Aftermath of the Siege at Capitol Hill

The riot at the Capitol left all of us shocked and appalled. What is the U.S. government doing in response to this atrocious crime?

Capitol+Hill%2C+Washington+DC.+Here%2C+a+riot+took+place+on+January+6th%2C+2021+while+the+Congress+was+in+session+for+counting+the+electoral+votes+of+the+Presidential+Election.

Michele Orallo / Unsplash

Capitol Hill, Washington DC. Here, a riot took place on January 6th, 2021 while the Congress was in session for counting the electoral votes of the Presidential Election.

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, became an unforgettable day for all Americans after hundreds of Trump supporters laid siege to Capitol Hill and vilified the integrity of our democracy. The question that lingers: How? In the BLM protest, a peaceful demonstration was met with teargas. In comparison, the initial helplessness and lack of coordination displayed by the Washington D.C. police in this riot stands out like a sore thumb. 

On the same night of the riot, the acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen issued the statement: “The violence at our nation’s Capitol building is an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy. From the outset, the Department of Justice has been working in close coordination with the Capitol Police and federal partners from the Interior Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Guard, as well as the Metropolitan Police and other local authorities. Earlier this afternoon, the Department of Justice sent hundreds of federal law enforcement officers and agents from the FBI, ATF, and the U.S. Marshals Service to assist the Capitol Police in addressing this unacceptable situation, and we intend to enforce the laws of our land.” 

Almost immediately after the situation was stabilized, the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense conducted an internal review of its role in preparing for the insurrection, focusing in particular on the Office of Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security. The inquiries undertaken by the inspectors general for these departments was a revision of whether the FBI adequately shared information with other law enforcement agencies, such as the Capitol Police, about the potential for violence prior to the event. The review will include an assessment of intelligence collected by the Justice Department and the FBI, before and after the riot. The Pentagon’s efficiency in the mobilization of its forces on January 6th, 2021 was also reviewed by the Defense Department inspector general.

With the insurrection as an example, the F.B.I. also assisted the U.S. military in vetting more than 25,000 National Guard troops being deployed to assist in protecting the Capitol and areas in central Washington, fearing another riot during Joe Biden’s inauguration. It involved running peoples’ names through databases maintained by FBI’s bureau to determine if anything alarming, such as involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, comes up against them. The results of this vetting was the expulsion of twelve National Guard members, two of whom made inappropriate comments or sent inappropriate texts and had been found to have ties to fringe right-wing militias. The ten other members were dismissed for reasons unrelated to recent events in the Capitol. The Defense Department officials stated that they will be stepping up the monitoring of social media postings from service members in the future.

According to an analysis by the George Washington Program on Extremism, the number of cases that had been opened stands at 245 individuals from forty-one states, of whom 211 are men and thirty four are women. Some defendants had been charged with misdemeanor crimes so they could be quickly arrested, but others face more significant charges such as sedition and conspiracy. Thomas Edward Caldwell, Jon Ryan Schaffer, Donovan Crowl, and Jessica Watkins, for example, are members of the far-right Oath Keepers, an organization founded by extremist military and law enforcement veterans. They were charged with conspiracy to commit federal crimes. The charges against them include unlawful entry, assault, disorderly conduct, destruction of federal property, and obstruction of an official proceeding. Similarly, Robert Gieswein, who has connections with the Three Percenters militia group, was arrested on the charge of assault, unlawful entry, and destruction of governmental property.

The Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department has also obtained photo and video footage of numerous individuals committing criminal acts during the riot. They have posted wanted notices, urging those who may have knowledge of any of these individuals to contact the police. 

The insurrection had also left the Capitol physically marred. The thefts and vandalism involving the rioters include, but are not limited to, staining the stone bust of President Zachary Taylor with red liquid, the theft of paintings and a photo of the Dalai Lama, the destruction of a Chinese scroll,  the destruction of Frederick Law Olmsted light fixtures, and graffiti on the building near the inaugural stand. The scuffles also left tear gas and pepper spray residues on murals, statues, and benches. The Architect of the Capitol, the Legislative Branch agency responsible for the building’s maintenance and preservation, is assessing just how much physical damage was done to the building and its priceless art. The agency has considered preserving some of the damage done to remind us of this insurrection.

When the rioters had successfully made their way into the building, they had  unobstructed access to the offices and personal belongings of the members of the Congress, including laptops, mail, and other important documents. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was one of the victims. A man known as Richard Barnett, who was photographed sitting at Pelosi’s desk, was charged with unlawful entry and theft of public property. Pelosi’s lectern was carried off by Adam Johnson and was found by Senate staff the day after the riot. Investigators have also searched the car and Harrisburg residence of Riley June Williams, the woman who had allegedly stolen Pelosi’s laptop, without success. Senator Jeff Merkley’s Capitol office was also broken into and ransacked. 

So what was learned from the riot? Ruby Moran, ’24 said, “Places of importance, especially during important events, need to have heightened security while refraining from taking these measures to the extreme.” Miscommunication and carelessness of the federal agencies allowed the rioters to take advantage of the lax security while the Congress was in session. They left Americans appalled and the Capitol traumatized, both emotionally and physically.

“The violence at our nation’s Capitol building is an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy. From the outset, the Department of Justice has been working in close coordination with the Capitol Police and federal partners from the Interior Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Guard, as well as the Metropolitan Police and other local authorities,” said the acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen.

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