When I posted the other day, I made the comment that the debacle at the US Capitol had still not given up its secrets. Surely the full story, even a fairly complete picture of the reasons why a mob was able to enter and even briefly occupy the halls of Congress will take some time to emerge. An aspect of our national failure to defend our Capitol was the fact that no National Guard soldiers were defending the building when the insurgents staged their attack.
The attack itself doesn’t appear to have been especially clever or well-coordinated. It was more of a crown surge or crowdsource. As an attempt at a coup de etat or actual government takeover it had considerably less chance of success than those conducted in Germany in 1945 or Algeria in 1961, both of which failed miserably. The only advantages it had were numerical and demographic: It was fairly large and mostly white, making it difficult for law enforcement to manage or target.
The Capitol police seem to have underestimated the threat, rejecting calls for aid and taking little effective action when the attack came. Pictures show them in undignified flight, and they have been described as simply standing aside to admit the insurgents on the Capitol steps. They appear to have been both mentally and materially unprepared. Better barricades and non-lethal weapons would have helped, as would have a realistic sense of the threat they were facing and the means necessary to bring it under control. Certainly “unfunding” this play police force and replacing it with more effective security seems to be justified!
The military appears to have been formed up but not fully ready to intervene. There may be a difference between (to use some military parlance somewhat loosely) being “on order” to execute a mission and in a “be prepared to” condition, between being willing and able to execute orders and being intelligently proactive, “leaning forward in the foxhole” as I’ve heard it put, in a fluid situation. On 6 January, perhaps still stinging from criticism about its actions during the protests in the summer, the military may have been reluctant to get involved, like any bystander unsure of what might be the best action, and maybe afraid or being hurt, or humiliated, or subjected to legal action.
But the situation on 6 January was different, in a number of significant ways. Handling the recent incidents with much less force than those of the summer is another example of people of color, African Americans especially, being more roughly dealt with by the various armed representatives of the state. The actions and intentions of the two groups are also in contrast. Unruly as they occasionally were, the protests neither approached the level of criminality nor presented as great a danger as the attack on the Capitol, in which some at least had murder in mind. I can’t adequately address here the nature of the causes being espoused on either side, but they are also wildly different. The anger of the summer protesters was understandable. Their cause was respectable and at least comprehensible. The people who invaded the Capitol appear to have been motivated by a mish-mash of extreme right ideology often crossing over into fascism, by crackpot mysticism, racism, and sheer, irrational delusion.
To consider the military response to 6 January is not merely a matter of finger-pointing or “Monday-morning quarterbacking.” The military may be faced with future insurrections requiring its intervention. There is talk of an encore on 17 January. Then there is the Inauguration on the 20th. After that, a segment of the populace, its odious champion brought low at the polls and perhaps impeached, with the attack of 6 Jan. to serve as an “Alamo” for their cause, may be ready to strike again, and to do it better. The Defense Department has to be ready with a menu of responses to events similar to those of 6 Jan. It also has to use its intelligence resources and collective imagination to envision future threats and plan to meet them, or head them off. Nothing less to uphold its own honor, the Constitution, and the Democracy it serves.