Capitol Riot Tactics Strongly Resemble Those Used in 2020 Riots

COMMENTARY Homeland Security

Capitol Riot Tactics Strongly Resemble Those Used in 2020 Riots

Jan 11th, 2021 4 min read

Commentary By

Lora Ries @lora_ries

Senior Research Fellow, Homeland Security

Steven P. Bucci, Ph.D. SBucci

Visiting Fellow

The Capitol riot on Wednesday raised many concerns about the security of the U.S. Capitol building. Samuel Corum / Stringer / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The presidential inauguration is only days away. There must be better security for that event than what we saw Wednesday.

Public safety officials must always be prepared for the possibility that instigators and political opportunists might goad a crowd to violence.

Without consequences for violent attacks, the riots have continued. They needed to stop long ago. 

Watching rioters breach the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as members of Congress were certifying the presidential election inside was alarming and raised many questions regarding the security of the Capitol—one of the most important federal buildings in our nation.

U.S. Capitol Police and city officials had known that the “Stop the Steal” rally would be taking place Jan. 6 for weeks. Why was it so easy for rioters to get past security? Why didn’t Capitol Police have more officers in the building and at the entrances? What must terrorists think of our seat of government’s security?

The presidential inauguration is only days away. There must be better security for that event than what we saw Wednesday.

Political violence is inexcusable, no matter who is committing it, and public safety is crucial to protect individual freedoms and equal protection under the law.

While Black Lives Matter protests have sometimes turned violent, and Antifa has a long history of association with violence, pro-Trump demonstrations have mostly been peaceful in the past. This may have put Capitol Police in an erroneously relaxed posture. 

But public safety officials must always be prepared for the possibility that instigators and political opportunists might goad a crowd to violence.

Washington has dozens of law enforcement agencies, each with different jurisdictions. But unlike the other agencies that report to the city or the federal executive branch, Capitol Police are part of the legislative branch. They report to congressional leaders.

The day of the riot, Capitol Police was worked with the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Secret Service (a division of the Department of Homeland Security), and U.S. Park Police (a division of the Interior Department), as it commonly does, to make our public spaces secure, accessible, and protect the process of democracy.

Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned Thursday effective Jan. 16, stated that the Capitol attack was unlike anything he had ever experienced in his 30 years of law enforcement in Washington. Rioters attacked Capitol Police officers and other uniformed law enforcement officers with metal pipes, chemical irritants, and other weapons.

“They were determined to enter into the Capitol Building by causing great damage,” Sund said. 

More than 50 Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department officers sustained injuries during the attack on the Capitol. 

Several Capitol Police officers were hospitalized with serious injuries, and one officer died of his injuries, in addition to the Trump supporter who was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer. 

Law enforcement in Washington often has to maintain law and order while allowing Americans to practice their First Amendment rights. In many scenarios, this is a challenging balance to strike.

Sund’s description of the clashes with Capitol Police sounds familiar because it is. The tactics used in the riot last week resemble those used in riots that occurred in multiple cities throughout 2020. Law enforcement officers and buildings around the U.S. have been attacked with pipes, rocket-grade fireworks, and other dangerous weapons since May by Antifa and Black Lives Matter criminals.

The difference is the 2020 riots occurred in the dark of night and most of the mainstream media showed little of the rioters’ violence, downplaying the attacks as “peaceful protests.”

Slowly, information is coming forward that bad actors at prior riots were involved at the Capitol riot as well. Some rioters wore the typical black bloc garb and helmets, others donned Trump paraphernalia to blend in. At a minimum, Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol was fully informed by the lessons of previous actions.

The rioters had watched the tactics and techniques of the Antifa criminals (which included violence, weapons, and destruction) and the nearly non-existent legal repercussions meted out by liberal city and state governments (the vast majority of criminals who were arrested were released without charges), as well as the validation the earlier rioters received (such as having streets named for them).

It is critical that Capitol Police and other law enforcement prepare for Inauguration Day and other mass demonstrations where opinions are strongly divided, causing emotions to run high, by using the successful enforcement tactics during the 2020 riots. 

Fortunately, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Capitol Police have started doing so. 

During the Capitol riot, additional National Guard units were called in; Bowser set a curfew and extended her emergency order for 15 days, which will cover the inauguration.

At the request of Capitol Police, Homeland Security installed additional protective fencing Thursday around the perimeter of the Capitol grounds, a tactic the department used to protect U.S. courthouses and other federal property in Portland, Oregon, and other cities during the 2020 riots.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies have made dozens of arrests and requested information on numerous individuals photographed inside the Capitol.

It is important that the rioters be fully prosecuted for their crimes. Too many rioters had charges dropped by rogue prosecutors in 2020. Without consequences for violent attacks, the riots have continued. They needed to stop long ago. 

If a different message had been sent last year, in all likelihood, the tragic events Wednesday would not have occurred. 

It took daylight and death at the U.S. Capitol for many to finally condemn such violence. It is our sincere hope that next time, Capitol Police will be more prepared.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal