fb-pixelAnatomy of an insurrection - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Anatomy of an insurrection

The American people are entitled to know how the Capitol was breached and why law enforcement failed to protect the seat of government.

Whatever route Congress takes to get to the bottom of truly one of the worst days in this nation’s history, the American people are due answers.Kenny Holston/NYT

After many of the nation’s most recent traumas, what followed was a kind of after-action report — a public accounting of what led up to the moment, all that went wrong, and all that was missed, so that at the very least the same tragic mistakes would not be repeated.

So as the dust clears from the insurrection that threatened the Capitol, the seat of government, and those elected to govern, the people of this country are entitled to know how that was allowed to happen and why law enforcement was so unprepared and so inadequate to the task of preventing that threat.


The answer should come not just from within the halls of Congress — although those whose very lives were threatened are certainly entitled to carry out their own investigation — but also from an independent commission with the credibility to have its findings rise above the chatter and the rumor and the divisions that allow people to hear only what they want to hear and see only what they want to see.

The aim ultimately is to make sure this particular trauma never happens again — to fix what went wrong.

The horrifying video of angry mobs breaking windows, rampaging through Capitol corridors, invading congressional offices, including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and breaching the Senate chamber will forever be etched in the memories of most Americans — in the same way earlier generations remember the assassination of President Kennedy or the terror attack on the World Trade Center.

On Thursday night, one of the police officers injured by the mob, Brian D. Sicknick, died from his wounds. Sicknick’s friends and family, and indeed all Americans, can and must demand answers to certain obvious questions:

▪ With President Trump demanding for weeks that his followers make their way to Washington (”Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”), why was law enforcement so unprepared?


▪ Which agencies were monitoring social media, where the threat of violence was out there for all to see? “LIVE AS A FREE AMERICAN AND BRING YOUR ARMS!” wrote one poster on thedonald.win. And if that threat was so obvious, why was the response so tepid?

▪ Where were the Capitol Police? After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the force was increased by Congress from 800 to 2,000. Its annual budget is $460 million. Millions of dollars were spent to upgrade security. But rioters coming directly from the Trump rally (following the president’s own suggestion to march on the Capitol) were met with little more than low metal barricades they either jumped over or pushed aside to access the Capitol. Others, approaching from the far side, climbed scaffolding to access the second floor.

▪ Where was the National Guard? How many were requested to be on scene, when, and by whom? At what point in the day were those requests conveyed to the Pentagon and met? Did President Trump, as initially reported, waste crucial minutes by hesitating to authorize the Guard’s deployment?

▪ Why was there no coordination with other federal law enforcement agencies — the FBI, the US Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives — until after the Capitol was breached?


▪ Was there collusion between the rioters and any branch of the police? Was that now-infamous selfie a Capitol policeman participated in an anomaly or part of a broader problem?

“Clearly the Capitol Police didn’t have the [outside] support they needed,” said US Representative Seth Moulton. “But the Capitol Police also failed in their mission.”

And as a military veteran, the Salem Democrat knows that failure has consequences and that the “intelligence failures” and “failures of training” are so serious as to warrant a “total overhaul” of the Capitol Police, he told the Globe.

“It was an egregious failure of planning and execution,” said newly seated US Representative Jake Auchincloss. “There was months of advanced notice [about the rally] . . . and about the potential for violence on that date.”

Also a military veteran, Auchincloss suggested the same kind of “after-action” report used when troops returned from a mission in Afghanistan.

“It needs to be comprehensive and impartial,” he added, “and if anyone has been complicit with [the rioters], it needs to be followed by criminal charges.”

The speedy resignations on Thursday of the chief of the Capitol Police, as well as the head security officers for the House and Senate, were justified, but they are not a substitute for an independent, bipartisan commission much like the one that analyzed the intelligence and political failures that led to the terror attacks on 9/11. Created by Congress, the commission made recommendations that prompted structural reforms that were signed into law by President George W. Bush. The process also took some 18 months to complete.


A similar forensic analysis of the Jan. 6 insurrection could be done far more expeditiously.

But whatever route Congress takes to get to the bottom of truly one of the worst days in this nation’s history, the American people are due answers. The people’s house was indeed breached. And so was their trust. They are entitled to know how that happened.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.