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Why January 6 Panel Wants To Haul In Mark Meadows


The House of Representatives select committee investigating the events of January 6 issued subpoenas on Thursday to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and three other allies of former President Donald Trump.

These are the first subpoenas announced by the committee and represent its intensifying interest in what transpired in the White House before and during the assault on the Capitol.

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Emails Show Top Trump Aides Knew Violence Loomed On Jan. 6

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

On December 19, President Donald Trump blasted out a tweet to his 88 million followers, inviting supporters to Washington for a "wild" protest.

Earlier that week, one of his senior advisers had released a 36-page report alleging significant evidence of election fraud that could reverse Joe Biden's victory. "A great report," Trump wrote. "Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"

The tweet worked like a starter's pistol, with two pro-Trump factions competing to take control of the "big protest."

On one side stood Women for America First, led by Amy Kremer, a Republican operative who helped found the tea party movement. The group initially wanted to hold a kind of extended oral argument, with multiple speakers making their case for how the election had been stolen.

On the other was Stop the Steal, a new, more radical group that had recruited avowed racists to swell its ranks and wanted the President to share the podium with Alex Jones, the radio host banned from the world's major social media platforms for hate speech, misinformation and glorifying violence. Stop the Steal organizers say their plan was to march on the Capitol and demand that lawmakers give Trump a second term.

ProPublica has obtained new details about the Trump White House's knowledge of the gathering storm, after interviewing more than 50 people involved in the events of January 6 and reviewing months of private correspondence. Taken together, these accounts suggest that senior Trump aides had been warned the January 6 events could turn chaotic, with tens of thousands of people potentially overwhelming ill-prepared law enforcement officials.

Rather than trying to halt the march, Trump and his allies accommodated its leaders, according to text messages and interviews with Republican operatives and officials.

Katrina Pierson, a former Trump campaign official assigned by the White House to take charge of the rally planning, helped arrange a deal where those organizers deemed too extreme to speak at the Ellipse could do so on the night of January 5. That event ended up including incendiary speeches from Jones and Ali Alexander, the leader of Stop the Steal, who fired up his followers with a chant of "Victory or death!"

The record of what White House officials knew about January 6 and when they knew it remains incomplete. Key officials, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, declined to be interviewed for this story.

The second impeachment of President Trump focused mostly on his public statements, including his January 6 exhortation that the crowd march on the Capitol and "fight like hell." Trump was acquitted by the Senate, and his lawyers insisted that the attack on the Capitol was both regrettable and unforeseeable.

Rally organizers interviewed by ProPublica said they did not expect Jan. 6 to culminate with the violent sacking of the Capitol. But they acknowledged they were worried about plans by the Stop the Steal movement to organize an unpermitted march that would reach the steps of the building as Congress gathered to certify the election results.

One of the Women for America First organizers told ProPublica he and his group felt they needed to urgently warn the White House of the possible danger.

"A last-minute march, without a permit, without all the metro police that'd usually be there to fortify the perimeter, felt unsafe," Dustin Stockton said in a recent interview.

"And these people aren't there for a fucking flower contest," added Jennifer Lynn Lawrence, Stockton's fiancee and co-organizer. "They're there because they're angry."

Stockton said he and Kremer initially took their concerns to Pierson. Feeling that they weren't gaining enough traction, Stockton said, he and Kremer agreed to call Meadows directly.

Kremer, who has a personal relationship with Meadows dating back to his early days in Congress, said she would handle the matter herself. Soon after, Kremer told Stockton "the White House would take care of it," which he interpreted to mean she had contacted top officials about the march.

Kremer denied that she ever spoke with Meadows or any other White House official about her January 6 concerns. "Also, no one on my team was talking to them that I was aware of," she said in an email to ProPublica. Meadows declined to comment on whether he'd been contacted.

A Dec. 27 text from Kremer obtained by ProPublica casts doubt on her assertion. Written at a time when her group was pressing to control the upcoming Jan. 6 rally, it refers to Alexander and Cindy Chafian, an activist who worked closely with Alex Jones. "The WH and team Trump are aware of the situation with Ali and Cindy," Kremer wrote. "I need to be the one to handle both." Kremer did not answer questions from ProPublica about the text.

So far, congressional and law enforcement reconstructions of January 6 have established failures of preparedness and intelligence sharing by the U.S. Capitol Police, the FBI and the Pentagon, which is responsible for deploying the D.C. National Guard.

But those reports have not addressed the role of White House officials in the unfolding events and whether officials took appropriate action before or during the rally. Legislation that would have authorized an independent commission to investigate further was quashed by Senate Republicans.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would create a select committee to investigate Jan. 6 that would not require Republican support. It's not certain whether Meadows and other aides would be willing to testify. Internal White House dealings have historically been subject to claims of "executive privilege" by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Our reporting raises new questions that will not be answered unless Trump insiders tell the story of that day. It remains unclear, for example, precisely what Meadows and other White House officials learned of safety concerns about the march and whether they took those reports seriously.

The former president has a well-established pattern of bolstering far-right groups while he and his aides attempt to maintain some distance. Following the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump at first appeared to tacitly support torch-bearing white supremacists, later backing off. And in one presidential debate, he appeared to offer encouragement to the Proud Boys, a group of street brawlers who claim to protect Trump supporters, his statement triggering a dramatic spike in their recruitment. Trump later disavowed his support.

ProPublica has learned that White House officials worked behind the scenes to prevent the leaders of the march from appearing on stage and embarrassing the president. But Trump then undid those efforts with his speech, urging the crowd to join the march on the Capitol organized by the very people who had been blocked from speaking.

"And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore," he said.

One Nation Under God

On Nov. 5, as Joe Biden began to emerge as the likely winner of the 2020 presidential election, a far-right provocateur named Ali Alexander assembled a loose collection of right-wing activists to help Trump maintain the presidency.

Alexander approached the cause of overturning the election with an almost messianic fervor. In private text messages, he obsessed over gaining attention from Trump and strategized about how to draw large, angry crowds in support of him.

On Nov. 7, the group held simultaneous protests in all 50 states.

Seven days later, its members traveled to Washington for the Million MAGA March, which drew tens of thousands. The event is now considered by many to be a precursor of Jan. 6.

Alexander united them under the battle cry "Stop the Steal," a phrase originally coined by former Trump adviser Roger Stone, whom Alexander has called a friend. (Stone launched a short-lived organization of the same name in 2016.) To draw such crowds, Alexander made clear Stop the Steal would collaborate with anyone who supported its cause, no matter how extreme their views.

"We're willing to work with racists," he said on one livestream in December. Alexander did not return requests for comment made by email, by voicemail, to his recent attorney or to Stop the Steal PAC's designated agent.

As he worked to expand his influence, Alexander found a valuable ally in Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist at the helm of the popular far-right website InfoWars. Jones, who first gained notoriety for spreading a lie that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, had once counted more than two million YouTube subscribers and 800,000 Twitter followers before being banned from both platforms.

Alexander also collaborated with Nick Fuentes, the 22-year-old leader of the white nationalist "Groyper" movement.

"Thirty percent of that crowd was Alex Jones' crowd," Alexander said on another livestream, referring to the Million MAGA March on November 14. "And there were thousands and thousands of Groypers — America First young white men. … Even if you thought these were bad people, why can't bad people do good tasks? Why can't bad people fight for their country?"

Alexander's willingness to work with such people sparked conflict even within his inner circle.

"Is Nick Fuentes now a prominent figure in Stop the Steal?" asked Brandon Straka, an openly gay conservative activist, in a November text message, obtained exclusively by ProPublica. "I find him disgusting," Straka said, pointing to Fuentes' vehemently anti-LGBT views.

Alexander saw more people and more power. He wrote that Fuentes was "very valuable" at "putting bodies in places," and that both Jones and Fuentes were "willing to push bodies … where we point."

Straka, Fuentes and Jones did not respond to requests for comment.

Right-wing leaders who had once known each other only peripherally were now feeling a deeper sense of camaraderie. In an interview, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio described how he felt as he walked alongside Jones through the crowds assembled in Washington on Nov. 14, after Jones had asked the Proud Boys to act as his informal bodyguards.

"That was the moment we really united everybody under one banner," he said. "That everyone thought, 'Fuck you, this is what we can do.'" According to Tarrio, the Proud Boys nearly tripled in numbers around this time, bringing in over 20,000 new members. "November was the seed that sparked that flower on Jan. 6," he said.

The crowds impressed people like Tom Van Flein, chief of staff for Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). Van Flein told ProPublica he kept in regular contact with Alexander while Gosar led the effort in Congress to shoot down the election certification. "Ali was very talented and put on some very good rallies on short notice," Van Flein said. "Great turnout."

But as January 6 drew nearer, the Capitol Police became increasingly concerned by the disparate elements that formed the rank and file of the organization.

"Stop the Steal's propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence, may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike," the Capitol Police wrote in a January 3 intelligence assessment.

Yet the police force, for all its concern, wound up effectively blindsided by what happened on January 6.

An intelligence report from that day obtained by ProPublica shows that the Capitol Police expected a handful of rallies on Capitol grounds, the largest of which would be hosted by a group called One Nation Under God.

Law enforcement anticipated between 50 and 500 people at the gathering, assigning it the lowest possible threat score and predicting a one percent to five percent chance of arrests. The police gave much higher threat scores to two small anti-Trump demonstrations planned elsewhere in the city.

However, One Nation Under God was a fake name used to trick the Capitol Police into giving Stop the Steal a permit, according to Stop the Steal organizer Kimberly Fletcher. Fletcher is president of Moms for America, a grassroots organization founded to combat "radical feminism."

"Everybody was using different names because they didn't want us to be there," Fletcher said, adding that Alexander and his allies experimented with a variety of aliases to secure permits for the east front of the Capitol. Laughing, Fletcher recalled how the police repeatedly called her "trying to find out who was who."

A Senate report on security failures during the Capitol riot released earlier this month suggests that at least one Capitol Police intelligence officer had suspicions about this deceptive strategy, but that leadership failed to appreciate it — yet another example of an intelligence breakdown.

On December 31, the officer sent an email expressing her concerns that the permit requests were "being used as proxies for Stop the Steal" and that those requesting permits "may also be involved with organizations that may be planning trouble" on January 6.

A Capitol Police spokesperson told ProPublica on April 2, "Our intelligence suggested one or more groups were affiliated with Stop the Steal," after we asked for a copy of the One Nation Under God permit, which they declined to provide.

Yet 18 days later, Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told congressional investigators that she believed the permit requests had been properly vetted and that they were not granted to anyone affiliated with Stop the Steal. Pittman did not respond to ProPublica requests for comment.

Last week, a Capitol Police spokesperson told ProPublica, "The Department knew that Stop the Steal and One Nation Under God organizers were likely associated," but added that the police believed denying a permit based on "assumed associations" would be a First Amendment violation. "The Department did, however, take the likely association into account when making decisions to enhance its security posture."

Kenneth Harrelson, an Oath Keeper who allegedly ran the far-right group's "ground team" in D.C. on January 6, went to Washington to provide security for Alexander, according to Harrelson's wife. Harrelson has pleaded not guilty to felony charges in connection with the riot and is one of the Oath Keepers at the center of a major Department of Justice conspiracy case.

Harrelson's wife, Angel Harrelson, said in an interview with ProPublica that her husband was excited to visit Washington for the first time, especially to provide security for an important person, but that he lost Alexander in the chaos that consumed the Capitol and decided to join the crowd inside.

