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Capitol punishment

The quest for safety and accountability after last year’s Jan. 6 riot is tangled up with partisanship


A corridor in the U.S. Capitol the morning after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

Capitol punishment

Three weeks after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a bulletin with an ominous warning. It said that violent, anti-government extremists opposed to the election of President Joe Biden “could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.” House Democrats cited the bulletin in their resolution to form a select committee to investigate the causes and circumstances of the riot.

A year later, the Department of Justice has charged hundreds of alleged rioters, the United States Capitol Police have updated equipment and procedures, and the groundswell of extremist violence that DHS and others feared has not materialized. Extremist groups appear to have shifted their focus away from Washington and toward local governments. But the Capitol Police are still understaffed by about 400 officers as threats against Congress increase.

In the past 12 months, Capitol Police have made a string of changes in an effort to prevent a repeat of last year’s riot, an event sparked when protesters amassed outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6—the day Congress met to certify the results of the Electoral College vote that named Biden the winner of the election. The crowd broke down barriers and doors and overwhelmed police, forcing members of Congress, staffers, and journalists to hide for hours while law enforcement pushed back the crowd.

In July, the department tapped J. Thomas Manger, a longtime Maryland police chief, as its new head. Manger said officers now carry official cell phones that receive daily security alerts to avoid the overwhelmed radio traffic of Jan. 6. The force also has new riot control equipment and regularly drills evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures, and rank-and-file officers now get regular intelligence briefings. After the riot, Capitol Police leaders claimed they did not receive advance warning from intelligence agencies that could have helped them prepare. But the FBI said it shared raw information with the police department about known threats before Jan. 6.

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund complained after the attack that the U.S. Army delayed sending assistance when police asked for it. Congress has since made it easier for the Capitol Police to summon National Guard support and sent more than $100 million in extra funding.

But challenges remain. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton said in December the department had fully implemented only 30 of 104 recommended security changes. The police department said that number is now 34, and leadership has detailed plans for another 60. Manger said that since Jan. 6, 2021, the department has lost about 135 officers and needs to hire about 400. COVID-19 and understaffing have made it difficult to schedule training. And while Manger said Tuesday the department did not have “great concern” about any events planned for the one-year anniversary of the riot, the department has faced a growing number of threats. In 2021 it saw 9,600, Manger said, up from the 902 it investigated in 2016. Some are vague, involving threatening emails or phone calls. But the department also sees specific bomb and shooting threats, and in December, an officer running security screenings at a House office building overlooked a gun in a bag. It took Capitol Police 12 minutes to locate the staffer carrying it, Manger said.

Though the Justice Department has arrested and charged about 700 rioters, neither the FBI nor the congressional committee investigating Jan. 6 has reported evidence of large-scale planning leading up to the attack on the Capitol. Four men who belong to the Proud Boys organization were indicted for conspiracy to obstruct Congress and law enforcement the day of the riot. The indictment explained that the men belonged to a subset of the mob that encroached on the Capitol. They followed a larger crowd of protesters that first broke down barricades outside the building. Another indictment against a member of the Oath Keepers, Jessica Watkins, explains how she trained and plotted her incursion on the Capitol on Jan. 6, “unlike the vast majority” of people who participated in the riot.

As arrests skyrocketed after the riot, leaders of groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers urged their members to avoid political rallies and events, according to an Atlantic Council report by Jared Holt, resident fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab. The report focused on right-wing extremism and did not examine threats by groups on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum such as antifa.

Group members have found other ways to protest and organize since social media platforms disrupted much of their communication. Members of Proud Boys chapters attended school board meetings to protest mask mandates. Some sat in on county meetings to demand election audits. Others attended pro-life prayer rallies or protests against removing Confederate monuments. Proud Boys members in Illinois marched into a suburban school board meeting to protest pro-LGBT library materials. In New Hanover, N.C., the Cape Fear Proud Boys chapter donned uniforms and face masks, which they said were to hide their identities, and stood in the back of the room at a school board meeting.

“The domestic extremist landscape was battered by Jan. 6,” Holt said. “But extremism is dynamic and fluid. It is always trying to adapt to fit the container that it’s in.”

Meanwhile, Democrats in the U.S. House have spent much of the year trying to build a legal case that former President Donald Trump caused the riot with his rhetoric at his “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 and in the days leading up to it. They impeached him on a single charge of insurrection but could not muster the two-thirds majority needed to convict him at trial in the Senate. The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the House committee investigating the attack have subpoenaed numerous former Trump aides and White House communications, sparking a battle over executive privilege.

“That committee has clearly been established by the Democratic leadership in order to find something against Donald Trump and against other conservatives, who they think may have been involved in this in some way,” said Mark Clauson, professor of history and law at Cedarville University. “On the one hand, it’s supposed to be a nonpartisan gathering of facts. On the other hand, it is clearly also political, as any congressional committee is bound to fall into at some level. That’s just impossible to escape.”


Esther Eaton

Esther reports on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.

@EstherJay10


Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a reporter for WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College graduate. She resides in Harrisburg, Pa.

@CarolinaLumetta

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CaptTee

The people arrested on or after January 6, 2021 shouldn't be described as "alleged rioters", they should be called "people who attended an alleged riot".

