In the immediate aftermath of the successful storming of the Capitol by thousands of angry Trump supporters there’s been much speculation about how it was that the very seat of our democracy was left so vulnerable to an attack that resulted in the murder of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, a 42-year-old New Jersey native.
“Officer Sicknick was a South River native, and proud graduate of Middlesex County Vocational Technical Schools in East Brunswick,” said New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney in a statement of condolence. “Before serving with distinction with the Capitol Police, Staff Sergeant Sicknick bravely served six years with the New Jersey National Guard, including twice being deployed to the Middle East.”
In addition to Sicknick, an Iraqi War veteran, police shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, 35, an ardent Trump supporter who served for several years in the Air Force and had also been deployed overseas.
Three other people died in medical emergencies that played out during the melee that forced the House and Senate to suspend their proceedings as members of the Congress had to be moved to secure locations.
Fifty police officers were injured.
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund resigned. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for the resignation of Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the exit of her chamber’s sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving.
We should be troubled by the fact that the Capitol was not apparently treated like the homicide scene that it was and by the lengthy delay in getting the necessary law enforcement back-up on the scene to restore order.
It’s critical that we not see the events of Jan. 6 in isolation, as a one off. We must ask who knew what when and treat it as potentially an ongoing criminal conspiracy executed by individuals who may want to cover their tracks.
On Thursday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan told reporters that as soon as he became aware the Capitol was under assault, he “immediately offered support to the District of Columbia, which submitted a direct request for law enforcement support through the emergency management assistance compact.”
Under federal law, approval for Maryland sending the National Guard onto a federal property like the Capitol, rests with the Pentagon and the President, not the Mayor of Washington.
“I was ready, willing and able to immediately deploy [National Guard] to the Capitol, however we were repeatedly denied approval to do so,” Hogan told reporters.
While Hogan was waiting, he got a phone call from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who, according to Hogan was hiding from the mob in an “undisclosed bunker” with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer.
“[Hoyer] said that the U.S. Capitol Police was overwhelmed, that there was no federal law enforcement presence and that the leaders of Congress were pleading with me, as the Governor of Maryland, for assistance from Maryland’s National Guard and State Police,” Hogan said.
90 minutes later, according to Hogan’s timeline, during which rioters were permitted to ransack the Capitol, he got a call from the Pentagon authorizing the deployment.
The New York Times had previously reported that it was not President Trump who authorized the deployment of the National Guard, but Vice President Mike Pence, who had been presiding over the Senate when he was rushed to a secure location.
In addition to the delayed backup to the assault in progress, multiple news outlets, including the New York Times, reported instances where individual Capitol Police were videotaped opening up the barricades to the seething mob and even posing for selfies with the rioters.
No less an expert then retired General Russel Honore told MSNBC’s Brian Williams that he was “surprised the Pentagon did not have the National Guard on standby” and that there was a “major failure in intelligence” by the FBI.
Moreover, Honore, widely acclaimed for providing effective leadership after the Bush administration’s botched Katrina response, raised the possibility that the Capitol Police Department’s decision to turn down assistance leading up to siege was evidence of “complicity” at the highest levels of the department’s command structure.
The FBI is investigating and there have already been dozens of arrests. Ironically, the very social media streams which helped give these malefactors so much traction, is providing law enforcement their identity and an inventory of what they were able to carry away.
So, how was it that a “superpower” that spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on defense and security, including a half-billion dollars on the Capital Police, could not protect the U.S. Congress?
To answer that you have to revisit the deliberations of the 9/11 Commission which asked a similar question about why the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were so vulnerable that day.
One of the most troubling questions was how was it that the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is supposed to protect U.S. and Canadian air space, was so oblivious to what was happening that day.
What the 9/11 Commission learned was that NORAD was structured to look outward, as if the only threat worth tracking was the one that came externally from beyond our borders.
“It’s important to understand that the job of NORAD at the time, on 9/11, was to look for threats from outside our countries,” explained a NORAD official in an agency newsletter in 2011. “We were tasked to provide warning of attacks both missile and aircraft as it occurred, coming into the United States and Canada. And because of that mission, all of our radars were located along the periphery of the United States and Canada. We had quite a few radars, numbering over 100 radars looking outward. On 9/11, what we found out was that we needed radar coverage in the interior of the United States.”
In the years since 9/11, we reorganized huge agencies into the Department of Homeland Security and then embarked on what turned out to be a further notice “global war on terrorism.” In retrospect, it actually proliferated terror, collapsed governments and helped set into motion the biggest refugee crisis since WW II.
In 2004, in a letter to the editor, New Jersey native Sicknick, who gave his life protecting democracy, warned that “Bush’s foreign policies are one reason the world has become as dangerous as it is. I don’t know why everyone is brainwashed that only Bush can protect us.”
In another letter to the editor Sicknick wrote “our troops are stretched very thin, and morale is dangerously low among them. I’m starting to see an increasing trend of soldiers asking, ‘Why are we still here?’”
For close to 20 years, our own overseas body count grew as the civilian casualties mounted and the number of nations ablaze expanded. And yet we stayed the course. We were fighting “them over there” so we did not have to fight them here.
So, on 1/6/21, just like on 9/11/01, we did not see the clear and present danger until it was upon us.
We were still looking for Arab terrorists, even as the angry mob of thousands of white supremacists, with Trump and the Confederate Star and Bars flying, seized the cockpit of democracy.