"Historic Day!"

As the movement hurtled toward Jan. 6, what started as a loosely united coalition quickly splintered, dividing into two competing groups that vied for power and credit.

On one side, Alexander and Jones had emerged as a new, more extreme element within the Republican grassroots ecosystem.

Their chief opposition was the organization Women for America First, helmed by Kremer and other veterans of the tea party movement, itself once viewed as the Republican fringe. Kremer was an early backer of Trump, and her tea party work helped get Mark Meadows elected to the House of Representatives in 2012.

The schism was rooted in an ideological dispute. Kremer felt Alexander's agenda and tactics were too extreme; Alexander wanted to distinguish Stop the Steal by being more directly confrontational than Kremer's group and the tea party. "Our movement is masculine in nature," he said in a livestream.

Trump promoted both groups' events online at various times.

Stop the Steal, through its alias One Nation Under God, obtained a Capitol Police permit to rally on Capitol grounds, while Kremer and Women for America First controlled the National Park Service permit for a large gathering on the White House Ellipse.

Alexander and Jones wanted to speak at the Ellipse rally, but Kremer was opposed. The provocateurs found a powerful ally in Caroline Wren, an elite Republican fundraiser with connections to the Trump family, particularly Donald Trump Jr. and his partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle. Wren had raised money for the Ellipse rally and pushed to get Alexander and Jones on stage, according to six people involved in the January 6 rally and emails reviewed by ProPublica.

Pierson, the Trump campaign official, had initially been asked by Wren to help mediate the conflict. But Pierson shared Kremer's concern that Jones and Alexander were too unpredictable. Pierson and Wren declined to comment.

On Jan. 2, the fighting became so intense that Pierson asked senior White House officials how she should handle the situation, according to a person familiar with White House communications. The officials agreed that Alexander and Jones should not be on the stage and told Pierson to take charge of the event.

The next morning, Trump announced to the world that he would attend the rally at the Ellipse. "I will be there. Historic day!" he tweeted. This came as a surprise to both rally organizers and White House staff, each of whom told ProPublica they hadn't been informed he intended to speak at the rally.

That same day, a website went live promoting a march on Jan. 6. It instructed demonstrators to meet at the Ellipse, then march to the Capitol at 1 p.m. to "let the establishment know we will fight back against this fraudulent election. … The fate of our nation depends on it."

Alexander and his allies fired off these instructions across social media.

While Kremer and her group had held legally permitted marches at previous D.C. rallies and promoted all their events with the hashtag #marchfortrump, this time their permit specifically barred them from holding an "organized march." Rally organizers were concerned that violating their permit could create a legal liability for themselves and pose significant danger to the public, said Stockton, a political consultant with tea party roots who spent weeks with Kremer as they held rallies across the country in support of the president.

Lawrence and Stockton's fellow organizers contacted Pierson to inform her that the march was unpermitted, according to Stockton and three other people familiar with the situation.

While ProPublica has independently confirmed that senior White House officials, including Meadows, were involved in the broader effort to limit Alexander's role on January 6, it remains unclear just how far the rally organizers went to warn officials of their specific fears about the march.

Another source present for communications between Amy Kremer and her daughter and fellow organizer, Kylie Kremer, told ProPublica that on January 3, Kylie Kremer called her mother in desperation about the march.

Kylie Kremer asked her mom to escalate the situation to higher levels of the White House, and her mother said she would work on it, according to the source, who could hear the conversation on speakerphone. "You need to call right now," the source remembered the younger Kremer saying.

The source said that Kylie Kremer suggested Meadows as a person to contact around that time.

The source said that in a subsequent conversation, Amy Kremer told her daughter she would take the matter to Eric Trump's wife, Lara Trump. The source said that Kremer was in frequent contact with Lara Trump at the time.

Stockton said that he was not aware of Kremer talking to the family about January 6, but added that Kremer regularly communicates with the Trump family, including Lara Trump. He also said that Kremer gave him the distinct impression that she had contacted Meadows about the march.

Through his adviser Ben Williamson, Meadows declined to comment on whether the organizers contacted him regarding the march.

Lara Trump, who spoke at the Ellipse on January 6, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and text message asking for comment or to an inquiry left on her website. Eric Trump did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Kremer did not answer questions from ProPublica about communications with Lara Trump. Donald Trump's press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White House, at the time, was scrambling from one crisis to the next. On January 2, Trump and Meadows called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump pressed Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes" that would swing the state tally his way. On January 3, the president met with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and urged him to do what he could to protect Trump's supporters on January 6.

Meanwhile, Wren, the Republican fundraiser, was continuing to advocate for Jones and Alexander to play a prominent role at the Ellipse rally, according to emails and multiple sources.

A senior White House official suggested to Pierson that she resolve the dispute by going to the president himself, according to a source familiar with the matter.

On Jan. 4, Pierson met with Trump in the Oval Office. Trump expressed surprise that other people wanted to speak at the Ellipse at all. His request for the day was simple: He wanted lots of music and to limit the speakers to himself, some family members and a few others, according to the source and emails reviewed by ProPublica. The president asked if there was another venue where people like Alexander and Roger Stone could speak.

Pierson assured him there was. She informed the president that there was another rally scheduled the night before the election certification where those who lost their opportunity to speak at the Ellipse could still do so. It was meant as an olive branch extended between the competing factions, according to Stockton and two other sources.

Chafian, a reiki practitioner who'd been working closely with Alex Jones, was put in charge of the evening portion of the Jan. 5 event.

The speakers included Jones, Alexander, Stone, Michael Flynn and Three Percenter militia member Jeremy Liggett, who wore a flak jacket and led a "Fuck antifa!" chant. (Liggett is now running for Congress.) Chafian had invited Proud Boy leader Tarrio to speak as well, but Tarrio was arrested the day before on charges that he had brought prohibited gun magazines to Washington and burned a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from a church.

Tarrio told ProPublica that he did not know the flag was taken from a church and that the gun magazines were a custom-engraved gift for a friend. He has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of property destruction; the gun magazine charge is still pending indictment before a grand jury.

"Thank you, Proud Boys!" Chafian shouted at the end of her speech. "The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters — all of those guys keep you safe."

Wren, however, would not back down. On the morning of Jan. 6, she arrived at the Ellipse before dawn and began arranging the seats. Jones and Alexander moved toward the front. Organizers were so worried that Jones and Alexander might try to rush the stage that Pierson contacted a senior White House official to see how aggressive she could get in her effort to contain Wren.

After discussing several options, the official suggested she call the United States Park Police and have Wren escorted off the premises.

Pierson relayed this to Kylie Kremer, who contacted the police. Officers arrived, but ultimately took no action.

By 9 a.m.,Trump supporters had arrived in droves: nuns and bikers, men in American flag suits, a line of Oath Keepers. Signs welcomed the crowd with the words "Save America March."

Kylie Kremer greeted them gleefully. "What's up, deplorables!" she said from the stage.

Wren escorted Jones and Alexander out of the event early, as they prepared to lead their march on the Capitol.

At 11:57 a.m, Trump got on stage and, after a rambling speech, gave his now infamous directive. "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong," he said. "I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard."

Lawrence, Dustin Stockton's fiancee and co-organizer, remembers her shock.

"What the fuck is this motherfucker talking about?" Lawrence, an ardent Trump supporter, said of the former president.

In the coming hours, an angry mob would force its way into the building. Protesters smashed windows with riot shields stolen from cops, ransacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's chambers, and inflicted an estimated $1.5 million of damage. Roughly 140 police officers were injured. One was stabbed with a metal fence stake and another had spinal discs smashed, according to union officials.

The Stop the Steal group chat shows a reckoning with these events in real time.

"They stormed the capital," wrote Stop the Steal national coordinator Michael Coudrey in a text message at 2:33 p.m. "Our event is on delay."

"I'm at the Capitol and just joined the breach!!!" texted Straka, who months earlier had raised concerns about allying with white nationalists. "I just got gassed! Never felt so fucking alive in my life!!!"

Alexander and Coudrey advised the group to leave.

"Everyone get out of there," Alexander wrote. "The FBI is coming hunting."

In the months since, the Department of Justice has charged more than 400 people for their actions at the Capitol, including more than 20 alleged Proud Boys, over a dozen alleged Oath Keepers, and Straka. It's unclear from court records whether Straka has yet entered a plea.

In emails to ProPublica, Coudrey declined to answer questions about Stop the Steal. "I just really don't care about politics anymore," he said. "It's boring."

Meadows, now a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute, a think tank in Washington, appeared on Fox News on Jan. 27, delivering one of the first public remarks on the riot from a former Trump White House official. He encouraged the GOP to "get on" from Jan. 6 and focus on "what's important to the American people." Neither Meadows nor anyone else who worked in the Trump White House at the time has had to answer questions as part of the various inquiries currently proceeding in Congress.

Alexander has kept a low profile since January 6. But in private, texts show, he has encouraged his allies to prepare for "civil war."

"Don't denounce anything," he messaged his inner circle in January regarding the Capitol riot. "You don't want to be on the opposite side of freedom fighters in the coming conflict. Veterans will be looking for civilian political leaders."

Kirsten Berg and Lynn Dombek contributed additional reporting.

Boastful Jailhouse Letter Reveals Jan. 6 Rioter’s Radicalization

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

In a letter sent from behind bars, a key defendant in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol said he and fellow inmates have bonded in jail, and boasted that those attacking the building could have overthrown the government if they had wanted.

The letter is signed "the 1/6ers" and expresses no remorse for the assault on the Capitol, in which five people died. While no names appeared on it, ProPublica was able to determine, through interviews with his family and a review of his correspondence from jail, that it was penned by Guy Reffitt, a member of the Three Percenter right-wing militant group accused of participating in the riot. The letter said the inmates arrested for their role in the attack regularly recite the Pledge of Allegiance inside the Washington, D.C. jail and sing the national anthem "all in unison, loud and proud most everyday."

"January 6th was nothing short of a satirical way to overthrow a government," said the letter, written by hand on yellow lined paper. "If overthrow was the quest, it would have no doubt been overthrown."

The letter sent to ProPublica is believed to be one of the first public statements from a Jan. 6 rioter currently in detention. ProPublica also obtained text messages with Reffitt's family and was able to ask a few questions of him via text from the D.C. Jail, with his wife, Nicole Reffitt, acting as a relay. Guy Reffitt declined to participate in a fuller interview on the advice of his lawyer, his wife said.

Reffitt faces a variety of charges, including obstructing an official proceeding, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. He is awaiting trial and has pleaded not guilty. In text messages he sent last month to his wife, Reffitt said he was resigning from the Texas Three Percenters.

Last week, Reffitt told ProPublica via his wife that more than 30 people arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack had discussed the letter while in custody. He said that the "1/6ers" are "not organized" and that there are "no leaders," just "people chatting about things" because they are "stuck here together."

Reffitt said that the suspects communicate with one another with what are known as "kites," jailhouse slang for messages passed from cell to cell. They are also able to socialize during the two hours a day they're let out of their cells. The Department of Justice declined to comment.

Those detained in connection with the Capitol siege have been treated by D.C. officials as "maximum security" prisoners and kept in restrictive housing, according to media reports. Three defendants that Nicole Reffitt said she understood to be parties to the letter denied any knowledge of it when contacted by ProPublica. One of them said he became friends with Guy Reffitt inside the D.C. Jail, but had been moved to another unit by the time the letter was penned.

