The Task Force led by Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, USA (Retired), working at the direction of the Speaker of the House, has published its draft report on Capitol Security Review (March 5, 2021). The work was inspired by the violent assault on the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 by supporters of Donald Trump. The report describes it mandate as “to review and provide recommendations in the following areas: Capitol security operations, infrastructure physical security, and Member security in their Congressional districts, their residences, and during travel.” https://bit.ly/3ldcjbG
As I write, the Capitol Building and adjacent federal properties such as the United States Botanic Garden, are surrounded by tall metal fencing topped with razor wire and guarded by members of the National Guard. This spectacle of failure represents the supreme irony that Trump, the main proponent of a wall across the southern border, is responsible for the construction of a kind of “wall” around the U.S. Capitol to protect it from his supporters. The situation is so fraught that a session of the House of Representatives set for March 4 was canceled based on a “possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group.” https://bit.ly/3qG6og2
That means that plotting is continuing even as the government goes after the January 6 insurrectionists. More than 300 have been arrested and “more than 900 search warrants have been executed in almost all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” according to federal prosecutors. https://reut.rs/38B5CL7 Investigators are processing more than 15,000 hours of video from surveillance and body-worn cameras during the assault. Still, the “militia groups” are apparently not yet deterred.
One thing not mentioned in the extensive Task Force recommendations is the question, “under what circumstances is the use of deadly force by defenders of the Capitol authorized?” As I use the terms, “deadly force” refers to the type of response, not necessarily its use for the deliberate purpose of killing. Somewhere in the “orders” applicable to the Capitol Police and others involved in federal security there is almost certainly some specification of the conditions under which deadly force may be used. The policy is not, however, set out in the USCP Department Strategic Plan for 2021.
It’s a question that has received little public attention because, overwhelmingly, citizens and others approaching the Capitol have understood that the Capitol Police guarding the building meant business and that disobeying their instructions could lead to serious consequences. The Capitol has, therefore, been relatively safe as a workplace and monument to American democracy.
Until January 6, 2021.
Some people believe that had deadly force been promptly brought to bear that day, the invasion of the Capitol would have ended quickly. It’s true, of course, that deadly force was used against one insurrectionist as she attempted to force her way into the House Chamber. She died. But the assault continued because the attackers were already inside the Capitol in very large numbers and scattered throughout the building as they hunted for the Speaker of the House, the Vice President and likely any other Member they perceived as on the other side of the claim (utterly false) that the election had been stolen. Most of the assaulting force was therefore unaware that a member of their group had been killed. [One macabre observation about that incident is that it did not lead to the immediate retreat of the invaders at the scene, almost as if they expected worse and still were determined to carry out their mission. Or, perhaps, they simply didn’t care.]
In any case, we can only speculate about what would have happened if the defending force had used deadly force early in the struggle. A thoughtful treatment by someone with training and experience in the field of the responsibility faced by each officer in that situation can be read at https://wapo.st/3csLWu7 The article is clear that the existing training for Capitol Police simply did not cover the situation that existed on January 6.
This is a sensitive subject, but it needs to be considered. The draft report notes that, “communicated threats against Members [are] tracking at nearly four times last year’s level ….” That is an astonishing reality and likely is traceable to the constant haranguing by Donald Trump and his enablers, even before the election and continuously thereafter, that the process was rigged against him, rife with fraud and that the election would be/was stolen.
But whatever the cause, the effect is reason for alarm, which is reflected in the urgency that Task Force 1-6 urged upon the various powers-that-be to move swiftly to address the concerns in the report. While the language is, not unexpectedly, a bit dry and matter-of-fact, the realities of threat, risk and security shortfalls that it reveals are far from mundane or routine.
The question I am raising is whether the published policy of the security apparatus for the Capitol should make explicit that any further attempted breach of the building may be met with deadly force at any time. It would, and should, also state that, in bringing deadly force to bear, efforts will be made to avoid loss of life, but anyone contemplating an attack on the Capitol, or any other federal building, for that matter, should understand the risks that gunfire directed at, for example, the legs could well inflict mortal wounds.
We are talking about a true combat situation. Members of the January 6 assault force were carrying weapons and presumably some were prepared to use them. The insurrectionists were responsible for the death of one police officer on the scene as well as severe injuries to others. The combat was hand-to-hand for hours and it is, frankly, miraculous that no more lives were lost. Video of the events clearly showed prolonged assaults with, among other things, a flagpole holding an American flag. It seems that the Capitol Police and others sent, belatedly, to help them were not operating under clear instructions regarding the use of their weapons. The shooting of one invader occurred as a last resort to stop her from forcing her way into the House Chamber where she almost certainly would have been followed by others.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection force has a 117-page manual entitled Use of Force Policy, Guidelines and Procedures Handbook. https://bit.ly/3ld3kqC The relevant policy text on use of deadly force states:
D. Use of Deadly Force
- Deadly force is force that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death.
- The Department of Homeland Security Policy on the Use of Deadly Force governs the use of deadly force by all DHS employees.
- Authorized Officers/Agents may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer/agent has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of serious physical injury or death to the officer/agent or to another person.
- Serious Physical Injury – Injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health or serious loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ or structure or involves serious concussive impact to the head.
The people putting their health and lives on the line to protect the Capitol should have clear policy to follow regarding when deadly force can be used to repel an attack, and the assurance that the department will support them. Citizens considering such an assault should have no illusions about what might happen to them the next time. Clarity will be beneficial for everyone involved.
That is not to say that the use of deadly force is a simple and always clear-in-the-circumstances situation. Plainly, it is not. But the complexity and uncertainty surrounding the use of deadly force is not made better by having no standards at all. Before another attack on the government occurs, the force established to repel it should be given the best tools available for dealing with it.
Then take the damn fences and razor wire down.