(Newsweek) - They knew it could happen. They feared that Donald Trump would pull a "Samson," bringing down the whole house on top of him in the two weeks before he left the White House. Officials from the FBI, the Secret Service, Homeland Security, the District of Columbia government, the Pentagon, the National Guard, and the Joint Task Force–National Capital Region who spoke to Newsweek last weekend on condition of anonymity, all talked about the potential for protesters and militias and paramilitary goons—egged on by the president—to storm Capitol Hill and even the Capitol building itself.
A half-dozen sources spoke openly about this very scenario: that the mob would take over the "People's House" and that somehow the system would break down. They speculated that this could occur because of the president's treasonous behavior, because of leadership deficiencies in the federal government and Congress, because of the extreme partisanship of the moment, and because everyone was looking the wrong way.
The blame was spread around, with the FBI dismissing the Department of Homeland Security as a bunch of amateurs and thugs; the military shaking their heads about President Trump and an absent White House leadership; Homeland Security department members mocking the District of Columbia's mayor, Attorney General, and police; and everyone making clear that "the problem" was someone else's.
It was clear that the very law enforcement and security people who in theory were responsible for maintaining order in our capital city weren't ready, weren't well led, weren't organized properly, and weren't impartial.
How did we get here? There are multiple causes for this historic failure.
The patchwork quilt of roles and responsibilities created post-9/11, and the immense public illiteracy regarding all things national security, have weakened America.
Many people in official Washington had tolerated and even humored President Trump's sedition and incitement to riot. FBI sources said the White House wasn't ordering any new security measures, wasn't ordering any additional resources, and wasn't coordinating any extension of the so-called inaugural "National Security Special Event" timeline to include this week (it officially covers January 15-21). It wasn't doing those things, the sources said, because presidential aides were afraid that any movement might provoke Donald Trump to do something even worse than whatever he was already planning.
Then virtually nothing was done to eject them.
Sources from other departments said the Department of Homeland Security—which had declined to use its mammoth army of law enforcement officers to suppress protests in Portland and other cities, ostensibly because they were needed in DC to protect government buildings—was making itself virtually absent from the scene for the transition. The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf is actually in the Middle East, evidently not thinking that the threat was severe enough for him to be in Washington.
The DHS has been indiscriminate in using its law enforcement arms, now the largest in the federal government—Secret Service agents, ICE, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Air Marshals and even the Federal Protective Service—to intervene over the past year when protests didn't involve pro-Trump, right wing mobs. The Capitol Police did come out in force when Black Lives Matter and Antifa approached Capitol Hill last summer.
FBI sources told Newsweek that the Bureau was closely watching the various protestors converging on the city, that the Department of Justice was taking the law enforcement lead no matter what other agencies of the government were doing, and that the Bureau had a good sense of the protestors, the size of the crowd, the leaders, and the dangers. The intelligence apparently did not anticipate what the news media was openly speculating about and what the president and his supporters were publicly tweeting.
The District of Columbia government was the only prepared and ready force on Wednesday. Mayor Muriel Bowser activated 340 District National Guardsmen and women before Wednesday. In keeping with a desire not to use soldiers to enforce the law, she kept them unarmed and assigned them to traffic control and other duties to relieve more police officers of the Metropolitan Police Department—3,800 strong, the sixth largest municipal police department in the nation—to enforce the laws.
The riots—and the District's response—underscored the argument for making D.C. a state, so that the mayor wouldn't have to ask permission of the Secretary of the Army to activate the DC Guard.
And finally there's the Pentagon. Donald Trump's walk into Lafayette Park last June, accompanied by a gaggle of federal, National Guard and local police forces, jolted the U.S. military. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, in uniform, joined the president's entourage, giving the impression that the uniformed military supported Trump and the forces surrounding him. Gen. Milley was pummeled for his "loss of situational awareness," for being there. He publicly apologized.
The Lafayette Park incident and Milley's apology shifted Pentagon culture; ranking officers firmly rejected talk of martial law and openly declared that the U.S. armed forces had no role to play in the election or the transition. Now the Pentagon is being dragged in anyhow, in the form of the National Guard: the last non-partisan, honorable and duty-bound institution in Washington.
But the political structure has failed spectacularly, creating and living with a federal government so faulty that it gives the impression "the military" is the only institution that can be trusted, that it is the only one that can and will always save the day. The Congressional leadership cheered when they heard that the National Guard was on the way to the Capitol today.
To restore the rule of law and ensure accountability for protecting America's democracy, the post-Trump reforms must be as dramatic as the ones that followed 9/11. "The military is the only answer" is not just a false belief: it also weakens the civil institutions on which our nation depends.
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