The hostile invasion and occupation of the Capitol on Wednesday by a riotous pro-Trump mob served as public notice to every American, every nervous ally, every plotting terrorist and every foreign adversary that the United States was incapable of safeguarding its most hallowed temple of democracy at its most sensitive moments, despite two decades of supposed security improvements since the 9/11 attacks.
With the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joe Biden looming, there must be a full but swift accounting of the multiple failures — in intelligence, leadership, planning and coordination — followed by an overhaul of the security operation to protect the peaceful transition of democratic government. It will not be enough to fire the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms or the U.S. Capitol Police chief. The nation’s people — and its enemies, both foreign and domestic — must know that we are willing and able to defend ourselves.
The failure to adequately prepare is inexcusable. The president’s calls to his deluded foot soldiers to come to Washington were broadcast and repeated on social media and well known to law enforcement. Security forces surely monitored the numerous social media messages showing the numbers and intentions of those traveling to Washington at Trump’s behest. Millions watched or heard his exhortation to the angry mob on Wednesday to march on the Capitol. Instead of the closed Capitol grounds typical of many events, the mob was met by flimsy and insufficiently guarded barriers set up far too close to the building.
Many outraged commenters argue that Capitol police acted far differently than their counterparts did in cities around the nation last summer in the midst of anti-police actions, and that the overwhelmingly white Trump mob was treated gingerly and with deference not accorded to more racially diverse protesters. It may instead be the case that Capitol police were outnumbered and had little choice, but the charge cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Images of invaders desecrating the Capitol with Confederate flags and other images of previous insurrections and white supremacy were sickening. Yet it’s startling to realize how lucky we were. The crowd was largely unarmed and appeared stunned to have gotten as far as it did. There was little indication that they had any plan other than to take selfies sitting at Congress members’ desks. They were ultimately cleared out of the building with little resistance. Still, four people died, and at least one improvised explosive device was reportedly found on the grounds of the Capitol complex.
Imagine if the president or his supporters did indeed have a plan, in the same way extremists allegedly had a plan to kidnap the governor of Michigan last year and put her on “trial.” Imagine if they had succeeded — because who could have stopped them? Could police who couldn’t prevent an invasion of the Capitol have protected members of Congress?
The post-Trump to-do list to repair damage to the nation and its institutions is long. Add two more things: overhaul of (at least) the front lines of homeland security, and a clearer focus on those terrorists and instigators ready to attack the nation from within.