC. “I’ve been trying to get more information from the Department of Homeland Security as to how they prioritized this over the last few years -- in fact, we had helped pass legislation to get more data from the Department of Homeland Security (and) FBI as to what they’re seeing and how are they prioritizing this threat within their department. That report is still not forthcoming; it’s eight months late.
“I’ve talked to our incoming Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary Mayorkas -- I will tell you, he’s definitely focused on this in a way that we did not see in the former administration,” Peters continued. “He is making this a priority. In fact, I had a very detailed conversation with him at the end of last week, and I am confident that we are going to see a major difference in how this threat is being approached by the current administration, and we’re going to keep pressing to make sure that actually occurs.”
According to the acting Capitol police chief, there has reportedly been a more than 93% increase in the number of threats received by congress members in the first two months of 2021 compared to the first two months of 2020. The acting chief also reported a more than 118% increase in total threats received from 2017 to 2020.
On Wednesday, the Senate appointed a new sergeant at arms after former official Michael Stenger resigned after the riot. Stenger was temporarily replaced by an acting official, who has now been officially replaced by retired Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson.
The Latest: Senate names new sergeant at arms after riot
Capitol Police say they have uncovered intelligence of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, nearly two months after a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the iconic building to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden’s victory.
The threat appears to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that Trump will rise again to power on March 4. That was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.
Online chatter identified by authorities included discussions among members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group, concerning possible plots against the Capitol on Thursday, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The announcement comes as the Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies are taking heat from Congress in contentious hearings this week on their handling of the Jan. 6 riot. Police were ill-prepared for the mass of Trump supporters in tactical gear, some armed, and it took hours for National Guard reinforcements to come. By then, rioters had broken and smashed their way into the building and roamed the halls for hours, stalling Congress’ certification effort temporarily and sending lawmakers into hiding.