Nicole Reffitt said she helped her husband write the letter and solicit support through phone calls and a jailhouse messaging app inmates are allowed to use periodically to communicate with the outside world. The D.C. Jail has held dozens of defendants in connection with the riot, on charges ranging from obstructing an official proceeding to assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon.

The letter counters the notion that there was a "plan" or "conspiracy" to take down Congress on January 6, blaming much of the violence on "isolated overly emotional individuals." It suggests that their actions were meant to put the country on notice: "The people clearly are not happy," Guy Reffitt said in response to questions sent through his wife.

"Ask the Capitol Police for [their] opinion of how it could have been," the letter says. "They are grateful it wasn't a real insurrection complete with mind, body and soul."

Reffitt had a moment of notoriety in late January when it became public that his son had contacted the FBI to report him roughly two weeks before the riot. In text messages reviewed by ProPublica, Reffitt asked his wife for a list of presidents so that the group could use it to create cell names. Reffitt now resides in a cell he has dubbed "the Garfield suite," named after the 20th U.S. president, James A. Garfield.

ProPublica reporters visited Reffitt's family in Wylie, Texas, a Dallas suburb, and interviewed Nicole Reffitt and their two daughters. The reporters also met with the Reffitts' son, Jackson Reffitt, who had reported concerns about his father's activities to the FBI. Jackson Reffitt said the bureau did not follow up until the Capitol was under siege. The FBI did not immediately respond to questions from ProPublica.

The family shared group text message chats from the past year and some of their correspondence with Guy Reffitt during his more than three months in jail.

The material sheds light on the radicalization of Reffitt, whom federal prosecutors characterized in a court filing as a "serious danger ... not only to his family and Congress, but to the entire system of justice."

Reffitt, 48, worked most of his adult life on oil rigs, an occupation that took him and sometimes his family around the world, including three years in Malaysia. But when the coronavirus hit in 2020, work dried up and he intensified his political activity, focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement, which he viewed as destructive.

Reffitt saw his actions on January 6 as a critical step in protecting his wife and kids from what he viewed as a decades-long American slide toward "tyranny," according to his text messages.

"We watch the people of other countries rise up against authoritarianism and think, how sad they must be to want freedom and liberty so much," the letter said. "Here, the more you try to divide, bend or even break America. The more The Republic of The People will stand indivisible and resolute."

Reffitt's son covertly recorded conversations with his father that have shown up in court filings as evidence that Reffitt came to the Capitol armed and with violent intentions.

"You'll find out that I had every constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the Congress, as we tried to do," he said in one recording, according to a transcript in court files. Jackson Reffitt, 18, has since moved out of the family home and is raising money to support himself and his schooling.

In another excerpt in court files, Guy Reffitt was blunt: "I did bring a weapon on property that we own. Federal grounds or not. The law is written, but it doesn't mean it's right law. The people that were around me were all carrying too."

Reffitt's wife and daughters said his statements were more benign than they sound — that Reffitt is notorious for his hyperbole and left the Capitol when he learned rioters had made it inside. Nicole Reffitt said she has long referred to her husband teasingly as "Queenie" because of his flair for the dramatic. Prosecutors have not accused him of entering the Capitol building or hurting anyone.

In their most recent filing, prosecutors added new evidence to their case against Guy Reffitt. They obtained a recording of a January 10 Zoom meeting involving Reffitt and two other Three Percenters. In it, Reffitt allegedly said he helped lead the charge on the Capitol with a .40-caliber pistol at his side, at one point telling a U.S. Capitol Police officer who was firing nonlethal rounds at him, "Sorry, darling. You better get a bigger damn gun."

Reffitt went on to describe how the group might be able to disable a social media company's servers by using a sniper rifle to disable the generators at a nearby Texas facility. According to court records, he said attacking the servers would "make them feel it back" in Washington, D.C. He added: "Then they won't know we're coming next time."

In court filings, his lawyer said that prosecutors have "relied on bragging" and that none of the government's video or photographs from the Capitol show Reffitt to be armed. Reffitt has not been charged with a gun crime.

The letter expressed hope that the events of January 6 wouldn't need to be repeated: "I hope that was the only day in American history we would without doubt, feel the need to notify our government, they have transgressed much too far."

Several experts on extremism reviewed the letter for ProPublica and had differing views of its implications.

"I tend to look at this letter as a person puffing themself up," said Jason Blazakis, a former senior counterterrorism official at the Department of State.

Peter Simi, an associate professor at Chapman University in Southern California, found the language in the letter more alarming, especially in how it characterizes the January 6 riot as inevitable.

"I would interpret it as a threat. You can say it's thinly veiled, but I don't think it's that thinly veiled," Simi said. "This is the preamble — what you saw on the 6th. More is coming ... If you thought the 6th was bad, just wait and see."

The Meet And Greet

As Reffitt struggled to find work in the spring of 2020, he spent hours watching Fox News and getting angry over the Black Lives Matter protests, his family said. His teenage children supported the movement; Reffitt viewed it as "bullshit," according to his texts. One argument with his son ended with Reffitt throwing a coffee mug across the room. About a week later, Jackson Reffitt went to march in a BLM rally in Wylie. His father went armed, the family said, standing guard outside the suburb's Olde City Park.

Around that time, Guy Reffitt was introduced to the Three Percenters, a decentralized anti-government movement. The group, which takes its name from the myth that only three percent of the population fought the British in the American Revolution, is credited with popularizing the militia movement by framing it in more palatable, patriotic terms.

Nicole Reffitt recalled a "meet and greet" in June, with about 20 members coming to the Reffitt home for a barbecue.

After some awkward small talk, the conversation turned to "what everyone could do," she said. Who had military experience? Who had a license to carry? Who knew how to stop a bleed? Someone took notes to be sent up the chain of command.

Guy Reffitt was enthralled. Afterwards, he began doing what he called "intel," doing background checks on new recruits. His wife was relieved he seemed to have a sense of purpose.

In August, Reffitt drove to a BLM demonstration in Mississippi, hoping to surveil a particular activist. The family said that Reffitt intended to place a GPS tracking device on the man's car. He abandoned the plan when he wasn't sure he had the right vehicle.

Nicole Reffitt said she was alarmed when she found multiple license plates in the bed of her husband's pickup truck. She said her husband told her he used them to make sure he wasn't being tracked. "I was like, 'What the fuck? What are we doing?'" she said. "He told me to go to work and keep my business to myself."

After then-President Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection, Guy Reffitt began to sequester himself in the front room of his suburban brick home, glued to Newsmax as it reported theories of how the vote was rigged.

On December 19, Reffitt found a new obsession, his family said, when Trump tweeted: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"

From then on, Reffitt's texts bounced between plans for shopping and cooking prime rib for Christmas and talk of going to D.C. to "shock the world."

"It's the government that is going to be destroyed in this fight," Reffitt texted his family on December 21. "Congress has made fatal mistakes this time."

Feeling "paranoid" about his father, Jackson Reffitt sent in a tip via the FBI website. He said he wrote that his father was a militia member who made threatening statements about public officials and kept talking about doing "something big."

Full Battle Rattle

After Christmas, Guy Reffitt firmed up plans to travel to Washington for the January 6 rally. His family said he planned to bring weapons, which was unsurprising; they said he went most everywhere armed. Nicole Reffitt told ProPublica her husband promised to disassemble the weapons to comply with Washington, D.C., laws. His defense attorney has argued that there is no evidence that he "carried a loaded firearm."

But according to court records, on December 28, Guy messaged an unnamed individual. "I don't think unarmed will be the case this time," he said. "I will be in full battle rattle. If that's a law I break, so be it, but I won't do it alone."

When he left to drive to Washington, he told his family, "If everything works out, I'll see you again," in what Nicole said was a typically melodramatic goodbye.

"I love ALL of you with ALL of my heart and soul," he texted on the morning of January 6. "This is for our country and for ALL OF YOU and your kids."

Jackson Reffitt came home to find his mother and sister transfixed by the television as protestors pushed past police lines. "What the hell?" he recalled asking. "Is dad there?" The screen showed police in the Senate chambers, guns drawn.

"Your father is there," his mother responded.

Finally acting on Jackson Reffitt's earlier tip, an FBI agent called him to set up a meeting.

Two days later, Guy Reffitt came home, eager to boast. His son decided to record him. Jackson Reffitt met with the FBI agent the following week.

In the pre-dawn hours of January 16, a squad of more than a dozen officers rolled up to the Reffitt home, armed for a SWAT raid, according to his family and footage from their neighbor's security camera. A mobile battering ram idled in front of their house as the officers tossed flash-bang grenades. The family clambered out, some still in their underwear.

Guy Reffitt went without resistance, assuring the kids that the federal agents were only doing their jobs. He was expecting to be arrested by then, his family said, and even laughed with an officer who accompanied him to the bathroom after he'd been handcuffed.

As he was being carted off in the back of a police vehicle, he yelled out the window: "I didn't ask for this!"

He has been behind bars since.

On April 22, Reffitt messaged his wife a note of encouragement.

"You are superstars to more than half the country," he wrote. "There's no going back now."

Kirsten Berg contributed reporting.

Six Major Questions Still Unanswered After Capitol Riot Hearings

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

After two weeks of congressional hearings, it remains unclear how a rampaging mob of rioters managed to breach one of the most sacred bastions of American democracy on January 6.

During more than 15 hours of testimony, lawmakers listened to a cacophony of competing explanations as officials stumbled over themselves to explain how America's national security, defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies allowed a homegrown enemy to put an entire branch of government in danger during the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The continuing questions surrounding the attack have prompted calls for a more sustained inquiry than has so far taken place. House Democrats have proposed setting up an outside commission to investigate, similar to what followed the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, but so far Republicans have held up the proposal. Among the key questions yet to be answered:

1. Why did national security officials respond differently to Black Lives Matter protesters than to Trump supporters?

Last week, deputy assistant defense secretary Robert G. Salesses was sent to explain to Congress the Defense Department's decision-making on January 6.

Salesses said the National Guard had been criticized for being too aggressive during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, and that played into the more restrained response to the insurrection.

But his personal involvement in the insurrection response was limited. Much to the frustration of the senators questioning him, he wasn't able to provide details on why the guard took so long to arrive on Capitol grounds that day. This leaves some of the most alarming blunders of the day unexplained.

Last June in Washington, demonstrations calling for police reform following the death of George Floyd became a priority for top Defense Department officials. District of Columbia National Guard commander Maj. Gen. William Walker told Congress on March 3 that the head of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, spent almost a week by his side at the D.C. Armory to facilitate the guard's response to those protests.

Nothing similar happened for the planned protests on January 6.

Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund had to plead for guard support during a series of phone calls during the insurrection. Walker said McCarthy was "not available" for one crucial conference call at about 2:30 p.m. Rioters were minutes from the House chamber at that point, but the defense officials on the call were still skeptical. Walker said they were worried about how it might look to send troops to the Capitol and whether it might further "inflame" the crowd.

"I was frustrated," Walker said. "I was just as stunned as everybody else on the call."

It took more than three hours for the Pentagon to approve the request. During the Black Lives Matter protests, Walker said such approval was given immediately.

Salesses told Congress that McCarthy wanted to know more about how exactly the guard would be used at the Capitol.

An Army spokesperson did not answer specific questions about McCarthy's decision-making during the Black Lives Matter protests or on January. 6, but said the guard's posture on January 6 was based on a request from the mayor of Washington.

