Experts say officials misjudged the Trump crowd and feared criticism about a violent federal response similar to 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests.

An AP review of public records and social media shows at least 21 current or former members of U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as being at or near the Capitol riot. More than a dozen others are now under investigation. (Jan. 15)
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As insurrectionists laid siege to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, attacking police and ransacking the halls of Congress, a question reverberated on TV and in living rooms around the nation: Wheres the National Guard?
The query loomed as rioters bashed into the cradle of democracy, hunting for Vice President Mike Pence amid a chant that called for his hanging. 
It echoed when lawmakers ducked for cover and barely escaped to the Capitols inner sanctums.
It was still unanswered as Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was bashed in the head, killing him. And as Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran radicalized by the QAnon conspiracy movement, tried to crawl through a broken window and was shot dead by police.
Where was the National Guard? 
Pro-Trump rioters protest inside the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification.
 (Photo: SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images)
Investigations eventually will provide full answers, said Richard Kohn, a history professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in defense and national security issues.
But he said the lack of a backup force while Congress tallied electoral votes boils down to four words: a failure of imagination.
Because federal and local authorities underestimated the threat, National Guard troops were not poised to respond. Kohn and other experts said that mistake was compounded by paralysis once the siege began, with those same officials nervous that a show of military force would prompt political blowback.
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The notion of failed imagination was used by 9/11 investigators to explain why the FBI and other agencies didnt prevent Islamic terrorists from crashing jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Security experts say inquiries into the assault on the Capitol are likely to reach a similar conclusion. From Congress to the Pentagon, those designated to maintain order and protect the Capitol did not anticipate an insurrection that was advertised by participants, and they hesitated as the violence erupted.
‘Everybody knew’
Trump had pressed his devotees for weeks, telling them the election had been stolen and they had to act.
On Dec. 12, the president tweeted, Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!! A week later, he encouraged followers to attend the big protest, saying, Be there, will be wild! 
President Donald Trump on Jan. 4, 2021, in Dalton, Georgia.
 (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Then, at a Georgia rally two days before the electoral count, Trump repeated his false claim that the White House had been stolen. Were going to fight like hell, Ill tell you right now, he said. Were going to take it back. 
Based on intelligence from social media, the FBI warned on Jan. 5 that far-right extremists were planning a war on the Capitol.  
The next day, Trump urged the crowd to descend on the House and Senate, telling them, Youre allowed to go by different rules. If you dont fight like hell, youre not going to have a country anymore.
Clint Watts, a distinguished research fellow with the nonpartisan Foreign Policy Research Institute, said anyone paying attention knew the Jan. 6 march was a potential flashpoint because of Trumps rhetoric and his followers battle plans on social media.  
They were talking about storming the Capitol, Watts said. I expected cops being beaten, cops being shot, Molotov cocktails. Everybody knew. The intelligence community knew. 
Pro-Trump rioters attempt to enter the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
 (Photo: Tasos Katopodis, Getty Images)
Michael Linick, a retired Army colonel who has planned for presidential inaugurations, said Capitol agencies have a blueprint for security that includes exercises and coordination with the military for major events. Yet those protocols apparently did not come into play.
Something stopped what normally should have happened from happening, said Linick, a senior defense and international policy researcher with the RAND Corporation.
That something, he and others said, was paralysis spawned by two things.
Police and military authorities at all levels were smarting from criticism after National Guard troops joined police last summer to violently clear Black Lives Matter demonstrators near the White House.
And some worried about putting soldiers at the Capitol when Trump supporters were openly suggesting the use of martial law to keep the president in power. 
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There’s a simple reason soldiers weren’t in place to protect the Capitol, reflected in a Defense Department timeline and a police account: The National Guard was not asked in advance to show up, even though Pentagon officials said they offered to provide backup.
It wasnt until the Capitol had been stormed that the Pentagon got a request and without planning, the Guard couldnt muster quickly enough.
The miscalculation will not be repeated during Biden’s inauguration next week, when more than 21,000 soldiers are expected to protect the Capitol.
Underestimating the threat 
The Save America March was organized in part by Women for America First, a pro-Trump organization that obtained a permit from the National Park Service for an event to follow Trump’s rally at the White House. 
People listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
 (Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
Demonstrations at the Capitol are commonplace, and a handful of organizations share responsibility for security planning.
That includes the U.S. Capitol Police, overseen by Congress and directed by sergeants at arms for the House and Senate and the Capitol architect, and D.C.s Metropolitan Police Department, which is responsible for law enforcement in nonfederal areas. It also includes federal law enforcement agencies such as the National Park Service and the Secret Service, as well as the National Guard and the Defense Department.