It was closer to "a mostly peaceful protest" than any of the riots that were called "mostly peaceful protests" by the media.

Except for a few individuals, most of the protestors did not go anywhere that the public is normally allowed to go.

VVAN8867

Why do we write of these events as if they are personally scary? The cites that burned in the summer personally scary? The tanks in the streets in the 60’s the burning of one’s own neighborhood? What’s new pussycat? But a personal affront to the nation while, yes not a good look? And the look of jailing offender outside of due process?

JMAY9449

I thought it was interesting that you chose for the title of this column the same title as a movie I recently watched that presents "the other side" of the story. Are you familiar with it?

DakotaLutheran

I found the piece to highlight more or less what has been investigated. I was hoping that you would have commented on an assertion that is circulating on the internet, viz., that a full twenty or so minutes before President Trump had finished speaking on Jan 6 some people were cutting down barriers surrounding the Capital.

The point is that this was happening before Trump suggested to the crowd that they go over to the Capital. If this is the case, who was doing this? It clearly indicates some kind of planning. Were those barriers still up when the crowd arrived at the Capital, it is possible that what ensued would not have happened. It seems important, then, to determine who these people were.

Bob W

Evenhanded WORLD reports ought consider input from dissenters, which is lacking in this piece. Most obvious: conflation of the Capitol incursion with citizen dissent at school board and library governance meetings is a tactic of progressive educators and the Biden administration, which this article uncritically parrots. On Oct. 4th FBI agents were ordered to use counter-terrorism tools/tags and networks to investigate dissent at school board meetings and “discourage” supposed “intimidation.” Were WORLD reporters even aware of this, and the resultant Federal overreach?
Finally, I'm sorry to read that this WORLD report accedes to the conclusion that we expect nothing more than partisanship
from Congressional investigators. The reporter chose to quote a source who says "any congressional committee is bound to fall into at some level. That’s just impossible to escape.”
On this point, I recommend a well-sourced commentary of a biblically-strong pastor and blogger I highly respect; he expects higher ethical behavior from our elected leadership: "Millions of Americans hoped that a non-partisan investigation would identify both the criminal actors in the crowd while also giving attention to credible accusations of police brutality. Sadly, those reasonable hopes have gone unaddressed."
https://onlyhuman-jl.blogspot.com/2022/01/honoring-constitution-means-honoring.html

Ronald L

It didn't take long, did it, for sensitivities to be aroused concerning your report about the already historically infamous "January sixth." I acknowledge that what I offer here is a bit "knee-jerk," but it is offered with a background of over 35 years in news and opinion journalism. First, I would take some exception to the second commenter's criticisms over what your article does not cover. The legitimacy of the concerns raised by "Salty1" notwithstanding, you obviously intended to present a brief news article (as contrasted with an opinion piece) that presented various details and relevant quotes highlighting how political agendas in Washington have affected the aftermath of Jan. 6, 2021 over the past year. Your report is, I suggest, well crafted, and is consistent start to finish with both the "hed" and "subhed" that introduces it (noting that those are typically composed by someone other than the reporters, so plaudits to that person as well). There is one moment in the article, though, that I did find a bit troubling, and wish that your antennae might have been a touch more tuned to how sensitivities might be struck. In your second paragraph where you wrote, "Extremist groups appear to have shifted their focus away from Washington,..." my understanding, just in the flow as a reader, was that you were still on the subject of those who participated (or supported) the riot at the Capitol last Jan. 6, and that left the identifier "extremist groups" as being solely those on the right side of the political spectrum. As there are generically "extremist groups" on both extremes of politics--arguably more of them on the left than the right these days--it would seem advisable to be very cautious about such wording in a piece such as this one. But where the biggest "rub" comes with all this is how the article was "teased" in the e-mail "The Sift" of this morning (Jan. 7). There we read: "In The Stew, Esther Eaton and Carolina Lumetta look at what investigators, police, and the public have learned since the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot." Whoever composed this hardly hit the important target of "narrowing the subject" as did the reporters and headline writer. I clicked into the article from "The Sift" expecting to see something much more broad and in-depth than I found. The article, commendable as it is, hardly represents "what investigators, police, and the public have learned" in total, or even in full summation (and perhaps fed Salty1's critique, too). The subhead on the article would have been a more accurate tease, and would not communicate to a reader that something more lies behind the next click of the mouse. (Thank you for your understanding, and God bless the wonderful staff of World News Group.)

Salty1Ronald L

Thanks Ronald for a better critique than what I presented.

Ronald LSalty1

Thank you for your encouraging note and for the godly humility it reflects.

Salty1

Is this unbiased reporting or a bunch of opinions? How come you don’t report on the extreme rhetoric that the President and VP said today? How come you don’t report on the double standards where these people are being held for a year now where AntiFa, BLM radicals are let go without even having them charged? What evolvement did the FBI have in getting the protestors to riot and storm the Capitol Building?

SAWGUNNER

Those readers who have WSJ sub should read the op/ed in the 1/6/22 issue written by former Sergeant at Arms. Very informative!!!

Bob WSAWGUNNER

https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/congress-ducks-blame-capitol-attack-riot-protest-rules-committee-klobuchar-blunt-schumer-jan-6-11641418015