"The Department of Defense Inspector General is now reviewing the details of the preparation for and response to the January 6 protest and attack on the U.S. Capitol," she said. "We intend to allow that process to proceed independently."

2. Did lawmakers, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, play a role in security decisions?

Both the House and the Senate have a position known as a sergeant-at-arms, an official responsible for protecting the lawmakers. These officials oversee the Capitol Police chief, and while staff in lawmakers' offices frequently maintain contact with the sergeants-at-arms about security plans and briefings, there are still questions about the details of consultations held before or during the January 6 attack. Paul Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael Stenger, his equivalent in the Senate, resigned along with Sund following the riot.

The pair reported to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, respectively. Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, told ProPublica that prior to January 6, the speaker's staff asked Irving questions about security and were assured on January 5 that the Capitol complex had "comprehensive security and there was no intelligence that groups would become violent." McConnell's spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about whether the senator was involved in any security preparations before January 6. Staffers for both lawmakers told ProPublica they did not learn of the request for the guard until the day of the attack.

Sund has said that he began asking his superiors for guard assistance on January 4.

Irving and Stenger dispute that. In their congressional testimony, they said Sund merely relayed an offer from the National Guard to dispatch a unit of unarmed troops to help with traffic control. They said the three of them together decided against it.

Irving and Stenger also said they did not discuss the guard with Pelosi or McConnell's staff until January 6, when the riot was well under way. But the details of those conversations remain vague.

Sund said he called Irving and Stenger to ask them to declare an emergency and call in the guard at 1:09 p.m. that day. In his written testimony, he said that Irving told him he would need to "run it up the chain of command" first.

Irving disputed that too. He said he granted the request as soon as Sund made it and Irving simply told congressional "leadership" they "might" be calling in the guard.

Sund also said in his written testimony that as they were waiting for the guard, Stenger offered to ask McConnell to "call the Secretary of the Army to expedite the request."

Asked about his conversations with Congress, Stenger said only that he "mentioned it to Leader McConnell's staff" on January 6. No one asked him to elaborate.

In an emailed response to questions, Hammill said that at approximately 1:40 p.m. on January 6, Irving approached Pelosi's staff near the House chamber, asking for permission to call in the guard. Pelosi approved the request and was told they needed McConnell's approval, too. Pelosi's chief of staff then went to Stenger's office, where McConnell's staff was already meeting with the sergeants-at-arms.

Hammill said there was shared frustration at the meeting. "It was made clear to make the request immediately," he said. "Security professionals are expected to make security decisions."

A spokesman for McConnell did not answer questions about whether he was in fact asked to call the Army secretary, as Sund's written testimony suggested. He referred ProPublica to an article in The New York Times. The story describes McConnell's staff learning of the guard request for the first time at the meeting with Stenger and staffers being confused and frustrated that it was not made sooner.

3. Was law enforcement unprepared for the attack because of an intelligence failure?

Last week, FBI leaders told Congress that the bureau provided intelligence on the threat to both the Capitol Police and local D.C. police. They also referenced more general warnings they've issued for years about the rise of right-wing extremism.

Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the bureau's counterterrorism division, told Congress that leading up to the riot, the FBI had made January 6 a priority for all 56 of its field offices.

But acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told Congress on February 25 that the agency had received no actionable intelligence.

"No credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol," Pittman said, echoing a common position among law enforcement on the lack of persuasive intelligence going into January 6. As a result, she said, her department was ready for isolated violence, not a coordinated attack.

A Jan. 5 intelligence bulletin from an FBI field office in Norfolk, Virginia, has generated significant attention. First reported by The Washington Post, it described individuals sharing a map of tunnels beneath the Capitol complex and locations of potential rally points, and quoted an online thread calling for war: "Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in .... Get violent." But the FBI itself has emphasized that the intelligence had not been fully vetted.

Pittman, who helped oversee the Capitol Police intelligence division at the time but was not yet the acting chief, also downplayed the memo. She said that while her department received the bulletin the evening before the riot, it never reached anyone in leadership. Reviewing the document later, though, she said the information was consistent with what the department already knew and that the memo specifically requested that agencies receiving it not "take action" based on its contents. "We do not believe that based on the information in that document, we would have changed our posture," Pittman said.

4. Or was it a security failure?

Congress has not focused as much on the culpability of Capitol Police leadership.

Last month, ProPublica published an investigation drawing on interviews with 19 current and former members of the Capitol Police. The officers described how internal failures put hundreds of Capitol cops at risk and allowed rioters to get dangerously close to members of Congress.

"We went to work like it was a normal fucking day," said one officer. Another said his main instruction was to be on the lookout for counterprotesters.

On February 25, Pittman acknowledged that the department's communication system became overwhelmed during the riot. But fending off a mob of thousands would have required "physical infrastructure or a regiment of soldiers," she said, and no law enforcement agency could have handled the crowd on its own.

She said that on January 6, the department had roughly 1,200 officers on duty out of a total of over 1,800. On a normal Wednesday, she said, there are more than 1,000 officers on duty.

5. Was the National Guard ready?

Last week, Walker, the National Guard commander, offered startling testimony on what he called "unusual" restrictions limiting what he could do on January 6.

He said that on January 4 and 5, he was told he would need approval from top defense officials to issue body armor to his troops, use a "quick reaction force" of 40 guardsmen, or move troops stationed at traffic posts around the city.

In his testimony, Walker said he had never experienced anything like it in his nearly four decades in the guard.

At one point, the Metropolitan Police, D.C.'s police force, asked Walker to move three unarmed guardsmen one block to help with traffic control. To do it, he had to get permission from McCarthy, the man running the entire U.S. Army.

More frustrating, Walker said, was that he could have sent roughly 150 National Guard members to the Capitol within 20 minutes if he had received immediate approval. That "could have made a difference," he said. "Seconds mattered. Minutes mattered."

So far, the only Pentagon official who has testified publicly is Salesses, who had little direct involvement in the January 6 response.

"I was not on the calls, any of the calls," Salesses said.

Instead, Salesses stated that acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller was at the top of the chain of command and "wanted to make the decisions."

"Clearly he wanted to," Sen. Rob Portman said. "The question is why."

6. How did officer Brian Sicknick die?

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died the day after the insurrection. That evening, the Capitol Police released a statement saying he had died from injuries sustained in the riot. Law enforcement officials initially said Sicknick had been hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. Several Capitol Police officers told ProPublica the same. ProPublica also spoke with members of Sicknick's family shortly after he died. They said Sicknick texted them after fending off the mob to tell them he had been hit with pepper spray. The family told ProPublica that Sicknick later suffered a blood clot and a stroke. "This political climate got my brother killed," his eldest brother said.

But the exact cause of Sicknick's death remains unclear. On February 2, CNN published a report citing an anonymous law enforcement official who told the news outlet that medical examiners did not find signs of blunt force trauma, reportedly leading investigators to believe he was not fatally struck by a fire extinguisher. On February 26, The New York Times reported that the FBI has "homed in on the potential role of an irritant as a primary factor in his death" and has identified a suspected assailant who attacked several officers, including Sicknick, with bear spray. The D.C. medical examiner has yet to conclude its investigation into the exact cause of Sicknick's death.

On March 2, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), asked FBI Director Christopher Wray if a cause of death had been determined and if there was a homicide investigation.

Wray said there is an active investigation into Sicknick's death, but the bureau was "not at a point where we can disclose or confirm the cause of death." He did not specify whether it was a homicide investigation.

Pittman was also questioned about Sicknick.

"I just want to be absolutely clear for the record," said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Virginia Democrat. "Do you acknowledge that the death of officer Brian Sicknick was a line-of-duty death?"

"Yes ma'am, I do," Pittman responded.

Kirsten Berg contributed reporting.

Capitol Officers Deeply Troubled Over Agency’s Disastrous Jan. 6 Response

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The riot squad defending the embattled entrance to the west side of the U.S. Capitol was surrounded by violence. Rioters had clambered up the scaffolding by the stage erected for the inauguration of President Joseph Biden. They hurled everything they could get their hands on at the cops beneath: rebar, plywood, power tools, even cans of food they had frozen for extra damage.

In front of the cops, a mob was mounting a frontal assault. Its members hit officers with fists and baseball bats. They grabbed at weapons slung from the officers' waists. They unleashed a barrage of M-80 firecrackers. Soaked in never-ending streams of bright orange bear spray, the officers choked on plumes of acrid smoke that singed their nostrils and obscured their vision.

One officer in the middle of the scrum, a combat veteran, thought the rioters were so vicious, so relentless, that they seemed fueled by methamphetamine. To his left, he watched a chunk of steel strike a fellow officer above the eye, setting off a geyser of blood. A pepper ball tore through the air over his shoulder and exploded against the jaw of a man in front of him. The round, filled with chemical irritant, ripped the rioter's face open. His teeth were now visible through a hole in his cheek. Blood poured out, puddling on the pavement surrounding the building. But the man kept coming.

The combat veteran was hit with bear spray eight times. His experience overseas "was nothing like this," he said. “Nothing at all."

Over the last several weeks, ProPublica has interviewed 19 current and former U.S. Capitol Police officers about the assault on the Capitol. Following on the dramatic video of officers defending the building that House lawmakers showed during the first day of the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, the interviews provide the most detailed account to date of a most extraordinary battle.

The enemies on January 6 were Americans: thousands of people from across the country who had descended on the Capitol, intent on stopping Congress from certifying an election they believed was stolen from Trump. They had been urged to attend by Trump himself, with extremist right-wing and militia leaders calling for violence.

Many of the officers were speaking to reporters for the first time about the day's events, almost all anonymously for fear of retribution. That they spoke at all is an indication of the depth of their frustration over the botched response. ProPublica also obtained confidential intelligence bulletins and previously unreported planning documents.

Combined, the information makes clear how failures of leadership, communication and tactics put the lives of hundreds of officers at risk and allowed rioters to come dangerously close to realizing their threats against members of Congress.

In response to questions for this story, the Capitol Police sent a one-sentence email: “There is a multi-jurisdictional investigation underway and in order to protect that process, we are unfortunately unable to provide any comment at this time."

The interviews also revealed officers' concerns about disparities in the way the force prepared for Black Lives Matter demonstrations versus the pro-Trump protests on January 6. Officers said the Capitol Police force usually plans intensively for protests, even if they are deemed unlikely to grow violent. Officers said they spent weeks working 12- or 16-hour days, poised to fight off a riot, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police — even though intelligence suggested there was not much danger from protesters.

“We had intel that nothing was going to happen — literally nothing," said one former official with direct knowledge of planning for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “The response was, 'We don't trust the intel.'"

By contrast, for much of the force, January 6 began like any other day.

“We normally have pretty good information regarding where these people are and how far they are from the Capitol," said Keith McFaden, a former Capitol Police officer and union leader who retired from the force following the riot. “We heard nothing that day."

For the members of the riot squad who formed the first line of defense on the Capitol's lower west terrace on January 6, the lack of information could not have come with higher stakes.

Thrust into the most intense battle of the insurrection, the roughly two dozen officers bought lawmakers crucial time to scramble for safety. For about 100 heart-pounding minutes, they slipped and skidded across a stone surface slick with blood and bear spray, attempting to hold their ground against a rampaging mass of thousands.

To many of them, it felt like no one was in charge of the Capitol's defense. All they could hear on the police radio were desperate cries for help.

