Police were ill-prepared and made fateful mistakes that allowed a pro-Trump protest to morph into an unprecedented and protracted sacking of the Capitol on Wednesday, experts told The Daily Beast.
They said the mob’s breach of the building, after President Trump exhorted them to “fight like hell” to overturn the election, could have been avoided with some basic policing protocols—and heads should roll for the deadly debacle.
“This was a piss-poor planning performance,” said retired NYPD Deputy Chief Thomas Graham, former commanding officer of the department’s Civil Disorder Unit. “They weren’t prepared for whatever reason. They weren’t prepared to protect the Capitol. Shame on them.”
Americans watching on television saw rioters, some armed, burst through barricades, pepper-spray Capitol police, smash windows, pound on doors, and ransack offices.
One group of insurrectionists took over the Senate floor; another attempted to rush the House chamber but was stopped by police with their guns drawn. Swarms scaled the facade and hung Trump banners from balconies and scaffolding.
The surreal scenes included police officers taking selfies with the MAGA hordes milling around the building—and disturbing footage of one of the intruders being fatally shot in a chaotic clash.
To Graham’s mind, the biggest mistake was elementary: Capitol Police “let them get close to the building and that’s a no-no,” he said, referring to the rioters.
It appeared the police underestimated the potential for violence outside the building where Congress was counting the Electoral College votes that would certify that Joe Biden was elected president.
Graham noted that from what he could see, only a few of the Capitol officers had riot shields. He did not see many wearing riot helmets or holding riot batons.
Something else that was missing: the sight of officers with bundles of flex cuffs, which they use to make multiple arrests in crowd situations. But some pro-Trump protesters had them—and bragged they planned to make citizen's arrests.
And there wasn’t nearly enough law enforcement on hand to deal with a crowd that included far-right militias and violent conspiracy theorists who pledge fealty to a self-declared “law and order” lame-duck president.
Joseph Giacalone, who retired from the NYPD as a detective sergeant and now teaches police science at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the small Capitol Police force should not have been expected to defend the building on their own.
“The National Guard should've been in place weeks ago,” Giacalone told The Daily Beast. “Every county around D.C. should've been requested to send one sergeant and a contingent in riot gear. If you don’t want that kind of show of force, that’s fine—you have everybody sitting in vans or buses within a half-mile of the Capitol ready to go.
“If this ragtag group could take the Capitol building when all of our politicians are inside, what do you think a well-trained terrorist group could do?”
There’s a strict protocol for riot response In New York City, explained Giacalone. Any sergeant is authorized to request a mobilization, which begins with a task force of roughly 100 cops from the same borough. This is usually enough to quell unruliness, according to Giacalone. But if the situation escalates, the duty captain can call a citywide mobilization. In this scenario, each of the city’s 77 police precincts dispatch a van with 10 officers in each, to the scene.
“So you could have [upwards of] 750 cops there within an hour,” said Giacalone. “The Capitol Police”—with 2,300 officers on its roster compared to the NYPD’s 36,000—“don't have the kind of personnel to do that.”
Washington, D.C., police, U.S. marshals and the National Guard were eventually called in to restore order but to most observers that took far too long.
There was a big difference between how the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer in D.C. were handled by law enforcement and how police treated the rioters at the Capitol, Giacalone pointed out.
A few months back, when Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets following the killing of George Floyd by police, D.C. National Guardsmen were out in full force and metro cops in riot gear were often quick to put down the largely nonviolent demonstrations.
“And then to look at this clusterfuck, you kind of scratch your head and say, ‘Who went to sleep at the wheel here?’” said Giacalone. “This is so unacceptable on so many levels.”
It also made little sense to Dennis Franks, a retired FBI supervisory special agent, who can’t understand why Capitol cops weren’t better prepared. Perhaps it was “an effort to be lowkey,” and moderate somewhat the overly militarized response seen so often in recent years, he speculated.
“But if it was, that effort didn’t work,” Franks told The Daily Beast.
There’s a deeper issue that extends far beyond any of Wednesdays tactical failings, according to Michael German, a former FBI agent who specialized in domestic terrorism.
The problem stems largely from the “wholesale failure” of America’s post-9/11 law enforcement and intelligence apparatus, said German, who is now a fellow at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice.
That is, German said, the federal government has not taken seriously enough the dangers posed by violent white supremacists and far-right militants. Instead, it has prioritized investigations of so-called ‘Black Identity Extremists’ and nebulous predictions of left-wing violence that has largely not materialized.
“Obviously, there is some sympathy for these far-right militants and the conspiracies they promote within law enforcement and it will require a national initiative to determine how these attitudes are influencing the lack of response to this violence and how to root it out,” German said.
“The failure of the FBI and state and local law enforcement to police the public violence we've seen from far-right militants over the last several years has conditioned them to believe they can act with impunity. I fear it will get worse as law enforcement tries to re-establish some control over their violence.”
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) said there will definitely be a Congressional investigation into the Capitol Police response to the MAGA marauders. “They basically stood down as the protesters went up the stairs and occupied the balcony and took possession of the Capitol,” he told a Massachusetts newspaper.
Giacalone said the fallout should come quicker than that. “There should be a pile of resignations from command staff on somebody’s desk tonight,” he said.