Members of militia groups that participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol have discussed President Biden’s unscheduled forthcoming address to a joint session of Congress as a time to “blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible,” the leader of the Capitol Police told House lawmakers Thursday, writes Bridget Johnson
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee during a hearing to review the riot that the fourth and final intelligence assessment leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol indicated that “militia groups, white supremacists, and other extremist groups” who “planned to be armed” would demonstrate that day. “The target of the demonstration would be Congress, and the demonstrators saw this as a last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election, and they were desperate,” she said.
However, she said, “there was no such intelligence” that an “attack of the size and scale” seen on Jan. 6 would occur. “There’s evidence that some of those who stormed the Capitol were organized. But there’s also evidence that a large number were everyday Americans who took on a mob mentality because they were angry and desperate,” the chief said. “It is the conduct of this latter group that the department was not prepared for.”
Pittman said Capitol Police “did face some operational challenges that we are addressing: for example, the Capitol lockdown was not properly executed. Some officers were unsure of when to use lethal force. Our radio communications to officers were not as robust, and we are ensuring that our incident command system protocols are adhered to going forward, and reimplementing training in those respective areas.”
“We are addressing those operational challenges, but I want to make clear that these measures alone would not have stopped the threat we faced. To stop a mob of tens of thousands requires more than a police force. It requires physical infrastructure or a regiment of soldiers.”
The fencing around the Capitol that has hardened security continues to be “necessary in the short term” and the department now holds daily calls with its intelligence partners, she said.
Acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett told the committee that leading up to Jan. 6 there was a “failure to either gather, synthesize or disseminate intelligence, and there were indications that the intelligence was muddled or contradictory.”
“The January 3 intelligence assessment from the Capitol Police has been touted to include information that makes it clear that January 6 would become violent,” he said. “However, the document also states that the protesters’ rallies are expected to be similar to the previous Million MAGA March rallies in November and December of 2020, which drew tens of thousands of individuals.”
Between 15,000 and 20,000 rally attendees were screened by Secret Service for former President Trump’s rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, with about 15,000 unscreened people outside the Ellipse; “well in excess of 10,000,” the Capitol Police chief estimated, made it onto the Capitol grounds that day and about 800 breached the building.
“As we know now, the events of January 6 were not like the previous marches or any other rallies that we’ve had on Capitol grounds,” Blodgett said. “The intelligence provided to the Capitol Police and other law enforcement did not anticipate a coordinated attack. Warnings should not be qualified or hidden. Bad information, conflicting information or missing information leads to poor decisions.”
Pittman said Capitol Police protection details for dignitaries have been increased from four officers to six — “all of the dignitary protection agents that U.S. Capitol Police has available to them” — and investigations and intelligence are operating 24/7.
Capitol Police have practiced routine drills for the incident command system since the Sept. 11 , 2001, attacks, the chief said, but “on January 6, our incident command protocols were not adhered to as they should have” — what she called “a multitiered failure.”
“You actually have a 1,000-foot view, if you will, and then a boots-on-the-ground view. Those boots-on-the- ground view, the persons in charge of our civil disturbance unit as well as those operational commanders that are in charge of the Capitol, are responsible for that implementation of that incident command system. So when there’s a breakdown, you look for those commanders with boots on the ground to provide that instruction,” Pittman said. “That did not happen, primarily because those operational commanders at the time were so overwhelmed, they started to participate and assist the officers with boots on the ground versus providing that guidance and direction, if you will.”
Pittman said 35 Capitol Police officers are currently under investigation for their behavior during the riot and six have been suspended. She said a report would be submitted to Congress on the actions of those officers after the investigations are complete.
The chief acknowledged that the department received intelligence Jan. 5 from the Norfolk FBI that included online discussions about attacking Congress and sharing maps of the Capitol tunnels and facilities. “It was being shared for informational purposes but had not been fully evaluated, integrated with other information, interpreted or analyzed,” Pittman told lawmakers. “Receiving agencies are requested not to take action based on this raw reporting… we knew that the white supremacist groups and militia groups were coming and we did anticipate those groups being violent.”
Blodgett said studies being conducted on the attack “will take into account the security hardening that has to come around the campus… I don’t mean looking at necessarily barriers but what new technology can we implement to keep the openness of the Capitol.”
Pittman said that there is “no intention of keeping the National Guard soldiers or that fencing any longer than what is actually needed,” and the future strategy will take into account the variables of the threat environment, infrastructure vulnerabilities, and police limitations as far as human capital and technology resources.
“We know that the insurrectionists that attacked the Capitol weren’t only interested in attacking members of Congress and officers. They wanted to send a symbolic message to the nation as to who was in charge of that legislative process,” the chief continued. “We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified. So, based on that information we think that it’s prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward.”
The Capitol Police Security Services Bureau is conducting an internal assessment of the Jan. 6 attack in addition to Government Accountability Office and Office of the Inspector General reviews and a congressional task force led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré. The speaker of the House is also moving forward with plans for a 9/11-style commission to study the attack and draft recommendations.
“I’ve put in corrective measures to ensure that, going forward, information is shared in a timely fashion and it’s shared appropriately going up the chain of command,” Pittman told the committee. “With that said, we do not believe that based on the information …we would have changed our posture, per se, the information that was shared was very similar to what U.S. Capitol Police already had in terms of the militia groups, the white supremacy groups, as well as the extremists that were going to participate in acts of violence and potentially be armed on the campus.”
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.