At one point, the combat veteran was forced to stumble back from the line, his face so covered in bear spray he could barely see or breathe.

When he came to, a surge spilled over to his south. The crowd pushed over several bike racks. He realized the unfathomable had happened. His squad had lost the line; the mob could now enter the Capitol. There was no choice but to fall back. The officers stumbled over blood and debris until they were pressed against a limestone wall at the rear of the terrace. The mob had them cornered.

The officers, drained from their standoff, found a narrow staircase leading to an entrance of the building. But it could fit only one officer at a time. So they took turns climbing it as the crowd closed in, screaming obscenities and threatening murder.

“You fucking faggots!" one shouted. “You're not even American!"

Waiting to climb the stairs, the combat veteran feared the worst. “This is where they'll find my body," he thought.

The Intelligence: “A Normal Fucking Day"

On the morning of January 4, members of a civil disturbance unit gathered in a briefing room. A small group of officers were shown a document from Capitol intelligence officials that projected as many as 20,000 people arriving in Washington that week. The crowd would include members of several militia and right-wing extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois and the white supremacist Patriot Front. Some were expected to be armed, according to one officer who attended the briefing. The document anticipated that there could be violence.

The officers weren't allowed to physically share the document with anyone else, but they relayed its substance to the rest of their squad in a separate meeting. Together, the unit members discussed possible scenarios and pored over a map of the Capitol and its surroundings to identify vulnerable areas that could erupt in conflict.

The iconic west front of the Capitol emerged as an obvious target. Donald Trump was going to speak at the Ellipse across from the White House; from there, it's a direct walk past the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool outside the Capitol to the western facade of the building. The riot squad knew that if the crowd was going to violently confront police, that's where it would probably happen.

But the intelligence the unit relied on to make that judgment was not widely shared within the department. Several officers assigned to other commands told ProPublica they received no warning whatsoever going into January 6. “We went to work like it was a normal fucking day," one said.

“It was business as usual," said another, who has been on the force for more than 15 years. “The main thing we were told was to be on the lookout for counterdemonstrators."

The Capitol Police force is made up of four main divisions, each responsible for safeguarding its own section of the Capitol complex. But ProPublica learned that these divisions operate in silos, often out of sync with one another. On January 6, their failure to coordinate led to disastrous results. One group of officers was left stranded, separated from their riot gear, which sat unused on a parked bus near the Capitol while unprotected officers endured beatings with metal pipes and flagpoles.

The officers said that in the past, weekly Capitol Police intelligence briefings had kept the force well-informed about potential security threats from upcoming events. But those briefings stopped years ago.

Several weeks before January 6, many officers were ordered by their leadership to return their helmets because they were so old, the officers said. One officer told ProPublica he had received his helmet decades ago, and the padding was rotted out. Many said their helmets were never replaced. On the day of the riot, the department only had helmets available in medium size, one officer said. Many officers didn't have gas masks. Most hadn't received riot training in years.

“They've been asking about this for over 10 years — this kind of equipment, this kind of training," said one officer, who asked for anonymity out of concern for retribution. “We've always talked about the big one."

McFaden, the officer who retired last month after more than two decades as a Capitol Police officer, said that the communication failure going into Januay 6 was consistent with recent history.

As second-in-command at the Capitol Police union, McFaden said, he met with then-Chief Steven Sund and other leaders of the force every two weeks.

“We'd consistently ask them, for years, 'What are the contingency plans for upcoming events?'" McFaden told ProPublica. “We'd always get either a no response, or that things were in flux and it's a national security issue and we can't divulge that information at this time."

In the absence of communication from the upper ranks on how to prepare, officers turned to social media or to each other.

One officer said he first heard about the planned protest a week before, when a friend from another federal agency called him to say, as he recalled: “You all are gonna have your hands full next week. You got some mean boys coming up there." The officer was confused. “What do you mean?" he replied.

As the day drew nearer, the chatter became more tense. Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with hotel rooms filling up, and Trump supporters were pouring into Washington, announcing their plans to initiate a “civil war" or “revolution." On a well-trafficked pro-Trump forum, one of the most popular posts from January 5 said Congress “has a choice to make tomorrow": certify Trump's victory, or “get lynched by patriots."

Officers, particularly the younger ones, spent shifts glued to their phones, forwarding ominous posts to their sergeants.

Similar warnings reached the Capitol Police's intelligence division. ProPublica obtained a previously unreported 17-page Capitol Police operational plan that showed select officials were notified of “numerous social media posts" encouraging protesters to arrive armed.

The document, which is dated January 5, also states that white supremacists and the Proud Boys were expected to attend the rally, along with “other extremist groups," including antifa, the left-wing movement that has clashed with far-right groups and drawn the ire of some Republicans. The plan called for “counter-sniper teams" on the Capitol dome and officers monitoring for concealed weapons, but did not discuss a potential breach of the Capitol.

Other intelligence reports reviewed by ProPublica reveal inconsistencies — a sign of internal confusion about how best to respond.

ProPublica also obtained four daily reports from the department's intelligence division that were shared widely among commanders of the force, spanning the dates January 4 through January 7. The documents make no mention of expected extremist groups or the possibility that demonstrators would be armed. Instead, they note simply that “folks could organize a demonstration on USCP grounds."

The intelligence reports provide a kind of threat scale that gauges the likelihood of arrests. The January 6 rally was scored as “improbable," meaning it had a 20% to 45% chance of resulting in arrests. Two small anti-Trump counterdemonstrations organized by local left-wing and antifascist groups were assigned the same risk level.

Sund, who submitted his resignation as chief of the Capitol Police on January 7, later said he had tried to call in the National Guard two days before the riot. He said the sergeants-at-arms — the House and Senate officials responsible for security of lawmakers — denied his request. Both officials have since resigned. Reached by phone, former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving declined to comment. Former Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger did not immediately respond to a message left by phone.

In an emailed response to questions for this story, Sund said he and other departmental leaders were not responsible for assigning risk levels to upcoming events, and that he is “not sure of the process" the Capitol Police intelligence division uses to assess risk. He said intelligence was shared with division commanders to pass along to their troops, and that he emailed the assistant and deputy chiefs on January 5 to ensure officers knew what to expect the following day. Sund also said “the force did much more to prepare for the events of January 6 than we did to prepare for BLM demonstrations," including expanding the perimeter around the Capitol and coordinating support from Metropolitan police. He said any “breakdown in communication" on January 6 was “surely the result of the extraordinary events of that day."

He also defended his actions in an eight-page letter to congressional leaders dated February 1, saying, in essence, that he and his fellow leaders did the best they could with the information they had.

Sund said he ordered an “all hands on deck" response, meaning every available officer “would be working." He said he deployed about 250 specialized crowd control officers, “approximately four platoons" of which were outfitted in riot gear. He said that during the riot he urgently requested help from a variety of federal and local agencies. He added that the Capitol Police ordered more helmets and received about 100 of them on January 4. But he acknowledged that “a number of systems broke down."

“I also wish we had had better intelligence and warnings as to the possibility of this type of military style armed insurrection," Sund wrote, pointing out that there was a shared responsibility across a number of agencies. “The entire intelligence community seems to have missed this."

Run-Up to the Riot: “If Something Happens, Just Find Work"

At 7 a.m. on January 6, an officer on the department's midnight shift finished work and got into his car near the Capitol. Already, swarms of people were walking past, waving Trump flags. He sat in the driver's seat for a minute, watching. He called up an old colleague and marveled at the crowd.

The officer was surprised his superiors were letting him off duty. During the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, the night shift had often been held over to help. But he hadn't heard anything from his bosses, so he drove home to the Maryland suburbs and went to sleep. When he woke up, he saw on television what was happening and sped back, following an unmarked police car that had its lights flashing.

Meanwhile, officers belonging to the riot squad were making their way into the district to start their shifts. They could see throngs of people pouring out of Union Station, the railway hub within sight of the Capitol. They, too, were startled by the number of people on the streets that morning — it seemed that at every red light, a hundred demonstrators crossed in front of them. The officers hurried to prepare themselves for a long day.

At 10 a.m., as Trump supporters began to gather to listen to the president, the riot squad held roll call at a building a few blocks from the Capitol steps. There was little new to share from the intelligence division. Instead, the riot squad's sergeants played clips found on social media: videos of protesters meeting in cities across the country, getting ready to drive to D.C. They told officers to make sure they had filters in their gas masks and snacks in their pockets.

With no real direction from their superiors, the sergeants tried to get their troops mentally prepared.

“You guys all drove in, you guys saw the same thing we did," one of the sergeants told the officers, according to members of the team. “If something happens," another instructed, “just find work."

The unit put on their riot gear: helmets and body armor. Shields were placed in strategic areas around the Capitol complex, though some officers later said they could not get to them. One sergeant gave officers a final warning. “If this goes good, then we'll laugh about it," he told them. “But if it goes bad, it'll change your life and you'll never forget about it. They'll talk about this for years and years and years."

The riot squad members got on a bus to await their orders.

Sitting in his gear, one officer was struck by the age range of the people in attendance. “People had their little kids, 2-year-olds, babies in strollers," he recalled. An elderly woman with a walker inched toward the Capitol: “Every two steps, she has to stop and catch her breath."

After about an hour, the radio crackled: A possible bomb had been found outside the Republican National Committee headquarters, southeast of the Capitol complex. Capitol Police officers raced to the scene.

On the bus, the information did not set off panic. Suspicious packages are discovered all the time on the Hill; usually they are false alarms.

Then another, more urgent call went out. A 10-33, code for an officer in distress. An officer had been knocked backwards and hit her head on a flight of steps. The outer perimeter surrounding the west front of the Capitol had been breached.

Normally, the sergeants on the bus would wait for orders. But one snapped. “Fuck this, we're going," he said. The bus steered around the Capitol, barely squeezing between parked cars and protesters that had clogged a drive alongside the building.

Realizing they were effectively marooned, the sergeants ordered the riot squad off the bus. They began to walk across a wide lawn outside the Capitol.

As the officers drew closer, they realized that the lower section of the building's west terrace was guarded only by what is known as a “soft squad," officers with little protective gear dressed in neon yellow outerwear and baseball caps. The rioters were attempting to pull away metal barricades known as “bike racks," and striking officers with their fists. With about 150 yards to go, the squad members broke into a dead sprint.

Once they reached the lower steps, the riot officers spread out behind the soft squad, tapping its members out, one by one. The riot squad came into formation in front of their less-protected colleagues: about two dozen officers attempting to hold 120 feet of open space, behind the line of barricades.

Looking out toward the Mall and the Washington Monument, the squad realized the grass had disappeared from view, blocked out by a crowd of thousands.

The Attack: “Pick a Side"

At about 1 p.m., Trump gave a rousing speech to protesters, suggesting they head to the Capitol to protest the election certification. “We're going to walk down" to the Capitol, where they must “fight," he said.

“We're going to the Capitol," he told the increasingly agitated crowd of protesters. “We're going to try and give [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."

Vice President Mike Pence had just arrived in the House Chamber. The lawmakers awaiting him still hadn't realized just how dire the situation was becoming.

To Sund, it was already clear that “the situation was deteriorating rapidly," he wrote in his letter. He requested support from a number of agencies, including the Secret Service, and asked the sergeants-at-arms to authorize the National Guard and declare a state of emergency. According to the letter, Sund recalled that Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, said he “needed to run it up the chain of command."

