National Security & Defense

Capitol Riot Response Hindered by Backlash to George Floyd Protest Response, Senate Report Shows

Protesters scale a wall as they storm the U.S. Capitol Building during clashes with Capitol police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The Department of Defense’s response to the January 6 Capitol riot was colored by criticism it had received about its response to unrest after the murder of George Floyd, according to a new Senate report.

A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday released a report on the Capitol riot and offered recommendations to prevent a similar breach going forward.

DOD’s response to January 6 was informed by criticism it received about its response to the civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd during the summer of 2020,” the report reads. “DOD was criticized for its heavy-handed response, particularly flying military helicopters over the protests in summer 2020.”

It adds: “DOD officials cited lessons learned from the summer 2020 as guiding its decision-making for January 6. DOD officials believed it needed ‘control measures’ and ‘rigor’ before deploying DCNG personnel, including a clear deployment plan to avoid the appearance of overmilitarization.”

The decision came in the wake of criticism over a clash between law enforcement officers and protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square and surrounding streets in June 2020. Law enforcement used tear gas and other riot control tactics to clear protesters from the area to allow then-President Trump and senior administration officials to walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church. 

One day before the Capitol riot, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser rebuffed federal reinforcements in a public letter to the Department of Justice, saying that the “Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is prepared for this week’s First Amendment activities.”

After the riot, Bowser noted that the Capitol police did not request additional police or guard before the protests and that she does not have jurisdiction to send police or National Guard to Capitol Hill. “I think a more robust presence on the ground” would have maintained order, she said, placing blame on the federal government.

The report is the result of a months-long investigation conducted by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules Commitee. The groups announced the investigation just two days after the riot occurred. 

The probe included two hearings, the review of thousands of documents, and interviews with workers from the Capitol Police and various law enforcement agencies, according to a press release.

The report, which was compiled by Senators Gary Peters (D., Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), detailed a series of missteps, from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security failing to issue a strong warning about the threat of violence to lack of preparation by Capitol Police and other agencies.

Police officers on the front lines who reportedly suffered chemical burns, brain injuries and broken bones told senators they were left with no direction when command systems broke down, according to the Associated Press. There were no functional incident commanders and some senior officers were fighting instead of giving orders, the probe found. 

“USCP leadership never took control of the radio system to communicate orders to front-line officers,” the report says.

“I was horrified that NO deputy chief or above was on the radio or helping us,” an officer told the committee in an anonymous statement. “For hours the screams on the radio were horrific(,) the sights were unimaginable and there was a complete loss of control. … For hours NO Chief or above took command and control. Officers were begging and pleading for help for medical triage.”

The report also said an “opaque” process had delayed the request for National Guard assistance and said the troops were not activated or staged appropriately to respond to the emergency.

The committees called for the chief of the Capitol Police to have a direct line with the National Guard and said the Capitol Police Intelligence Bureau should “ensure the Bureau is adequately staffed and all agents and analysts are properly trained to receive and analyze intelligence information.”

The committees said it is important for “the mobilization of additional National Guard members from neighboring jurisdictions to provide immediate assistance and report to command and control in the event of an emergency.”

The report comes after Senate Republicans used their filibuster power last month for the first time since President Biden took office to block a bill to form a commission tasked with investigating the Capitol riot.

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