The timeline of events leading up to Jan. 6 includes violence that took place across the country and dated back over a year. In January 2020, even before the pandemic began, armed militia members invaded the Kentucky state capitol and waved their weapons in a “Second Amendment rally.” In April 2020, gun-carrying militia members swarmed the state capitol in Michigan. In August, armed extremists forced a congressional session to be halted in Idaho’s capitol. In December, armed invaders occupied Oregon’s capitol, which had been closed because of the pandemic.
As the Associated Press wrote on Jan. 7, all of these events were clearly “dress rehearsals” for what would take place in Washington, D.C. as Trump supporters gathered to disrupt the final count of the electoral votes. Trump extremists in Idaho smashed windows, pushed past police, and forced their way into congressional chambers. Insurgents in Oregon carried AR-15s into the building and deployed pepper spray against the police who to tried to get them to leave.
In the days following the election, hundreds of armed Trump supporters tried to halt counting in Arizona and Nevada. Hundreds of militia members threatened officials in Michigan. Armed men threatened an assault on vote-counters in Pennsylvania.
On Nov. 14, the first pro-Trump rally in Washington following the election brought thousands of white nationalists wearing tactical gear and body armor. Included were members of the Proud Boys and multiple state militias. A second rally on Dec. 12 also brought at least 200 members of the Proud Boys, along with other militia members decked out in camo, helmets, and vests. Violence led to multiple arrests on both occasions.
That’s a far from complete catalog of events leading up to what was clearly going to be a much larger gathering on Jan. 6. However, it’s certainly enough to make it clear to the Capitol Police that Washington, D.C. was about to be invaded by thousands of white nationalist Trump supporters who had already demonstrated that they were willing to initiate violence, push pass police lines, and invade government buildings. Even without the FBI bulletin that arrived on Jan. 5, there was every reason to believe that the threat of extreme violence was real.
The Capitol Police seemed to recognize this threat. According to the inspector general’s report, an internal assessment on Jan. 3 warned that the Trump supporters were facing a “sense of desperation and disappointment” that could “lead to more of an incentive to become violent.” That same assessment recognized that “Congress itself is the target on the 6th.”
But, somehow, despite this knowledge, leadership in the Capitol Police failed to create a unified plan for actions on Jan. 6. And even though they were being given exactly the opposite message in their own internal assessments, officers were told that “acts of civil disobedience/arrests” were “improbable.”
In the wake of the insurrection, Police Chief Steven Sund resigned. However, since then Sund has said he regrets his resignation and complained that calls for his replacement were premature. But the inspector general report not only makes it clear that Sund failed to prepare his team or seek the necessary resources, it also makes serious allegations about the planning done by acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, and about Pittman’s openness with Congress in discussing that planning.
Following the issue of the report, Pittman continued to insist: “Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol …” But the nature of that threat should have been—and in fact was—obvious. This was a larger version of the state-level protests that had already demonstrated the willingness of armed white supremacist militias to assault police, push through security lines, smash doors and windows, and invade restricted buildings with the intent of disrupting government. They had already done all those things on a smaller scale. This was the big stage.
The violence on Jan. 6 was not an aberration. It was just the largest in a series of events that had, with Trump’s incitement and encouragement, raged across the nation for a year. To issue statements that violence was “improbable” or to complain that there was “no credible threat” … is incredible.