Outside on the lower west terrace, the rioters had begun launching their offensive. At first, they pushed officers from across the bike racks, almost testing to see what they could get away with. Soon it became a fistfight. In what felt like minutes, it turned into an all-out brawl involving scores of armed rioters.

To the police on the line, it seemed like every time they shoved one protester back, three more surged ahead to take their place.

“Some of them, as they are holding a thin blue line flag, looked you dead in the eye and said, 'Pick a side,'" one officer told ProPublica.

One officer hit a demonstrator and watched a pistol pop out of the rioter's waistband. The officer picked the weapon up off the ground and, with no time or backup to initiate an arrest, put it in his pocket and continued fighting.

Plumes of tear gas billowed behind the police line. Officers were startled by the sight of department commanders joining their desperate troops to defend the Capitol.

Inspector Thomas Loyd, the man in charge of the department's Capitol Division, threw off his hat and raised his fists. Deputy Chief Eric Waldow waded into the crowd. With the build of a linebacker, he cut a menacing figure, throwing punches as the bear spray stained his white uniform orange.

The two are now revered by the department's rank and file, who complain that other leaders were missing in action. Waldow and Loyd referred ProPublica to the Capitol Police public information office, which declined to comment.

The only other high-ranking official who officers said they heard on the radio that day was Yogananda Pittman, the department's assistant chief for protective and intelligence operations. Multiple officers told ProPublica that Pittman addressed the troops only once on the radio, when she ordered that the Capitol be locked down. Loyd, the union said in a public statement in January, had already given the same order about an hour before.

Elsewhere, another riot squad was in even worse shape. These officers had been dispatched to help quell a group of protesters gathered near a monument west of the Capitol. But they had been instructed by their superior officers to leave their gear on a bus. Now they were separated from the bus, defenseless.

“They were holding back some protesters, with just bike racks," said McFaden. “Well, those bike racks actually were used as weapons against the officers. Who had the bright idea of sending a hard squad with no gear? ... The coordination was just not there."

McFaden said that one member of that squad was hit in the head by a bike rack and knocked unconscious.

As the battle raged, officers stationed away from the combat were still trying to figure out if they were authorized to respond. They heard calls on their radios for “all available units." But officers at fixed posts didn't know what that meant.

“How the fuck am I supposed to know if I'm available?" thought one officer, stationed at a perimeter post with no rioters in sight. The officer's supervisors didn't know either. The group decided to stay put: If they left, there was a chance their post could be overrun. They were stuck listening to their colleagues fight and cry for help over the radio.

McFaden was also stationed away from the rioters, tasked with guarding a parking garage on the Rayburn House Office Building's west side. From his post, he had a clear view of the battle on the west front, but he'd received orders to stay at the garage entrance. At 56 years old, he had worked for the Capitol Police House Division for more than 20 years. He was slated to retire in just a few weeks. Now he was watching, powerless, as flash-bang grenades went off in front of a building he was sworn to protect.

By this point, time had become a blur to the officers at the west front. But somewhere around 1:15 p.m., it felt for a moment like the cavalry arrived. Dozens of officers in black riot gear came over the wall on the south side of the terrace. Washington's Metropolitan Police Department, the only other members of law enforcement on the west front in riot gear that day, had arrived.

But the reinforcements could only slow the crowd. About an hour and a half after the Metropolitan police arrived, the rioters broke through the line. In the melee, a rioter was captured on video hurling a fire extinguisher at the Capitol police. It struck an officer in the head, giving him a concussion, according to his colleagues. That officer was one of at least two to be assaulted with such a device that day; another, Brian Sicknick, died from his injuries the following day.

The rioters pulled at least two of the Capitol Police officers in riot gear into the crowd, stealing their batons and pepper spray and setting off a kind of human tug of war, before other officers were eventually able to pull their colleagues out.

Soon, the police had their backs against a wall. They formed a semicircle, doing their best to defend themselves against jabs with flagpoles and shots from bear spray canisters and pepper spray guns.

The officers made their way toward the staircase leading up to the second floor of the west terrace. A line of officers pushed each other up the narrow steps. When they got to the terrace, they rushed through a door leading to the inside of the building. Metropolitan police formed a wall of riot shields behind them, sealing off the entrance.

The crowd never made it through the doors. Video footage shows a Metropolitan police officer trapped in the door, screaming in agony. As the police poured inside, some members of Congress were still on the House floor, yet to be evacuated.

At around this time, Sund was on a conference call with four different agencies and had just learned that he needed Pentagon approval to activate the National Guard. According to Sund's letter, Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of Army staff, remained skeptical. “I don't like the visual of the National Guard standing [in] a line with the Capitol in the background," Piatt said, suggesting that the guard relieve Capitol Police officers from their fixed posts instead. Piatt and the Department of Defense did not immediately respond to an emailed list of questions. (In a statement on January 11, Piatt denied making such a comment. He later acknowledged that he “may" have said it.)

Once inside, the riot squad searched desperately for water. The pepper spray and bear spray cocktail was overwhelming, seeping through the tiny breathing holes of their masks.

Officers spat out phlegm and vomited into trash cans. When they eventually found water, they rushed to wash the chemicals out of their eyes and put their helmets back on. They climbed up another flight of stairs to get to the Capitol crypt, the circular room directly beneath the rotunda.

As the officers ascended, they met more rioters, who were being pushed down the stairs by Metropolitan police. The Capitol police felt like they were swimming upstream through a mob, grabbing the protesters by their limbs and shoulders as they tried to reach the next level of the Capitol.

One officer said the crypt looked like something out of a Michael Bay movie, trash strewn everywhere, the air thick with smoke.

After the crypt was cleared, another officer made it to the Capitol rotunda. He said he still can't shake the scene: On the walls, a 19th-century frieze depicted the Battle of Lexington and the signing of the Declaration of Independence; on the ground, pepper balls whizzed into the crowd and the smell of chemicals wafted through the air.

McFaden, too, finally got a call to jump into the action, and was ordered to the rotunda. When he arrived beneath its domed ceiling, already breathless from the run over, he got hit in the face with bear spray.

“I felt like you could fry an egg on my forehead," he said.

The Aftermath: “I Don't Trust the People Above Me to Make Decisions to Bring Me Home Safe"

By about 4 p.m., other agencies had arrived in the rotunda: FBI SWAT teams, police officers from surrounding counties. Law enforcement moved in lines two or three deep, pushing the demonstrators out of the building's east doors.

With their guns drawn, officers teamed up and began searching the Capitol, clearing rooms one by one. Members of Congress were now huddled with their staff, cowering petrified behind furniture they had piled against their office doors.

The first 150 or so members of the National Guard finally arrived at 5:40 p.m.

“I still cannot fathom why in the midst of an armed insurrection, which was broadcast worldwide on television, it took the Department of Defense over three hours to approve an urgent request for National Guard support," Sund wrote in his letter. In response to questions for this story, the National Guard sent a timeline that confirmed their 5:40 p.m. arrival and referred ProPublica to a press release stating they worked with Capitol and Metropolitan police “to assist with an immediate response."

At around 8 p.m., Capitol Police declared the complex secure. It was pitch-black outside by the time the riot squad that fought on the west front reunited. There was little conversation. They sat exhausted on the steps by the Memorial Door, helmets at their feet, staring at each other in disbelief. Some hugged each other. Others cried.

One saw that he had missed 17 calls and nearly 100 text messages. High school friends he hadn't spoken to in years reached out on Instagram. In text after text, the same words: “I saw the news." “Call me when you get this." “I love you."

The messages made some of the news coverage that came later, in which police were accused of siding with the mob, easier to stomach. He knew nothing he had done that day could be construed as complicit with the rioters. It looked like at least some of his friends and relatives knew it too.

Several officers said they didn't get home until the early morning hours of the next day. One said when he got home he went straight to his washing machine to put his bear-spray-soaked uniform into a cold-water wash. Another said that he could not get rid of the smell or the itch of the chemicals for days.

For a week afterward, one officer said, he cried nightly. Three Capitol Police officers died in early January: Brian Sicknick, who was beaten over the head with a fire extinguisher; Howard Liebengood, who died by suicide following the riot; and Eric Marshall, who died of cancer four days before the riot. Almost 140 Capitol and Metropolitan police officers were injured, according to a union statement. One had two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs.

A week or so later, McFaden and union chair Gus Papathanasiou met with leadership for the first time since Sund's resignation on January 7. Acting Chief Pittman, Assistant Chief Chad Thomas and other senior officers were in attendance.

Loyd, the inspector who had thrown punches on the west front, was also there. McFaden had the sense that Loyd was only brought in to defuse tension with the union, which had more questions than leadership had answers.

Pittman acknowledged that the force was in a dark place and a culture change was sorely needed. But McFaden said the acting chief quickly became taciturn. When she was asked where she and her fellow chiefs were during the riot and why they weren't on the radio, she dodged the question.

Meetings with union leadership usually last at least an hour, but after 30 minutes, McFaden said, Pittman got up to leave for another engagement.

The union leaders were enraged. They turned to Thomas and asked why he wasn't on the radio that day.

“He said he was trying to do that for like 10 to 15 seconds, and he couldn't get on the radio," McFaden said. “This event lasted for hours. ... I mean, come on." Pittman and Thomas did not respond to calls for comment.

It was only through Pittman's testimony at a closed Congressional briefing on January 26 that most Capitol Police officers learned that the force did in fact have intelligence warnings of possible violence. She admitted that the department failed to adequately act on it.

The officers said they are still waiting for an apology. Many are looking for new jobs.

“Let's face it. Now the whole world knows where the vulnerabilities of the Capitol are," said one officer. “I don't trust the people above me to make decisions to bring me home safe."

Black Officers Warned Of Racism In Capitol Police For Years

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

When Kim Dine took over as the new chief of the U.S. Capitol Police in 2012, he knew he had a serious problem.

Since 2001, hundreds of Black officers had sued the department for racial discrimination. They alleged that white officers called Black colleagues slurs like the N-word and that one officer found a hangman's noose on his locker. White officers were called "huk lovers" or "FOGs" — short for "friends of gangsters" — if they were friendly with their Black colleagues. Black officers faced "unprovoked traffic stops" from fellow Capitol Police officers. One Black officer claimed he heard a colleague say, "Obama monkey, go back to Africa."

In case after case, agency lawyers denied wrongdoing. But in an interview, Dine said it was clear he had to address the department's charged racial climate. He said he promoted a Black officer to assistant chief, a first for the agency, and tried to increase diversity by changing the force's hiring practices. He also said he hired a Black woman to lead a diversity office and created a new disciplinary body within the department, promoting a Black woman to lead it.

"There is a problem with racism in this country, in pretty much every establishment that exists," said Dine, who left the agency in 2016. "You can always do more in retrospect."

Whether the Capitol Police managed to root out racist officers will be one of many issues raised as Congress investigates the agency's failure to prevent a mob of Trump supporters from attacking the Capitol while lawmakers inside voted to formalize the electoral victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

Already, officials have suspended several police officers for possible complicity with insurrectionists, one of whom was pictured waving a Confederate battle flag as he occupied the building. One cop was captured on tape seeming to take selfies with protesters, while another allegedly wore a red "Make America Great Again" hat as he directed protesters around the Capitol building. While many officers were filmed fighting off rioters, at least 12 others are under investigation for possibly assisting them.

