Opinion

The stunning failure of the Capitol police

Trump's fascist mob gets the red carpet treatment

A fascist pro-Trump mob attempted a putsch against the government of the United States Wednesday.

Congress was certifying the Electoral College results, which several Republican lawmakers had planned to protest, when the mob stormed the Capitol building. Despite consisting of perhaps a thousand people at the most, they overwhelmed police barricades, broke into the building, and swarmed all over the House and Senate chambers. Members of Congress were forced to hide and then evacuated from the building. Details are still unclear, but at one point there seemed to be an armed standoff at the entrance to the House chamber, and several people were injured, including one protester who was shot and killed.

The mob's goal was plainly to halt the certification, which indeed happened, and then somehow allow Trump to remain in office. Like many fascist attempts at seizing power, there was little strategy or planning beyond getting inside the building, but this is surely the most direct and successful assault on American institutions since the Civil War — and back then, nobody succeeded in flying the flag of treason on the grounds of the American legislature.

Yet the Capitol Police, a special law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds, was either utterly unprepared for what was coming, or allowed it to happen, or both. At a moment when force was needed to protect the legislature of the United States from right-wing terrorism, the police were missing in action. Only hours later, after more cops were brought in from Virginia and Maryland, and the D.C. National Guard had been activated, were the insurrectionists rooted out of the building.

We have all seen dozens of times over the last several years the extreme violence that law enforcement departments across the country unleash with little or no provocation against leftist groups like antifa, Black Lives Matter protesters, Native Americans, or just random people who make them mad. Capitol Police shot an unarmed woman to death for running into a traffic barrier a few years ago. Federal law enforcement gassed and clubbed a park full of peaceful protesters so Trump could have a photo op outside a church. There can be no doubt whatsoever that if, say, the Black Panthers tried something like this, dozens of people would now be dead, and hundreds injured.

It's also not like the cops didn't have any warning. These goons had been planning to do this online, out in the open for all to see. Moreover, Trump has been threatening to do something like this for weeks, and just before the storming of the Capitol, he whipped up the mob with an unhinged tirade. He will "never concede," he said. (He did not participate personally, of course, because he is a massive coward.) Yet police were taken unawares.

Surely part of the explanation here is that it is a lot more easy and fun to beat up people who are not armed and generally won't fight back. Trump's brownshirts were carrying bear spray and guns and apparently injured a few cops.

But another part is that police are, on average, clearly sympathetic to right-wing extremists. As terrorists violated the Capitol Police's most fundamental duty — to protect the Congress of the United States, just about the most important job any American police department could possibly have — the cops did not open fire en masse, stood around rather than arresting people, repeatedly tried to talk down the fascists as they broke into the House and Senate chamber, and at least one was even recorded chummily taking selfies with the insurrectionists.

Police explanations to reporters were almost comically feeble:

A Capitol Police officer tried to reason with the crowd: "You guys just need to go outside," he pleaded with a man in a green backpack. When asked why they weren't expelling the protesters, the officer said, "We've just got to let them do their thing now." [The New York Times]

Indeed, this isn't the first time in the last few months a police force has quietly allowed a violent right-wing mob to shut down a legislature — Michigan State Police allowed this to happen in that state back in May. As The New Republic's Alex Pareene writes, "American police across the country share a coherent ideology. Armed white boys don't code as a threat to them; 'anarchists' and angry black people do[.]"

Now, all this is not to say that it would have been appropriate to simply massacre these people (though they should certainly all be arrested and charged with sedition). On the contrary, it was a perfect demonstration of the value of antifa tactics — a large counter-protest would have kept the Trump mob, which again was not that large, away from the Capitol.

But one thing fascist insurrectionists test well is the rottenness of political institutions. Indeed, this crowd probably didn't think they would get anywhere near as far as they did, but they will keep pushing until someone stops them. In this case, the Capitol Police have proved they are not ready to defend the legislature of the American people.

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