Everybody knew that thousands of Trump followers, some of them armed, would be descending upon Washington, D.C. on January 6th to attempt to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes before both houses of Congress. So, it was obvious that the Capitol Building and its surroundings would need to be stoutly defended.
Capitol Building Under Siege
That morning, hours before the vote would take place just a few blocks away, a large crowd assembled to hear what their president had to say. About 11 a.m. Trump began by repeating his claim that the presidential election had been rigged, and that he – and not Joe Biden – was the actual winner. In sum, the election had been stolen from him.
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Now comes the good part. “After this, we’re going to walk down -- and I’ll be there with you – we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down – anyone you want, but I think right here – we’re going to walk down to the Capitol…"
"The best is yet to come. We’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue – I love Pennsylvania Avenue – and we’re going to the Capitol. And we’re going to try and give – the Democrats are hopeless, they never vote for anything, not even one vote – but we’re going to try to give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help; we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So, let’s walk down Pennsylvania Ave.”
To sum up: You and I are now going to take a walk together down Pennsylvania Avenue so that we can express our views directly to our elected representatives.
Minutes later, the Commander-in-Chief got into his limo and was driven back to the White House. There, he could safely watch events unfold on a big screen TV, while wolfing down his Kentucky Fried Chicken and Big Macs. But you’d think the man could have at least provided his followers with box lunches, since they would not have any time to stop for lunch.
The Disappearing Act
Considering all the intelligence that had been gleaned from Internet chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media forums, pretty much every government security agency in and around the Capitol had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen on January 6th. Trump’s address, while critical, was just the icing on the cake. And his disappearing act was a predictable reprise of his draft-dodging days. When there’s any real danger, head off in the opposite direction and let the suckers and losers risk their lives.
So now, let’s ask the most obvious question raised by this attempted coup. With such huge crowds expected to arrive at the Capitol Building, why were its defenses so meager? As it turns out, there is plenty of blame to be spread around.
We will soon confirm that Trump ordered the Defense Department to not allow the Washington National Guard to be fully deployed. The president may be a complete incompetent, but even he understood that if the Capitol Police got substantial back-up, then the best laid plans for a coup would fail.
Other federal agencies such as Homeland Security, the Federal Park Police, the Secret Service, and the FBI were either not asked for help or did not offer any.
Another weakness in the defense of the Capitol Building was that not only did its police woefully staff the defenses on the morning of January 6th, but even after the insurrection began, they refused to send in reinforcements – or ask for outside aid.
Disrupting The Electoral Vote Count
And finally, even the District of Columbia police force was not called upon to help until late afternoon. By then, the damage had been done, the Congress was in hiding, the electoral vote count had been disrupted, and the coup itself had almost succeeded.
Back in the days of protest against our involvement in the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of federal troops and reservists guarded the White House, the Capitol Building, the Pentagon, as well as the protestors’ other potential targets. But last Wednesday, all we had guarding the Capital Building was a thin blue line of some 300 Spartans, trying to hold the line against the barbarian horde, while keeping our members of Congress out of harm’s way.
So far, we’ve looked at just the facts. Now, let’s recall the words of Tennessee Republican Senator Howard Baker Jr. during the Watergate hearings forty-six years ago, days before President Richard Nixon was forced to resign: “What did he know, and when did he know it?”
We need to ask the same questions about Trump when he was sending his stormtroopers off to battle. Did he know then that the Capital Building would be very lightly defended, and that his rabid followers would easily gain access to the building? Did he know that reinforcements would not arrive for hours? Did he know that his followers would not only disrupt the Congressional certification of the electoral vote count, but that the lives of the members of Congress would be endangered? And finally, was he in on the plan to lynch Vice President Mike Pence from a tree outside the Capital Building, because he had disobeyed a direct order from the fuehrer?
The Poor Performance Of The Capitol Police
It's relatively easy for people like me to sit back days later, and offer a critique of the poor performance of the Capitol Police and all the federal and local government agencies in planning for the events of January 6th. But since I’m at it, please consider one more way they fell short that morning.
Hours before Trump would address the troops, the crowd at the Ellipse began to build. We don’t know exactly how many people were there by the time he began his address, but it surely numbered in the low thousands. By the end of his speech, it was clear that this angry mob would be marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, and then trying to enter the Capitol. During virtually every previous security threat of these proportions, barriers had been set up on the streets approaching the government buildings that might be under attack, with armed soldiers and police manning them.
So, however poorly all these government agencies – including the Capitol Police had planned -- there was still an hour or two to order all hands on deck. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they caught us completely flatfooted. In retrospect, many warning signs had been ignored by our intelligence agencies in the months before 9/11.
After each of these days of infamy Americans declared, “Never again!” But perhaps this time we had a better excuse. Who woulda thunk that our own self-declared “wartime president” would publicly order an attack on our nation’s Capitol, and still catch us with our defenses down?
A future inquest will probably be as thorough as those held after Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. But even a few days after this attack, it is clear that it should not have been considered a surprise. And that those most responsible should be executed for committing treason.
Post Script: I’d like to thank my sister, Leontine Temsky, and my cousin, Ed Lashen, for some of the background information used in this piece.