What makes the news and images of the scene at the U.S. Capitol Building yesterday especially shocking to our system is that it wasn’t just an attack on a government building, but an attack on all of us. This is no mere cliche: ours is a government of, by, and for the people, and the Capitol—more than any other structure—symbolizes that representative government.
Many talking heads have mentioned that this was the first breach at the Capitol since 1814. That’s terribly inaccurate. In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists demanding independence for their county breached security and shot and injured five Members of Congress. In 1915, 1971, and 1983, radicals set bombs off in the building. In 1998, two Capitol police officers were shot and killed by a deranged gunman.
In 2001, al Qaeda hijackers are believed to have targeted the Capitol Building’s famous dome before brave passengers downed United Flight 93. Indeed, the iconic building has long been a target, and it will remain one.
As the news continues to be reported in the near aftermath of the terrible events yesterday, it is important to know that there are a lot facts that will continue to spill in over the next few days. For instance, we still don’t know the full circumstances behind the shooting death of Ashli Babbitt, the 35 year-old military veteran killed inside the building. We don’t know the identity of the culprit(s) behind the two live pipe bombs found by the Republican and Democratic National Committee offices. And I suspect that we will learn much more about the vile miscreants we’ve seen in the House of Representatives and within their offices in countless photos. Investigators are busily examining all the pictures and video right now and will most assuredly track down most, if not all, of the people that can be seen. The FBI has established a tip line for this very purpose.
There can be no question that security failed yesterday. The chief question is why the Capitol was so underprepared for the violence that surely should have been gamed out as soon as security officials learned weeks ago that the President was summoning—and indeed enflaming—large numbers of people to come protest there on January 6. Anyone even casually scanning social media knew that there would be an angry crowd bused in from around the nation who have been told repeatedly that the election was stolen from them. Violence should have been anticipated if not expected.
While the security failure was in poor planning, the response by security and law enforcment officers inside the building was impressive. The tragic shooting aside, all Members of Congress and the Vice President (who at the moment was being actively attacked by the President via social media) were safely kept from harm. I’m also surprised to find that there seems to have been very little physical damage to the interior of the building, including the important paintings and sculptures within. While the art might at first glance seem relatively unimportant, these precious works belong to the people of this country and are important historic icons of our nation’s history and the people who formed it.
A constant quesiton has been “Where was the National Guard?” Here’s what we know so far: in anticipation of the protests, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier in the week requested 350 National Guardsmen to the area, but specifically asked that they not be armed and that they perform traffic duty and crowd control but not specific Capitol Building protection. This makes sense: protection of the Capitol Building is not under her purview.
When protesters headed to the building, Mayor Bowser requested additional National Guard be deployed. Defense officials originally expressed concern, because it had been agreed that Guardsmen would not be in contact with civilians in order to avoid politicizing the military. Before one criticizes this reaction, one must recall that earlier in the week there were fears that the President might use the military to interfere with the transfer of power. So, it’s understandable that optics came into consideration.
Among the most unfortunate byproducts of yesterday’s violence has been the foolish claims that the invaders were actually Antifa posing as Trump supporters. Ridiculous conspiracy theories always arise when people don’t want to accept an ugly truth. Analysis has shown that every claim of “masquerading Antifa” has been debunked. We know who this was, we know why they did it, and we know what has to happen now: condemnation and vigorous prosecutions.