If you listened to Steven Sund, the former police chief who resigned as head of the Capitol Police, speaking Tuesday before Congress, he said that the breach of the Capitol was based upon a “clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence across several federal agencies.” Sund says that due to flawed intelligence reports, he was only able to judge the danger posted by the January 6 protests as being similar in scale to other pro-Trump rallies in the past. Where this starts to fall apart, is the publication by the Washington Post of a January 3 memo Sund received, which pretty much blows that alibi out of the water.
“Due to the tense political environment following the 2020 election, the threat of disruptive actions or violence cannot be ruled out. Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021, as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election. This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent. Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th. As outlined above, there has been a worrisome call for protesters to come to these events armed and there is the possibility that protesters may be inclined to become violent. Further, unlike the events on November 14, 2020, and December 12, 2020, there are several more protests scheduled on January 6, 2021, and the majority of them will be on Capitol grounds. The two protests expected to be the largest of the day – the Women for American First protest on the Ellipse and the Stop the Steal protest in Areas 8 and 9 — may draw thousands of participants and both have been promoted by President Trump himself. The Stop the Steal protest in particular does not have a permit, but several high profile speakers, including Members of Congress are expected to speak at the event. This combined with Stop the Steal’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence, may lead to significantly dangerous situations for law enforcement and the general public alike.”
As Patrick Leahy, the Democratic Senator from Vermont said, “How much more intelligence do you need than that?” Dan Froomkin, Press Watch:
The point is that clearly something else was going on in Sund’s head to reduce his sense of alarm. And if you think about it for just an instant, you know exactly what it was.
As Rep. Cori Bush – a veteran of many Black Lives Matter protests – put it on MSNBC the very evening of the insurrection: “Had it been people who look like me, had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and brown, we wouldn’t have made it up those steps… we would have been shot, we would have been tear gassed.”
The reporting on this element of the story – why Sund and the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, also older white males, weren’t particularly alarmed by the MAGA horde – has been terrible. Nearly nonexistent.
The one exception has been an article by Joaquin Sapien and Joshua Kaplan for ProPublica, based on interviews with 19 current and former U.S. Capitol Police officers. They reported:
The interviews… revealed officers’ concerns about disparities in the way the force prepared for Black Lives Matter demonstrations versus the pro-Trump protests on Jan. 6. Officers said the Capitol Police force usually plans intensively for protests, even if they are deemed unlikely to grow violent. Officers said they spent weeks working 12- or 16-hour days, poised to fight off a riot, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police — even though intelligence suggested there was not much danger from protesters.
“We had intel that nothing was going to happen — literally nothing,” said one former official with direct knowledge of planning for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “The response was, ‘We don’t trust the intel.’”
By contrast, for much of the force, Jan. 6 began like any other day.
“We normally have pretty good information regarding where these people are and how far they are from the Capitol,” said Keith McFaden, a former Capitol Police officer and union leader who retired from the force following the riot. “We heard nothing that day.”
But nobody at the Senate hearing even mentioned the issue of race. Not once.
Here’s the bottom line: If the Capitol Police were complicit in this endeavor, or alternatively, more laid back and unconcerned than they should have been, because, after all, this was a crowd of white, pro-Trumpers, as opposed to people of color, then that speaks to the issue of systemic racism probably more loudly and eloquently than anything that we have seen in many years. If you’re white, you can go berserk and run amok. If you’re a POC, good luck to you getting away with your life from a traffic stop. For that matter, good luck staying alive in your own bed if the cops break down the wrong door.
And so this goes to a 9/11-esque explanation, which is that 1. There was intelligence available BUT 2. It was not properly shared or understood.
The fact that an FBI warning about potential violence at the Capitol was sent via email—and not forwarded to the Capitol Police chief, according to his testimony—is very reminiscent of what happened pre-9/11. There was intelligence, but it wasn’t properly shared and understood.
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) February 23, 2021
But everyone paying attention at the time realized the Capitol was going to be the target on Jan. 6. And while in retrospect it all seems inevitable, this momentous event in our history could very likely have been nipped in the bud by better preparation. Tear gas is very effective.
Similarly, while some of the insurrectionists were clearly coordinated, there is still no evidence that this wasn’t at heart, at least for some of them, a crime of opportunity: The hordes arrived at the Capitol, screaming mad, and – amazingly enough – were able to get in. While some appeared to be looking for victims, some of them simply wandered around taking selfies. Could they really have expected the Capitol to fall so easily?
There is no excuse for Sund and the Capitol Police to not have been much more effective in protecting the Capitol, in light of developments that everybody knew about, via the media and developments that were specified in their internal intelligence. This was a bad misfire, any way you look at it.