Two current Black Capitol Police officers told BuzzFeed News that they were angered by leadership failures that they said put them at risk as racist members of the mob stormed the building. The Capitol Police force is only 29 percent Black in a city that's 46 percent Black. By contrast, as of 2018, 52 percent of Washington Metropolitan police officers were Black. The Capitol Police are comparable to the Metropolitan force in spending, employing more than 2,300 people and boasting an annual budget of about a half-billion dollars.

The Capitol Police did not immediately respond to questions for this story.

Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, a former Capitol Police officer who was the lead plaintiff in the 2001 discrimination lawsuit filed against the department, said she was not surprised that pro-Trump rioters burst into the Capitol last week.

In her 25 years with the Capitol Police, Blackmon-Malloy spent decades trying to raise the alarm about what she saw as endemic racism within the force, even organizing demonstrations where Black officers would return to the Capitol off-duty, protesting outside the building they usually protect.

The 2001 case, which started with more than 250 plaintiffs, remains pending. As recently as 2016, a Black female officer filed a racial discrimination complaint against the department.

"Nothing ever really was resolved. Congress turned a blind eye to racism on the Hill," Blackmon-Malloy, who retired as a lieutenant in 2007, told ProPublica. She is now vice president of the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association, which held 16 demonstrations protesting alleged discrimination between 2013 and 2018. "We got Jan. 6 because no one took us seriously."

Retired Lt. Frank Adams sued the department in 2001 and again in 2012 for racial discrimination. A Black, 20-year veteran of the force, Adams supervised mostly white officers in the patrol division. He told ProPublica he endured or witnessed racism and sexism constantly. He said that before he joined the division, there was a policy he referred to as "meet and greet," where officers were directed to stop any Black person on the Hill. He also said that in another unit, he once found a cartoon on his desk of a Black man ascending to heaven only to be greeted by a Ku Klux Klan wizard. When he complained to his superior officers, he said he was denied promotions and training opportunities, and suffered other forms of retaliation.

In an interview, he drew a direct line between racism in the Capitol Police and the events that unfolded last week. He blamed Congress for not listening to Black members of the force years ago.

"They only become involved in oversight when it's in the news cycle," said Adams, who retired in 2011. "They ignored the racism happening in the department. They ignored the hate."

The department's record in other areas of policing have drawn criticism as well.

In 2015, a man landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn — top officials didn't know the airborne activist was coming until minutes before he touched down. In 2013, when a lone gunman opened fire at the nearby Navy Yard, killing 12 people, the Capitol Police were criticized for standing on the sidelines. The force's leadership board later determined its actions were justified.

Last month, days after a bloody clash on Dec. 12 between militant Trump supporters and counter-protesters, Melissa Byrne and Chibundu Nnake were entering the Capitol when they saw a strangely dressed man just outside the building, carrying a spear.

He was a figure they would come to recognize — Jacob Chansley, the QAnon follower in a Viking outfit who was photographed last week shouting from the dais of the Senate chamber.

They alerted the Capitol Police at the time, as the spear seemed to violate the complex's weapons ban, but officers dismissed their concern, they said.

One officer told them that Chansley had been stopped earlier in the day, but that police "higher ups" had decided not to do anything about him.

We don't "perceive it as a weapon," Nnake recalled the officer saying of the spear.

Chansley told the Globe and Mail's Adrian Morrow that Capitol Police had allowed him in the building on Jan. 6, which would normally include passing through a metal detector, although he was later charged with entering a restricted building without lawful authority, violent entry, and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. As of Tuesday, he had not yet entered a plea.

For Byrne and Nnake, their interactions with the "QAnon Shaman" on Dec. 14 highlighted what they perceive as double standards in how the Capitol Police interact with the public.

Like many people who regularly encounter the force, Nnake and Byrne said they were accustomed to Capitol officers enforcing rules aggressively — later that day, Nnake was told that he would be tackled if he tried to advance beyond a certain point. "As a Black man, when I worked on the Hill, if I forgot a badge, I couldn't get access anywhere," he told ProPublica.

Congress, which controls the agency and its budget, has a mixed record of oversight. For the most part, Congress has been deferential toward the force, paying attention to its workings only after serious security failures, and even then, failing to meaningfully hold its leaders accountable.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from D.C. who is a nonvoting member of Congress, told ProPublica she believes a national commission should be formed to investigate what occurred at the Capitol on Jan. 6, similar to what followed 9/11.

"Congress deserves some of the blame," she told ProPublica. "We have complete control over the Capitol Police. ... Long-term concerns with security have been raised, and they've not been dealt with in the past."

The force has also suffered a spate of recent, internal scandals that may prove pertinent as Congress conducts its investigation.

Capitol Police officers accidently left several guns in bathrooms throughout the building in 2015 and 2019; in one instance, the loaded firearm was discovered by a small child.

The agency has been criticized for a lack of transparency for years. Capitol Police communications and documents are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and, unlike many local law enforcement agencies, it has no external watchdog specifically assigned to investigate and respond to community complaints. The force has not formally addressed the public since the riot last week.

"All law enforcement is opaque," said Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. "At least most local police departments are subject to some kind of civilian oversight, but federal police agencies are left to operate in the shadows."

The agency's past troubles have rarely resulted in reform, critics said.

After the April 2015 gyrocopter incident, Congress held a hearing to examine how 61-year-old postal worker and activist Doug Hughes managed to land his aircraft after he livestreamed his flight. Dozens of reporters and news cameras assembled in front of the Capitol to watch the stunt, which was designed to draw attention to the influence of money in politics. Capitol Police did not learn of the incoming flight until a reporter reached out to them for comment, minutes before Hughes landed.

Dine defended the force's response to the incident, pointing out that Hughes was promptly arrested and no one was hurt.

Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, then the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, harshly criticized the department and other federal agencies for what he perceived as an intelligence failure.

"The Capitol Police is terrible and pathetic when it comes to threat assessment," Chaffetz told ProPublica in an interview. "They have a couple people dedicated to it, but they're overwhelmed. Which drives me nuts. ... It's not been a priority for leadership, on both sides of the aisle." He said he is not aware of any serious changes to the force's intelligence gathering following the debacle.

Norton, who also pressed Dine at the hearing, told ProPublica the intelligence lapses surrounding the gyrocopter landing should be considered a "forerunner" to last week's riot.

"For weeks, these people had been talking about coming to the Capitol to do as much harm as they can," Norton said. "Everyone knew it. Except the Capitol Police." Reports show the force had no contingency plan to deal with an escalation of violence and mayhem at last week's rally, even though the FBI and the New York Police Department had warned them it could happen.

Law enforcement experts said that the agency is in a difficult position. While it has sole responsibility for protecting the Capitol, it must work with other nearby federal law enforcement agencies, Washington's Metropolitan Police and the National Guard in case of emergencies.

In an interview, Nick Zotos, a former D.C. National Guard commander who now works for the Department of Homeland Security, said that the roughly two dozen agencies responsible for public safety in Washington can cause territorial disputes, finger-pointing and poor communication.

"This is not a D.C. thing, necessarily, although it's probably the worst in D.C.," Zotos said. "Police departments just don't play with each other nicely."

Blackmon-Malloy told ProPublica that divisions within the Capitol Police could be just as dangerous, not only for Congress but for Black officers themselves. "Now you got to go to work on the 20th," she told ProPublica, alluding to the inauguration. "And stand next to someone who you don't even know if they have your back."

Dara Lind, David McSwane and Kirsten Berg contributed reporting.

Before His Mob Stormed Capitol, Trump Participated In Security Planning

Reprinted with perission from ProPublica

President Donald Trump met with top military officials and gave his approval to activate the D.C. National Guard three days before he encouraged a mob of angry protesters to take their grievances to the U.S. Capitol.

A Pentagon memo released Friday offers these insights, as well as the first detailed timeline of the bungled law enforcement response to Wednesday's insurrection.

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How New York’s Emergency Ventilator Supply Went Up For Auction

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

In July 2006, with an aggressive and novel strain of the flu circulating in Asia and the Middle East, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a sweeping pandemic preparedness plan.

Using computer models to calculate how a disease could spread rapidly through the city's five boroughs, experts concluded New York needed a substantial stockpile of both masks and ventilators. If the city confronted a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Spanish flu, the experts found, it would face a "projected shortfall of between 2,036 and 9,454 ventilators."

The city's department of health, working with the state, was to begin purchasing ventilators and to "stockpile a supply of facemasks," according to the report. Shortly after it was released, Bloomberg held a pandemic planning summit with top federal officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the face of the national coronavirus response.

In the end, the alarming predictions failed to spur action. In the months that followed, the city acquired just 500 additional ventilators as the effort to create a larger stockpile fizzled amid budget cuts.

Even those extra ventilators are long gone, the health department said on Sunday. The lifesaving devices broke down over time and were auctioned off by the city at least five years ago because the agency couldn't afford to maintain them.

Today, 14 years after the pandemic plan was released, the death toll from the novel coronavirus is climbing by the hundreds daily, and the shortage of ventilators threatens to push it higher still. On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city, which entered the crisis with around 3,500 ventilators, would run out of the machines this week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was authorizing the state's National Guard to seize ventilators from less overwhelmed hospitals to be used where they are more urgently needed.

Early hopes that the federal government could use its Strategic National Stockpile to adequately supplement New York's supply of ventilators have faded amid revelations that key federal agencies were themselves woefully underprepared for a pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the national stockpile as poorly maintained by the Trump administration and far too small to meet the competing demands that have predictably poured in from many states as the pandemic hurtles across the country. Indeed, some of the ventilators in the stockpile suffered from the same problem faced by New York — they fell into disrepair.

On Friday, President Donald Trump faulted New York and said he could not assure the state of more ventilators. "No," he told reporters. "They should've had more ventilators at the time. They should've had more ventilators." (Trump himself has been widely criticized for ignoring early warnings and downplaying the threat of the virus in the face of mounting global evidence of its lethality.)

New York City, with its plan 14 years ago, recognized that the nature of a pandemic — striking in many places in rapid and devastating succession — would mean that the city, in many ways, would be on its own.

"Since the pandemic will be widespread in the United States, the supplies from the federal Strategic National Stockpile may not be available and local caches will need to be relied upon," the 2006 report said.

In a newspaper interview that year, Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, then a deputy commissioner at the health department involved in pandemic planning, said the city could not count on the federal government. "We do understand that New York City will be responsible for New York City in terms of dealing with any pandemic," he said.

The story of New York's ventilators, as with many of the pre-crisis pandemic reports that have come to light at the federal level, is one of grave vulnerabilities that were made plain by experts but never were made budget priorities by policymakers.

The city health commissioner who spearheaded the 2006 pandemic planning effort, Thomas Frieden, left three years later to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and key elements of the plan had not been implemented. Frieden, who now leads a public health philanthropy, has emerged as a prominent critic of the country's inadequate preparations, writing in January that "we are living the consequences of being underprepared for the next big global epidemic."

Another prong of the Bloomberg pandemic plan — the mass distribution of masks to the public — has not happened either, even as experts are now reversing earlier guidance and urging everyone in hot spots like New York to cover their faces. Instead, de Blasio last week advised residents to use a scarf, a bandanna — something "real homegrown." The city's hospitals still need over 3 million masks just to safeguard health care workers, he said.

In interviews with ProPublica, other former city health officials said they were also worried about other threats and that there simply wasn't enough money to fully prepare for every possibility.

