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Amateur images capture failed police response to US Capitol siege

Left: Capitol police retreat as a mob approaches the Capitol January 6, 2021. Right: An officer fist bumps a protester and Trump supporter inside the Capitol building.
Left: Capitol police retreat as a mob approaches the Capitol January 6, 2021. Right: An officer fist bumps a protester and Trump supporter inside the Capitol building. © Observers

On January 6, supporters of President Donald Trump marched to the US Capitol in Washington, DC, pushed through barricades and stormed the building in an attempt to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election. Videos shared widely online show crowds of Trump supporters breaching several points of entry, sometimes easily passing through police lines to access the building. Government officials and the public have criticised the police for responding inadequately and even being "complicit" in the insurrection. 

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Plans by Trump supporters to march on Washington, DC, and storm the Capitol on January 6 were shared widely on social networks in recent weeks, including TikTok, Twitter and The Donald, a forum for Trump supporters. However, when the day came, police presence outside the Capitol building was not reinforced. Videos of the incident show throngs of Trump supporters overpowering police barricades, as well as sharing friendly interactions with officers, leading many to wonder why police failed to prevent the siege.

Capitol police caught off guard

Photos and videos taken on January 6 show a police force that was grossly unprepared to ward off the crowd of thousands who were intent on reaching the Capitol.

This video shows a group approaching barricades in front of the grounds of the Capitol just before 1pm. The fewer than 10 officers stationed at the post were unable to disperse the crowd who began to push through. The officers attempted to hold the barriers in place for several seconds before retreating.

Reaching another barricade in front of the Capitol steps, police and rioters faced off with both sides exchanging pepper spray, and one police officer aiming a punch. 

This video, posted around 15 minutes after the crowd initially breached the Capitol grounds, shows police equipped with riot gear attempting to hold back the crowd of rioters who have approached the entrance to the Capitol building. No crowd control devices, such as pepper spray, tear gas or rubber bullets, can be seen in this video. 

 

Protesters advance past police on Capitol steps, unclear who moved barricades

Another video shared on TikTok by journalist Marcus DiPaola, which has since gone viral on social networks, shows police at another entry point retreating as the crowd gains access to the Capitol steps. While this video has been shared widely online as evidence that police let the protesters into the area, it is not clear whether police or protesters moved the barricades. Still, police turn away from the mob and retreat towards the building.

@marcus.dipaola

Group just pushed Capitol police

♬ original sound - Marcus DiPaola

Once they reached the building, the Trump supporters began to break windows and force open doors in order to gain access to the interior of the building. 

At the front door of the Capitol, the protesters broke windows to attempt to gain entry. This video shows a solitary police officer attempting to keep the door closed, as a huge crowd pulls it open.

A video taken from inside the front door of the Capitol shows that no police were present inside to barricade this entrance.

As protesters force open another entry into the Capitol, several police officers are seen reinforcing an interior door. 

Inside, protesters faced off with police again as they attempted to access areas of the building where Congress was meeting. In this video, officers are outnumbered and can be seen warding off Trump supporters using batons. The crowd eventually pushes past the police. 

While protesters were able to access the chambers of the Senate, Secret Service agents and plain-clothed Capitol police guarded entrances to the House chambers. One female protester was shot and killed by an officer as she attempted to climb through a window and enter the secured area. A video posted on Twitter after the incident captured the moment. 

After several hours inside the Capitol building, the mob was expelled after law enforcement deployed tear gas and flash-bang grenades. 

Sympathising with protesters

Over the course of the Capitol infiltration, police were captured on camera taking selfies, fist-bumping and shaking hands with protesters.

In live-stream footage captured by popular alt-right activist and streamer Tim Gionet, known as “Baked Alaska,” a police officer is seen giving a fist-bump to two Trump supporters as well as Gionet. Despite exchanging these gestures, the officer tells Gionet “You guys picked the worst day to come here,” to which the streamer replies, “I’m just documenting.”

Similar exchanges can be seen throughout Gionet’s coverage of the event. Two police officers exchanged a brief handshake with one of the Trump supporters after he announced, “We did our job, let’s go,” in an effort to disperse the crowd. 

Finally, another officer takes a selfie with one of the protesters, appearing to give a thumbs up to the camera. When Gionet says “1776 will commence again, brother,” the officer replies, “I think it already has.” [Editor’s note: 1776 was the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, making the United States a sovereign nation] 

Many people online have drawn a stark contrast between these interactions with Trump supporters and the police response to Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC last June. During those protests, the National Guard was stationed in large numbers outside of national monuments and tear gas and rubber bullets were used on a group of peaceful protesters. 

One US Congressman worried that the police were complicit with the day’s events. 

A top official told reporters on Wednesday that firings were imminent at the Capitol Police following the “lack of professional planning” in dealing with the mob. Law enforcement officials said that they did not anticipate the size of the protest, and that “chemical irritants” were used to breach police barricades, an apparent reference to pepper spray used by some of the protesters.

Although 350 members of the DC National Guard were deployed in advance of the planned March for Trump, many of them were stationed blocks from the Capitol. Another 1,100 troops were called in after the building was breached. 

Four people died and 52 were arrested in the incident, which many are calling a failed coup. Of the 52 arrests, 47 were for violating the 6pm curfew put in place by the mayor of DC following the breach. 

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