The Corner

Law & the Courts

January 6 Narratives Collide With Reality

Supporters of then President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Two leaked conclusions by unnamed law-enforcement sources last week about the January 6 Capitol riot should be read together. Item One:

The FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result, according to four current and former law enforcement officials. Though federal officials have arrested more than 570 alleged participants, the FBI at this point believes the violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump. . . . “Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” said a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. “Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.” . . .

FBI investigators did find that cells of protesters, including followers of the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups, had aimed to break into the Capitol. But they found no evidence that the groups had serious plans about what to do if they made it inside. . . . So far prosecutors have steered clear of more serious, politically-loaded charges that the sources said had been initially discussed by prosecutors, such as seditious conspiracy or racketeering.

Item Two:

The Capitol Police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt outside a door of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot has been formally exonerated after an internal investigation, according to a department memo. . . . The officer . . . opened fire on Babbitt as she and a mob of other Trump supporters tried to forcefully enter the Capitol. Video of the shooting showed Babbitt in front of a crowd of rioters trying to get through a door leading to where members of Congress were being evacuated on the House side of the building . . .

In a statement released Monday, the Capitol Police said the officer’s actions were consistent with the officer’s training and department policy, which states that deadly force may be used “only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury.” “The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved Members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House Chamber where Members and staff were steps away,” the statement added.

These are inconvenient conclusions for Democrats trying to sell January 6 as something comparable to a civil war or the September 11 attacks, and for people on the MAGA right trying to paint Babbitt as a martyr who was executed by the Capitol Police for no good reason. Yes, there are political actors deserving of blame, foremost among them Donald Trump. And there were bad actors who saw the January 6 protests as an opportunity for some organized criminal activity. It is right that many of the rioters are being prosecuted, and there ought to be more investigation of why the Capitol was not better secured both before and during the riot. But the reality is that both the riot and the response by law enforcement were more chaotic, unruly, and incompetent than premeditated or malicious.

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