"It's easy to say in retrospect we should have spent all our money on pandemic influenza, but at the time you just don't know what was going to happen, and there were other threats," said Weisfuse, who worked under Frieden and led the city's disease control division until 2012. "I feel good about what we did, but obviously for this situation it was not enough."

Following the avian influenza scare and the pandemic planning of the mid-2000s, the city faced its first major test when H1N1 swine flu arrived in 2009.

Officials feared it would become a major outbreak. Some schools were closed and there were high-level discussions about shortages of supplies. But the disease abated, with a substantially lower death rate than the coronavirus, and the city turned much of its attention back to the aftermath of the recession that had devastated New York's economy.

"We learned the wrong lesson, I think, from swine flu," Dr. Douglas Ball, former medical director of the city health department's Bureau of Emergency Management, told ProPublica. He compared it to the London Blitz during World War II: "When people got missed by a bomb that hit nearby, they thought they were safe. When really they should have thought, 'Wow, we were so lucky.'"

Years of budget cuts to the city's health department followed, limiting the city's ability to prepare, even as planners still feared a major pandemic.

In 2014, Nicholas Cagliuso, a top emergency management official for the city's public hospitals, told participants in a pandemic training session that cost-cutting had hobbled the hospital system's preparation, in particular its ability to amass a stockpile of emergency equipment.

Instead, the hospitals had taken to holding just enough to meet day-to-day needs. It was a practice that was antithetical to preparing for a pandemic, which requires emergency supplies to be in easy reach, Cagliuso said. "If a resource is not available by foot, it does not exist."

In a statement on Sunday, Michael Lanza, a spokesman for the city's health department, said pandemic preparedness efforts had been undermined by the loss of federal aid.

"These plans depend on ample federal assistance, and Congress has not appropriated enough funding to state and local jurisdictions to adequately prepare for emergencies," he said. "Annual federal public health and health care preparedness funding levels are not sufficient to prepare for an emergency of this scale and scope."

Despite the warnings in the 2006 plan and the initial efforts to build a stockpile, de Blasio spokeswoman Avery Cohen said in a statement on Monday that cities "do not typically stockpile ventilators and that such emergency reserves are the responsibility of state and federal government.

"Despite our best efforts to stretch our resources, there was no foreseeing a crisis of this magnitude."

Michael Bloomberg took office just a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The planning-obsessed mayor wanted to be better prepared for the next crisis. "Mayor Bloomberg wanted there to be every plan for every disaster you have: coastal storm, pandemic, terrorist attack — and make sure it was up to date and we were going to drill it," said Edward Skyler, the city's former deputy mayor for operations.

And then, across the globe, lethal strains of the flu began to spread. In 2002, SARS emerged in southern China, and then in 2005, avian influenza swept across several countries in Asia.

Frieden, Bloomberg's first health commissioner, believed the city needed a pandemic plan. A committee of experts was assembled and the 266-page plan was published in July 2006. New York City, Frieden wrote in the introduction, is "uniquely vulnerable to infectious disease threats."

The document's assumptions are prescient: a future pandemic could have a 2 percent fatality rate, a 30 percent citywide infection rate and a delay of many months waiting for a vaccine, which could place an enormous strain on health care workers and supplies.

In 2005, the city's health department had begun to survey nearly all of the public and private hospitals to understand the equipment needs they would face in a pandemic. It found New York's hospitals had roughly 2,700 ventilators, far from what would be needed in a severe outbreak.

Even though the plan stressed that purchasing, storing and maintaining ventilators was a large endeavor, the city began to take steps to form a stockpile. It was vital because in a pandemic, cities and states would be competing for supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. (Last week, White House adviser Jared Kushner claimed that the stockpile was not for the use of the states at all, contradicting a government website.)

In 2006 and 2007, following the release of the pandemic plan, the city purchased a few hundred "disaster-ready" ventilators. The $1.76 million contract went to a New York-based company called VersaMed.

Jerry Korten, the CEO of VersaMed at the time, recalled city officials understanding that, in case of a major pandemic, the ventilators would not be enough, he told ProPublica.

"New York knew they would need a lot more ventilators," Korten said. "It's a very sad situation that no one invested in what was needed when it was needed. It's just too late now."

By 2009, the city had trained some of its hospitals on how to use the new ventilators, in case they were needed to increase capacity. The training was intended to help the health department evaluate the ventilators, and after the training, the city stored the devices in a warehouse for future use.

"The idea of this warehouse is something that we could send trucks to and load ventilators or other equipment and ship them right to hospitals quickly," said Weisfuse, the former deputy commissioner, who is now an adjunct professor at Cornell University Public Health. "They were on site, and it was just a matter of getting them to the right place."

But after 2009, the effort to create a large ventilator stockpile petered out. "We tried to fill in the gap as best we could," Weisfuse said. "That's where we left it. We also had to spend money to fill the gap for other problems too, like bioterrorism."

VersaMed was acquired by GE Healthcare in 2008 and the company discontinued the line of ventilators New York had bought, Lanza, the city health department spokesman, told ProPublica. "This was beyond our control but had a direct impact on cost and viability of maintaining a stockpile." Annual maintenance costs for the 500 VersaMed ventilators, which includes replacing batteries and degrading parts, ran over $100,000 per year, Lanza said, adding that the ventilators were ultimately auctioned off by the city. It's not clear who bought the devices and for how much. GE did not respond to questions related to the VersaMed ventilators, but a spokesperson said the company "provide[s] maintenance on any equipment that is under a service contract with GE."

Hospitals were also reluctant to spend money to store machines and protective equipment that they did not need for day-to-day operations.

Over the past few decades, cuts in Medicaid reimbursement and other fiscal pressures have reshaped the hospital industry, leaving the city's public and private medical centers with, collectively, thousands fewer beds.

The city's network of 11 public hospitals, which includes Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and Bellevue in Manhattan, regularly operates at a large deficit and in recent years has relied on city funding to fill the gap. The network is a vital provider of health care to many poor New Yorkers. Nearly 70 percent of patients who use the public hospitals are uninsured or on Medicaid.

With federal grant funding, the city had also planned to purchase 1.1 million face masks for use in a pandemic. But after funding was reduced, the city instead bought only 216,000 masks, spending roughly $84,500, a state comptroller audit later found.

Asked about the masks, the department said it "did purchase N95s in quantity but eventually all expired, and it became cost-prohibitive to replace them in any meaningful quantity." The department said that it did, however, acquire over 20 million surgical face masks prior to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of which have been distributed to health care and front-line workers.

Asked about the pandemic plan, Frieden said in a statement that "any health department in the world would be challenged by an outbreak of this severity and scale." He declined to answer specific questions about the fate of the ventilator and mask plans.

After the 2008 financial crisis hit, tax revenues dried up. Over the next five years, the city health department's budget was slashed by about $290 million, or 17 percent, and federal preparedness funding plummeted.

Some health department spending, such as services for developmentally disabled children, was mandated by law and could not be cut. So the agency had to look for other areas to cut, and infectious disease work was vulnerable.

In 2009, swine flu arrived in New York, the first pandemic scare since the Bloomberg plan was published. Hundreds of students became ill at a high school in Queens, and city officials were worried that the disease could overtake the city.

"There was some discussion that if it were as bad as projected we would be short of ventilators at that time," a former top city health official recalled. There was no time to buy the machines during the outbreak, and the disease ultimately receded more quickly than expected.

The health department did not receive any requests for ventilators from its small stockpile, said the former deputy commissioner Weisfuse. The possible shortfall of ventilators during a pandemic, once a key issue, again faded.

In the later Bloomberg years, the health department was focused on planning how to distribute huge volumes of Tamiflu, in case of a flu pandemic, or antibiotics, in case of anthrax, according to the former top health official. "To the extent people were thinking about a ventilator shortage, that was a secondary or tertiary issue," the former official said.

In a statement, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said: "Our Administration was among the first governments in the country to comprehensively plan for a pandemic health crisis, and key parts of our program were implemented successfully and harnessed in our effective H1N1 virus response in 2009, which itself became a national model for public health emergency planning."

Pandemic planning continued under de Blasio, who took office in 2014.

That year, the New York-New Jersey office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a Wall Street trade group sponsored a series of pandemic training sessions online attended by a couple of hundred corporate executives and government officials.

Cagliuso, then the assistant vice president for emergency management for the city's public hospital system, gave a presentation warning of the difficulty obtaining supplies during a crisis.

"Supply chain breaks are a very real issue. Much to the detriment of those of us in emergency management, we have moved to just-in-time supply chains," Cagliuso said at the time, referring to hospitals' practice of limiting stockpiles of medical equipment to save money. "So I had some very spirited discussions with my supply chain leadership. But nonetheless I also realize the business and the way that we are moving."

Cagliuso, who still works for the hospital system, did not respond to a request for comment.

But massive cuts in federal funding hampered the city's ability to act on experts' warnings. At an infectious disease conference in 2012, Dr. Jay Varma, then the city's deputy commissioner for disease control, warned that "the age of austerity" was "hitting infectious disease programs hard."

Three years later, Marisa Raphael, then the deputy commissioner of the office of emergency preparedness and response, repeated this warning while testifying before Congress. "The greatest danger to our progress is the decline in federal emergency preparedness funding," she said. Critical CDC programs had lost over a quarter-billion dollars in funding since 2005, and Raphael said the department had to cut almost half of its public health preparedness workforce.

The supply-chain issue surfaced yet again in 2018 when the public hospital system participated in a pandemic exercise with Johns Hopkins University on the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu. Cagliuso and several colleagues produced a paper in an academic journal about what they learned.

In short: New York City would likely be on its own in case of a pandemic.

"State and federal stockpiles of medical supplies exist [that] can be rapidly distributed, but a pandemic scenario is likely to complicate resource allocation on local and sub-national levels because of competing areas of similar need, limiting the allocation and deployment of these resources," they wrote.

Their proposed solution was not to beef up the city's stockpiles. Rather, they called for creating a technological fix, a dashboard that would "automate the presentation of data to decision-makers."

A spokesperson for the hospital system did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2015, the state updated its guidelines on ventilator allocation during a possible influenza pandemic and calculated that the state had about 7,250 ventilators available in acute care facilities, including in New York City, with an additional state stockpile of 1,750 machines. The state recognized that if a pandemic swept across multiple regions at the same time, it could not rely on the federal stockpile to fill the gap.

"The State's current approach to stockpiling a limited number of ventilators balances the need to prepare for a potential pandemic against the need to maintain adequate funding for current and ongoing health care expenses," the report stated. In a severe pandemic scenario, "New York will not have sufficient ventilators to meet critical care needs despite its emergency stockpile." The report lays out guidelines on how to decide which patients should be placed on ventilators if hospitals are forced to ration resources, withholding devices from patients with poorer odds of surviving. The report did not specifically address the needs or current resources in New York City.

The roughly 3,500 ventilators in New York City hospitals had going into the coronavirus crisis compares to a total of 2,688 ventilators the health department counted in a 2005 survey — an increase, to be sure, but a fraction of what it expected to need if faced with a serious pandemic.

The mayor has repeatedly said the city will need 15,000 ventilators from the federal government, but the city has so far received only 2,500.

While de Blasio has cautioned that ventilator needs change by the day or hour, he said on Friday that New York City projects it requires at least another 2,500 to make it through this week. "The ventilators to me are one of the clearest examples of life and death," the mayor explained. "If we're going to save every single life we can save, we must have the ventilators we need exactly where we need them, when we need them."