Federal authorities had planned to meet this week’s protests with a relatively small and invisible presence, according to police. They thus hoped to avoid disturbing the tensions that had been present during the show of force during last year’s unrest in Portland, Oregon and other cities.
This approach appeared to have returned on Wednesday, when thousands of Trump rebels surrounded the Capitol and some easily crossed barriers to storm the building. One woman was shot and killed by Capitol police, police said, and three others were also killed in “separate medical emergencies,” police said. chief of city police.
Some rebels used what he called “annoying chemicals” in exchange for police controlling access to the building.
The small group of Capitol Hill police officers who guarded the building as parliamentarians began a joint session between the two houses of Congress to count the votes of voters in the wake of the 2020 presidential election quickly declined. as the performers approached the building. Once inside, the latter entered the office of parliamentarians and circulated freely.
Officials say they expected relatively small fights, comparable to those that had broken out between right-wing extremists and extreme left-wing groups after dark during similar protests in November.
“Capitol police were not prepared for a demonstration of this magnitude,” said David Gomez, a retired FBI chief. When the rebels broke into the Capitol, other federal law enforcement agencies were slow to respond, either because of reverence for President Trump or because of lack of experience in dealing with insurgents, which is not their primary mission, Mr. Gomez said. “Until they invaded the Capitol, it was possible that it was just a large demonstration that did not cross barriers. Once they have done that, [les forces de l’ordre] was overwhelmed and could no longer intervene quickly enough, ”he adds.
Defense Department officials said earlier that they expected a division of about 350 Washington National Guard personnel would be sufficient to support Washington police during this week’s protests, with the main task of assisting with traffic control. They wanted to avoid the prospect of having federal military personnel on the Capitol steps, and had ordered agents to avoid positioning themselves in downtown Washington, east of 9e street, a few blocks from the Capitol, officials said.
After the building was invaded, the Ministry of Defense announced that it would distribute 1,100 new members of the National Guard, but the places where they were to be – on the Capitol or elsewhere in the district – were not clearly announced.
This reaction is very different from last year’s Trump administration in the face of protests against racial justice. Federal agents in rebel equipment had sometimes used force. In June, for example, federal police were heavily criticized for using tear gas to disperse a largely peaceful crowd in Lafayette Square, near the White House, shortly before Trump took office. goes to St. John’s Episcopal Church (editorial note with the nickname Presidents’ Church), next to the park, to stand in front, Bible in hand.
“We have fully mobilized the Washington National Guard to assist federal and local police in their efforts to resolve the situation peacefully,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. We are ready to provide extra support if necessary and customized request from local authorities. “
Last Wednesday, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state would send 1,000 National Guard troops to Washington. “New York is ready to help the will of the American people be followed safely,” he tweeted.
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen condemned the events on Capitol Hill, which he defined as “an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy.” Rosen explained that the Department of Justice sent agents from the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service to support the Capitol Police. .
In addition, agents from the Washington Metropolitan Police Department have been sent to Capitol Hill to help restore order, clean up the building and establish a security border, said Mayor Muriel Bowser. At his request, police forces in the states of Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia have stepped in to come to the aid after the implementation of a mutual assistance agreement with the police services in several surrounding territories. As of Wednesday night, there had been at least 52 arrests, including four for carrying a gun without a license, one for possession of a prohibited weapon and 47 for violating the curfew and burglary. 26 of these arrests took place on Capitol Hill, police said.
The Capitol Police is the federal law enforcement agency tasked with protecting members of Congress and buildings. It has around 1,900 agents, according to the website.
The incidents she has to deal with are usually easier than the other police forces that face the streets and investigate cases. The numbers grew only after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and then again after the merger with the Library of Congress Police in 2009.
Some of the members were present and were even affected when Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (Louisiana) was seriously injured in 2017 during an outdoor baseball practice before the annual congressional charity game. The parliamentarians who also took part in this incident attributed their survival to the intervention of the Capitol police.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky), who was on strike when the shots were fired, said at the time on MSNBC: “I probably heard 50, 60 shots.” Before adding: “Everyone would probably have died if the Capitol police had not been there. “
However, Wednesday’s rebellion against Trump raises the question of whether the Capitol Police are equipped to deal with major threats and violence.
Former Senate historian Donald Ritchie believes the Capitol Police can be cleared of misinterpreting the intentions of the pro-Trump mob. “What happened is not at all in line with the way the Americans are protesting and regrouping or express their political convictions Mr. Ritchie remembers and noted that the Capitol has seen massive protests over a myriad of problems throughout history. “I am amazed at what happened for the same reasons that the police were amazed at what happened,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic has also created new problems for this police service.
As congressional activities continued during the pandemic, at least a dozen officers tested positive for the coronavirus in May 2020. They then expressed concerns about working conditions, as previously revealed by Wall Street Journal.
Nancy Youssef and Jess Bravin contributed to this article