How pro-Trump rioters ransacked the Capitol with so little resistance

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Supporters of President Donald Trump take over balconies and inauguration scaffolding at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty
  • Pro-Trump protesters entered the US Capitol and ransacked congressional offices with apparent ease on Wednesday.
  • Capitol Police officers, whose jobs are to protect the building, were outnumbered and ill equipped, former law-enforcement officials told news outlets.
  • Videos posted to social media showed officers removing a fence that was preventing rioters from advancing to the Capitol, and taking selfies with a protester.
  • Members of Congress have called for an inquiry into how the heart of the US government was compromised with such ease.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Wednesday, thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed and occupied the US Capitol, ransacking congressional offices and damaging government property, while chanting for the 2020 presidential election result to be overturned.

It took four hours for the Capitol Police, assisted by the DC Police, FBI, and National Guard, to secure the complex, with lawmakers and former law-enforcement officials subsequently slamming the response and demanding answers as to how the heart of the US government was breached so easily.

That protesters planned to march on the Capitol was public knowledge from as early as December 28, with flyers posted across pro-Trump websites and forums.

Here’s what went wrong, according to politicians, experts, and former law-enforcement officials. Insider has contacted the Capitol Police for comment for this article.

‘We saw the results of the inadequate security’

The Capitol Police force, which is tasked with protecting the complex, had underestimated the threat posed by the protesters and failed to prepare.

“They were overwhelmed, they did not have the resources,” Charles Ramsey, a former Washington, DC, police chief, told The New York Times. “You have to be able to protect the Capitol. That is not OK.”

Many of the advancing protesters wore body armour and sprayed chemical solutions at Capitol Police officers, many of whom did not have riot gear on.

Thomas Graham, a former New York Police Department deputy chief, also told The Daily Beast that the carnage was a result of a “piss-poor planning performance.”

“They weren’t prepared for whatever reason. They weren’t prepared to protect the Capitol. Shame on them,” Graham said.

It was public knowledge from as early as December 28 that a pro-Trump protest group was to march on the Capitol on January 6. The president himself had promised “wild” protests in Washington, DC, on Twitter on December 19.

“It’s not a spur-of-the-moment demonstration that just popped up,” Larry Schaefer, who retired from the Capitol Police in 2019 after more than 20 years of service, told ProPublica.

“We have a planned, known demonstration that has a propensity for violence in the past and threats to carry weapons — why would you not prepare yourself as we have done in the past?”


Read more:
Lawmakers, Hill staffers, and reporters recount the harrowing experience as a violent pro-Trump mob broke into the Capitol to protest the electoral-vote count

Capitol Police thought they could manage the protest

According to The Washington Post, the Capitol Police felt that they had the situation under control as protesters marched toward the Capitol.

The Capitol Police and some other federal agencies appeared to underestimate the potential threat from the Trump supporters, The Post said.

Rep. Maxine Waters tweeted on Wednesday that she had spoken with Capitol Police chief Steven Sund earlier this week, who assured her the complex would be secured.

“I warned our Caucus and had an hour-long conversation with the Chief of Police 4 days ago. He assured me the terrorists would not be allowed on the plaza & Capitol secured,” she wrote, referring to the Trump supporters who stormed the building.

When the mob entered the complex, the Capitol Police were unable to muster enough forces to create a significant response to the crowds, according to Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD detective sergeant.

US Capitol police
Capitol Police hold protesters at gunpoint near the House Chamber inside the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Andrew Harnik/AP

Giacalone told The Daily Beast that if this happened in New York City, “you could have 750 cops there within an hour.”

They “don’t have the kind of personnel to do that” in DC, he told the outlet.

The NYPD employs 36,000 officers, while the Capitol Police has 2,300 employees, including officers and civilians.

On Wednesday, the Capitol Police force was also down several officers “because they had been infected with the coronavirus or exposed to someone in a way that required quarantine” The Post reported, citing a source.

A second law-enforcement source told The Post: “Bottom line, there just wasn’t enough personnel to prevent a mob from pushing in.”

Capitol riot protestors
Capitol Police officers try to stop Trump supporters from entering the Capitol on January 6, 2021. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Asides from an insufficient body count, the barricades and fencing around the Capitol also seemed sub par, according to people who were at the complex the night before the protest.

‘”I drove around Capitol Hill last night as we prepared to cover the protests and we thought to ourselves ‘wow, there’s very little extra security’ except metal barricades that are easy to hop over,” Washington, DC-Politico reporter Daniel Lippman tweetedWednesday.

“Today we saw the results of the inadequate security.”

However, Dennis Franks, a retired FBI supervisory special agent, told The Daily Beast that the muted response could have been “an effort to be lowkey” but “if it was, that effort didn’t work.”

And Kim Dine, chief of the Capitol Police from 2012 to 2016, told The Post: “How it happened, I can’t figure that out.”

Police felt powerless to stop the mob

There is also evidence suggesting that overwhelmed law-enforcement officials were content to let the protesters go about their business, understanding they had no hope of repelling them.

Reporters from The New York Times said they asked one Capitol Police officer why his colleagues weren’t expelling protesters who had broken into the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The officer said, according to The Times: “We’ve just got to let them do their thing now.”

Outside the building, a video posted to TikTok and which spread widely on Twitter late Wednesday, showed a crowd of pro-Trump protesters rushing toward the Capitol after four Capitol Police officers pulled apart a metal fence that had prevented protesters from getting closer.

Of the video, Rep. Tim Ryan, who chairs a congressional subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police budget, told Politico: “I have no idea why that would be permissible… We’ll be looking at all of that.”

In another video, posted to Twitter by the civil-rights organisation NAACP, an apparently passive Capitol Police officer can be seen posing for a selfie with a pro-Trump protester inside the Capitol.

Several members of Congress have called for an investigation into the law-enforcement response to the mob.

“We need a full investigation on how the Capitol’s security was breached this quickly,” Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted early Thursday.

“As the ranking member on the committee that funds the Capitol Police, I intend to be at the forefront of that inquiry.”

Rep. Tim Ryan told Politico: “You can bet your arse that we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”

The embarrassment deepened for Capitol Police late on Wednesday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said he would deploy 1,000 members of the New York National Guard to Washington for up to two weeks to protect the complex.

While many slammed the police response, Michel Moore, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, told The New York Times that officers should not be blamed.

“They used violence against police. They attacked the sacred Capitol and the Rotunda and then used tear gas or chemical agents, and physical attacks,” he said, adding that the rioters were “people who are hell bent on destruction.”

‘There should be a pile of resignations’

Politicians and former law-enforcement officials said they expected resignations or firings in droves after the scenes on Capitol Hill.

“I think it’s pretty clear that there are going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon,” Ryan told Politico.

“There was not supposed to be anyone near the Capitol. You would be reasonably close, to be able to protest and express your view, but nobody belongs on the Capitol plaza, nobody ever goes on the Capitol steps, that is an illegal act.”

Giacalone, the former NYPD detective sergeant, also said: “There should be a pile of resignations from command staff on somebody’s desk tonight.”