On Dec. 31, Mayor Muriel Bowser requested support from the D.C. National Guard. In a letter to the commanding general, William Walker, she asked that troops be deployed for traffic duty, freeing up Metro police to work security during the march. Bowser stressed in her letter that no (Guard) personnel shall be armed during this mission.
Unlike governors, who command National Guard operations within their states, Bowser has no authority to call up D.C. soldiers; they are directed by the Defense Department.  
Still, Bowser got exactly what she requested. According to a Pentagon timeline, Trump approved 340 soldiers to handle traffic on Jan. 6 so Metro Police officers could work crowd control. 
Mayor Muriel Bowser explained why she couldn’t call on more federal law enforcement support during the Capitol riot.
As Congress certification of the Electoral College results grew near and extremist messaging on the internet grew more ominous mainstream media warned of violence. And Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund began to sweat.  
In an interview with The Washington Post, Sund said he reached out to Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger and his counterpart at the House, Paul Irving, on Jan. 4, asking for Guard backup. 
According to Sund, permission was denied because Irving didnt like the optics and Stenger thought the chief could informally ask National Guard leaders to be on alert. (Sund, Stenger and Irving, all of whom resigned after the siege, could not be reached for comment.)
The next day, an FBI memo warned of bloodshed in graphic terms, citing an online thread shared among prospective demonstrators: Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. 
It is unclear how widely FBI intelligence was shared among law enforcement agencies and the military. 
About that time, the Save America March permit was amended. Instead of 5,000 participants, there would be up to 30,000. 
The miscalculation
Right-wing radicals are notorious for bloodthirsty rhetoric that often doesnt lead to action. Moreover, the mob that descended on the Capitol had full-throated backing from Trump, who positioned himself as the law-and-order president.  
Still, Watts, Kohn and others said the failure to anticipate an attack was remarkable given the volume and intensity of violent rhetoric from Trump and his devotees. 
A Trump supporter shouts down counter-protesters during a demonstration over election ballot counting outside the Michigan State Capitol building on November 07, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan.
 (Photo: John Moore, Getty Images)
That miscalculation may have been enhanced, Watts suggested, by unconscious bias. The attendees werent people of color, but mostly white so some in authority may have viewed them as less threatening.
This is a Blue Lives Matter crowd, Watts said, referring to a pro-police slogan. I think that kind of gave (security officials) a disorienting way to think about it. 
Avoiding a repeat fiasco 
On June 1, National Guard troops and federal law enforcement used tear gas, batons and less lethal projectiles to drive peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters out of Lafayette Square, clearing the way for Trump to pose with a Bible at St. Johns Church. National Guard helicopters buzzed demonstrators later that evening.
The use of military force against civilians drew such a fierce backlash that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a public apology. In Congress, hearings were convened to challenge the use of National Guard troops for a political event. 
Police move demonstrators away from St. John’s Church across Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1 in Washington.
 (Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)
Watts said concerns about that fiasco appear to have factored into the House and Senate sergeants at arms denial for Sund to seek National Guard reinforcements. It also may have influenced the District of Columbias preparations.
Two days before last weeks rally, the District of Columbia Council issued a statement calling on all coordinating agencies toensure safety, prevent violence, and to do so with no appearance of preference or disparate treatment.
Kenyan McDuffie, chair pro tempore of the council, said the goal was to avoid any repeat of what happened during Black Lives Matter demonstrations.  
The world watched law enforcement attack peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and chemical agents, all to facilitate a photo op for President Trump, McDuffie said. 
President Donald Trump walks from the White House through Lafayette Park to visit St. John’s Church Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) ORG XMIT: DCPS121
 (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)
The day before last weeks rally, Bowser wrote a second letter  this one to the Pentagon and the U.S. Attorney General. During summer protests, she noted, D.C. police had to manage crowds while working around unidentifiable, armed federal law enforcement.
That caused confusion among residents and visitors and could become a national security threat with no way for MPD and federal law enforcement to decipher armed groups,” she wrote. 
To be clear, Bowser concluded, the District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without notification. 
A demonstrator holds up his fist near a street sign that has been renamed “Black Lives Matter Plaza” near the White House during a peaceful protest against police brutality and racism, on June 6, 2020 in Washington, D.C.
 (Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY, AFP via Getty Images)
Fears of martial law? 
With Trump planning a rally and social media pushing his supporters toward violence, Sund told The Washington Post he grew increasingly worried.
On Jan. 4, the Capitol Police chief asked House and Senate sergeants at arms for permission to request additional Guard members. The congressional officers balked, Sund said, with Irving citing concerns that declaring an emergency would produce bad optics.
