How Could the US Capitol Be Assaulted? Experts Weigh in on What Failings Occurred on Jan. 6

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The U.S. Capitol is thought to be one of the most secure buildings in the world, but on Jan. 6, something went very wrong. Five people were killed, among them a 42-year-old U.S. Capitol officer, and a rioter shot and killed by police, when a raging mob of protesters and militias breached the Capitol.

Many were armed and ready for battle, as they desecrated and vandalized the historical landmark and put into question how the U.S. handles the transfer of power, critical to a democracy. President-elect Joe Biden referred to the rioters as "thugs," but the group describes themselves as patriots, and said they were there to answer the call of duty by their President, Donald J. Trump, who held a rally earlier that day that some say incited the violent that took place. 

Days after the deadly riots, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund resigned, as well as the Sergeants at Arms of both House and Senate. Now searing questions exist on what made the assault on the Capitol possible.

Despite ample warnings about pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington, Capitol Police allegedly misjudged the security threats. Part of the mishap was their failure to bolster their staff, and officers were insufficiently prepared for a violent protest of that magnitude, CBS News reported. When the mob began to encroach on the Capitol, a police lieutenant issued an order not to use deadly force, leaving many officers with minimal sources to fight off the mob, CBS reported.

Capitol Police and the city’s Metropolitan Police had refused offers days before for help from the National Guard beyond a modest contingent to provide traffic control, according to The New York Times. It took more than four hours for troops from the National Guard to arrive, the Times reported.

"It’s inexcusable that law enforcement was seemingly unprepared for the events that transpired at Capitol Hill. First, there was volatile rhetoric online, then explicit calls to violence and then people acted on those calls in the nation’s capital for the whole world to see," Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told Inside Edition Digital.  "But more than anything, what happened Wednesday at the Capitol was the direct result of the fear and disinformation that has been spewed consistently from the Oval Office. And it included some of the most dangerous elements of the white supremacist world.

"Based on the inadequate response by law enforcement and the fact that these extremists were able to breach what is supposed to be one of the most secure locations in the country is downright terrifying. There needs to be an extensive investigation into what went wrong and why law enforcement did not heed multiple warnings that extremists were planning to storm the Capitol," Greenblatt continued. "The online chatter makes it very clear that right-wing extremists remain a serious domestic terror threat, and that threat will not go away when President Trump leaves office. The conspiratorial, baseless narrative of a stolen election will continue to animate extremists for some time to come."

“They were left naked,” said Rep. Maxine Water, D-California, of the police during an interview with the Associated Press. During a Dec. 28 meeting of House Democrats, Waters told the AP what her concerns were regarding security and reportedly grilled Sund during a private call on New Year’s Eve that was reported to have run over an hour long.

“It turns out it was the worst kind of non-security anybody could ever imagine," Waters said to the AP. 

R.P. Eddy, a former American counterterrorism official and diplomat who now runs a private geopolitical intelligence firm, told Inside Edition Digital that the Jan. 6 threat assessment left the Capitol police “underprepared, under armored and vulnerable to who came after them.”

“People ignore often accurate warnings because of their personal biases and lack of inclusion in the decision-making process,” said Eddy, who referred to the Capitol riot as a “failure.” In his book, “Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes,” he shares other examples of such a phenomenon, including The Challenger disaster, 9/11, and the rise of Isis.

“This is a failure like the failure to imagine Pearl Harbor; the failure to imagine 9/11 based on biases. What were these biases? The people that make the decisions - the intelligence analysts, the police officers, and the police leadership - how they had a very hard time imagining that the folks who looked like them would try and kill them,” Eddy said.

There were also many questions surrounding what intelligence authorities had reviewed before the Capitol riot. The New York Times reported that the government agencies had no coordinated plan to defend against an attack on the Capitol, though law enforcement agencies have raised alarms for years about the growing threat of domestic terrorism. QAnon, a conspiracy theory many of those who stormed the Capitol are believed to believe in or be aware of, has been labeled a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI.

In fact, mounting evidence showed that extremists shared on social media what they planned to do.

Bellingcat, a platform that exposes disinformation, tweeted a day after the riots and called out one of the controversial websites: 8kun, a social media message board. The tweet reads.”8kun, the people at the center of the attempted coup, Qanon, child abuse content, and multiple neo-Nazi mass-shootings made public everyone they were emailing." The tweet is linked to an article by Bellingcat that claims 8kun was in contact with QAnon influencers and enthusiasts.

Questions are now emerging about whether the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies took the postings seriously enough, and why didn’t they step in sooner, NBC reported

One senior FBI official told NBC that “social media is just part of a full intelligence picture, and while there was First Amendment-protected activity on social media to include some people making threats, investigators had not found there as an organized plot to access the Capitol.”

“The punchline is after 9/11 they call it a failure to connect the dots, the amount of dots available to foresee what was going to happen here was so overwhelming it had to be blinding," Eddy said. "This was the greatest miss; the greatest intelligence miss failure I have ever seen it was all out in the open. It was everywhere on social media and Twitter.”

The transition from one president to the next does not eliminate the problem of extremism, experts said. And the assault on the Capitol may be a sign of an extremist movement that will continue well into the next administration, Greenblatt told Inside Edition Digital.

New chatter around the possibility of an armed rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 17 has surfaced, while authorities brace themselves for other potential armed rallies at state capitols across the U.S. to take place, Greenblatt said. 

"We know that extremists plan to protest the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden, but it is unclear which groups and individuals expect to be in D.C. on Jan. 20. We are seeing calls for a Jan. 20 'million militia march' or a 'million martyr march' on the Capitol. Other extremists are calling for renewed violence in Washington," the ADL spokesperson said. "The online chatter makes it very clear that right-wing extremists remain a serious domestic terror threat, and that threat will not go away when President Trump leaves office. The conspiratorial, baseless narrative of a stolen election will continue to animate extremists for some time to come."

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