Why the January 6th Mob Wasn’t Stopped in Time

Transcripts reveal where the bottlenecks were.

While Trump deserves ultimate blame for the attack, many others deserve a share as well for not having prevented the attack and for the fact that it went on as long as it did. In order to prevent something similar from happening again, it’s important to study January 6th not only through a political lens but also as a massive law enforcement and security failure. After all, it is shocking how easy it was for random Trump rallygoers, who mobilized on foot as part of a widely publicized event that was broadcast live by national news media, to breach the Capitol—thought to be one of the most protected buildings in one of the most policed cities in the country—and throw Congress into complete and total disarray. How could this have happened?

In the run-up to January 6th, Chief Sund told the House and Senate sergeants at arms, Michael Stenger and Paul Irving, that he wanted the National Guard to staff the perimeter of the Capitol complex. But Stenger and Irving were reluctant to do so. Irving testified to the Jan. 6th Committee that “the intelligence really didn’t speak for anything that we felt would justify the need” for the Guard.

It will surprise no one to hear that many of these witnesses have been primarily concerned with defending their own performance. But when their testimony is read together, a pattern emerges. There is consensus, if not perfect consistency, about the lapses on January 6th.

The main takeaway: The January 6th security lag—the fact that it took more than three hours for the National Guard to arrive on Capitol Hill and secure the grounds—can largely be attributed to three factors: Washington bureaucracy, a backlash to the militarized response to Lafayette Square in June 2020, and concerns over how Trump might use the military for his political purposes.

Defending the Military—and Then Failing to Deploy It 

Given calls by people like Flynn to seize voting machines, observers had very good reason to worry about what Trump might try to do in the weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Thanks to the Jan. 6th Committee, we know that Trump was contemplating something troublingly similar to what the former defense secretaries warned about: using American soldiers in the manner of a Praetorian Guard for his own protection and that of his supporters during the rally being planned for January 6th.

Trump had authority to deploy the National Guard on January 6th, but he never did. Via executive orders dating back to 1949, authority to activate the DCNG has been delegated to the secretary of defense, whose office further delegates to the secretary of the Army.