That evening, Sund spoke with the National Guard commander in Washington, D.C., about leaning forward so there would be some readiness in case troops needed to be called in an emergency, according to the Post. But there was no plan, no force in place. 
This is where some analysts believe a third factor influenced decision-making: the issue of martial law. 
As the threat of violence loomed, Sund told The Post, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff, declined to recommend that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy approve an urgent request for Guard deployment, saying he did not like the image of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background.  
Members of the National Guard gather outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Today the House of Representatives plans to vote on Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (D-MD) resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, removing President Trump from office. Wednesday, House Democrats plan on voting on articles of impeachment.
 (Photo: Stefani Reynolds, Getty Images)
As the mob was storming the Capitol, Sund told the Post, he pleaded with the Defense Department to send troops but got no help until the assault was over. His account was corroborated by John Falcicchio, Bowsers chief of staff, who said Sund was literally crying for help during a conference call, according to the Post. 
Piatt disputed that version of events. He said when McCarthy received the Capitol Police request for reinforcements, he immediately ran to the Acting Secretary of Defenses office to request approval. 
Pentagon and National Guard officials have stressed that, after a request has been submitted, it takes hours to assemble, equip and transport civilian soldiers unless they have already been mobilized.  
Linick, the retired Army colonel, said notions of a martial law declaration may have added to Pentagon concerns over the Lafayette Square scandal. 
In December, a pro-Trump organization called We the People took out an ad in The Washington Times urging the president to immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law and temporarily suspend the Constitution so the military could oversee a revote in key states. 
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a Trump confidant and retired Army lieutenant general who had been pardoned by the president days earlier, broached the idea on Newsmax and was invited to a meeting with the president. According to The New York Times, the ensuing discussion led to infighting among White House staffers. 
President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn arrives at federal court in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. President Donald Trump has pardoned Michael Flynn, taking direct aim in the final days of his administration at a Russia investigation that he has long insisted was motivated by political bias. Trump announced the pardon on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 calling it his Great Honor.
 (Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
Ten former secretaries of defense were so disturbed by talk of military interference with the democratic process they authored an op-ed Jan. 3, exhorting current Pentagon leaders to refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.
Watts, the Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow, said angst about political sensitivities undoubtedly was magnified by Trumps willingness to castigate and fire officials who challenged him. 
The result, Watts said: a systemic breakdown where security officials were in this sort of paralysis about what to do Everybodys just trying to ride out the term and not get fired or draw the presidents ire.
The fear of getting cross-wise with the commander and chief has to weigh on decision-making, agreed Linick.  
A mob attacks
After Trumps fiery speech at the White House, his followers trekked toward a joint session of Congress that had just gotten underway. Some wore riot helmets and were armed with chemical spray, metal pipes and baseball bats. 
Don Ritchie, historian emeritus of the U.S. Senate, said the Capitol Police force has been beefed up and professionalized over the years in response to previous riots, shootings and other violence. Still, he said, the duty mostly involves keeping tabs on high school kids, and the force seemed overwhelmed and underprepared on Jan. 6. 
Theres never been an incident such as this where a mob attacked the building, broke in and tried to attack the members of Congress, Ritchie said. 
Rioters stand on the US Capitol building to protest the official election of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 6, 2021 on Washington DC.
 (Photo: Thomas P. Costello, USA TODAY Network)
The National Guard had been called up only twice previously to protect the Capitol, Ritchie said in 1932 when military veterans marched peacefully to request World War I pensions, and during the 1968 political riots. The halls of Congress were not breached in either incident.  
While many police officers resisted valiantly last week, video showed some simply stepping aside. (Two Capitol Police officers have been suspended for misconduct and at least 20 reportedly are under investigation.) 
Insurgents pushed through barricades, scaled walls, bashed windows, vandalized offices and posed for selfies. For about two hours, they occupied the Capitol. 
Pro-Trump rioters roam under the Capitol Rotunda after invading the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Demonstrators breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification.
 (Photo: SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images)
This week, all eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed a memo to military personnel urging them to obey lawful orders from civilian leadership and remain fully committed to protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States from enemies foreign and domestic.  
Five people died in the Jan. 6 insurrection, including two officers. Dozens of law enforcement personnel were hurt.  
When it was over, a question lingered like smoke over a battlefield: Where was the National Guard? 
Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, has launched a congressional probe into what he described as a massive failure of security. 
But Watts said thats not the end of the story. A dysfunctional presidency has weakened democratic institutions and undermined public confidence, he warned, leaving polarization, distrust and vulnerability. Its a corrosive, slow cancer. 
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