Capitol Riots

Questions raise over security failure

9 January, 2021 12:00 AM printer

With the country still reeling from Wednesday’s violence in Washington, serious questions are being asked about how such a massive security breach was able to happen at the heart of US government, reports BBC.

Crowds of pro-Trump supporters were able to force their way inside one of the country’s most historically and politically significant buildings while elected lawmakers were inside moving to certify Joe Biden’s election victory.

The world watched as a mob of rioters seemed to roam free around inside - looting and vandalising symbols of US democracy as they went.

President-Elect Joe Biden has been scathing of the “unacceptable” handling of the rioters and compared it to the heavy-handed militarised response to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator, also railed against the security failures. “They could have blown the building up. They could have killed us all. They could’ve destroyed the government,” he said.

Criticism centres on preparation by police and their failure to anticipate possible violence, despite evidence that radical pro-Trump supporters and other groups were openly discussing their plans online.

The Washington Post, citing sources close to the matter, says that Capitol Police charged with guarding the building and its grounds did not make early requests for help from the city’s main police force or the National Guard nor set-up a multiagency command centre to coordinate response to any violence.

And without an adequate security perimeter in place, their sparse police lines were quickly overwhelmed by thousands descending on the Capitol.

Dozens of officers were injured, and one later died, in the effort to retake control - including some with armour, weapons and chemical spray agents.

To many, the optics were a sharp contrast to last year’s protests following the death of George Floyd, when rows of National Guard Troops guarded and enforced order in the capital.

Even hours into Wednesday’s violence, protesters were filmed being escorted or guided out of the building without arrest - even appearing to be helped down the Capitol stairs and having doors held open for them to exit. Another viral clip appeared to show a police officer posing for a selfie with a man inside.

Many rioters photographed and even live-streamed their crimes. One was pictured, his face uncovered, with his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, and then showing off a letter he appeared to have stolen from her office. A Confederate flag was paraded by another unmasked man and a well-known conspiracy theorist - wearing horns, fur and facepaint - was seen posing by a Senate chair that had been occupied by Vice President Mike Pence just hours earlier.

Nick Ochs, a known member of the Proud Boys far-right group, tweeted a selfie of himself inside and later told CNN: “There were thousands of people in there - [the police] had no control of the situation. I didn’t get stopped or questioned.”

Aside from the clear lack of preparation, confusion mounted during the violence about when and if other security forces were being deployed to help.

Multiple US media outlets, citing senior sources, have suggested Vice-President Mike Pence was the person to approve the mobilisation of the DC National Guard after President Donald Trump allegedly showed reluctance.

If true, this is a complete contrast to the highly visible show of force the president has repeatedly called for against left-wing and BLM protesters. Gordon Corera, the BBC’s security correspondent, says this emphasises how security decisions appear to have become politicised under the Trump administration.