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Capitol Police riot control unit did not plan for the violence of Jan. 6

Counterprotesters, rather than a pro-Trump mob, were seen as a major threat

Capitol Police line barricades as Trump rioters gather on the East Front of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Capitol Police line barricades as Trump rioters gather on the East Front of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

On the eve of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, the Capitol Police’s riot control unit did not anticipate any mass arrests and viewed counterprotesters — rather than the pro-Trump mob itself — as a major threat, according to an internal planning document obtained by CQ Roll Call.

A joint Senate committee on Tuesday released a report detailing the disconnect between the department’s intelligence division and internal and external law enforcement in the run-up to the violent insurrection that occurred when Congress met to tabulate Electoral College results.

But the Jan. 5 planning memo from the Civil Disturbance Unit, referenced in that Senate report but not yet released publicly, includes even more details on the miscalculations made by the Capitol Police in the days leading up to the assault on the heart of American democracy.

The department issued a wide-ranging response that largely cast aspersions on the memo.

The CDU memo references a mass arrest contingency plan if there were more than 20 arrests — arrestees were to be taken to a mass arrest site maintained by the Capitol Police — but makes clear that would likely be unnecessary.

Mass Arrest: Arrests are not anticipated for this event; as such mass arrests remains on standby but all attempts to process arrestees in an exterior location will be made,” the plan said. “Note, supervisors should anticipate reports of assault and be prepared to assign officers to take the police report.”

Ultimately, more than 10,000 protesters approached the Capitol and approximately 800 rioters breached the building, with five deaths stemming from the pro-Trump insurrection. The Capitol Police arrested 14 people that day.

Since then, hundreds more have been arrested around the country by federal and local law enforcement. Officers on the scene have said that they were focused on defending the Capitol during the insurrection itself and were unable to arrest those who breached the complex.

In the days before Jan. 6, the Capitol Police received credible intelligence suggesting Congress itself was the target of right-wing extremist protesters and not counterprotesters, a source involved in the department’s oversight said.

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But the planning document suggests that the Civil Disturbance Unit, a crucial front-line force responsible for quelling protests, viewed counterprotesters, including anti-Trump groups, as a major threat that day.

It is unclear why. For instance, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in March that his agency had not seen “any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the sixth.”

No plan for help?

Meanwhile, the planning document specifically states that the Capitol Police intended to handle security by itself that day.

Under the section titled “Mutual Aid,” the document says, “No request for outside support has been made for this event.”

Then-Chief Steven A. Sund and current acting Chief Yogananda Pittman have both said National Guard support was requested on Jan. 4.

But the Senate’s report says Sund never submitted a formal request to the full Capitol Police Board for an emergency declaration and D.C. National Guard help before Jan. 6. Furthermore, the report states that the Defense Department confirmed with the Capitol Police on two separate occasions prior to Jan. 6 that the Capitol Police was not requesting assistance from the D.C. National Guard.

In a section of the document titled “Expected Protests Overview,” the department’s CDU focused on the clashes that occurred at the previous pro-Trump MAGA rallies in November and December of 2020.

The unit seemed to expect something similar to the previous Million MAGA March rallies, which involved tens of thousands of participants and arrests made after fights erupted between pro-Trump protesters and counterdemonstrators. The document notes that Proud Boys members, white supremacist groups, antifa and other extremist groups would be expected to rally on Jan. 6.

Pittman, who at the time oversaw intelligence operations, has testified to Congress that the department understood Jan. 6 was the last chance to overturn the results of the presidential election and the protests were intended to put pressure on Congress. 

But the CDU plan did not include this critical information, even though it was contained in the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division’s final special assessment issued on Jan. 3. Pittman said that intelligence assessment was “shared widely throughout the department.”

By Pittman’s own account, her division’s intelligence indicated the following: “Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of demonstrator(s) would not be other branches of government or counter-protesters, but rather Congress and the Joint Session Certification process.” 

It is unclear why the CDU plan did not reflect this critical information and failed to specifically reference the Jan. 3 warning that “Congress itself is the target.”

Indeed, the CDU outline explicitly states: “At this time there are no specific known threats related to the Joint Session of Congress — Electoral College Vote Certification.”

When asked by the committees to explain the discrepancy between the CDU plan’s threat analysis and the overall conclusions of the Jan. 3 special assessment, Pittman “emphasized the word ‘specific,’ arguing that ‘for an intelligence analyst, it is in terms of the … who, where, when, and how’ and that much of the information in IICD’s possession was ‘raw information’ that needed ‘to be vetted.’’’ IICD refers to the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division, the department’s primary intelligence unit that Pittman oversaw.

But in the CDU action plan, an intelligence note just pages later says there were numerous social media posts promoting armed protesting and that counter sniper teams would be looking for those carrying weapons. The confusing discrepancy, where the CDU plan both downplays the threat of violence and in other parts anticipates violence, is not formally addressed by Capitol Police.

Misguided focus

The crowd management part of the CDU plan involves special operations division officers following counterprotesters as they traveled across the Capitol grounds.

“As counter-protestors traverse Capitol Grounds, [Special Operations Division] motors will trail the respective groups,” the plan says.

It also notes that counterprotesters were expected to try to get onto the Capitol grounds through “shrubbery and other natural fixtures.” In case counterprotesters tried to get through these areas, the department would quickly send officers to address the situation.

“Platoon commanders will rapidly deploy officers to stop and provide verbal direction for them to exit the perimeter and physically remove counter-protestors as needed,” the operational plan says.

The day of the attack, Deputy Chief Eric Waldow was the leader of CDU as the incident commander and Capt. Denea Newell, who has since been promoted to the rank of inspector, was the field force commander for CDU. Instead of leading officers on the radio, Waldow chose to physically fight the insurrectionists.

The department planned to escort members of the pro-Trump march after a hand-off by Metropolitan Police Department on Third Street and provide a box around those participants while designated CDU platoons would move with the protesters. In the case of counterprotesters, CDU teams would mirror their movements and block them from engaging with the pro-Trump group.

If an attempt to march around the Capitol occurred, the plan was to direct protesters to sidewalks and park areas. Waldow, in consultation with Newell, was expected to determine whether any arrests for blocking passage were necessary.  

Hard duty

The Senate report found that the Capitol Police did not document a comprehensive staffing plan for Jan. 6. But planning and briefing documents did include numbers for CDU, although the totals differ from document to document.

The department said the total number of CDU officers on Jan. 6 was 276. The CDU included officers equipped with riot gear, known as the CDU hard squad, and those without, called CDU soft squad.

One Capitol Police official explained to the committees that it is common to not know how many people would be on CDU until the day of the event and that the department documents the number after the event.

A small portion of the department’s officers are properly trained for CDU hard gear duty.

“Of USCP’s 1,840 sworn officers, only approximately 160 are trained in advanced civil disturbance tactics and use of ‘hard’ protective equipment,” the Senate report stated.

The CDU plan said the decision of who would be ready with hard gear on Jan. 6 depended on the situation on the ground.

“A determination to don hard gear will be made daily; depending on the presence of counter-groups and the reported interactions between the opposing groups,” the CDU document says.

Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service special agent, and Thomas O’Connor, a former FBI special agent who worked on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, both said that clashes between protesters and counterprotesters have historically been the central issue in planning for security at protests.

“The best way to protect those two groups is to keep them separate,” Wackrow said.

But on Jan. 6, fights between opposing demonstrators was not the issue, and the intelligence leading up to the insurrection suggested as much.

“The hundreds of people who stormed the Capitol were the only issue,” O’Connor said. “And that’s not what the history of these events has shown.”

Women, not Boys

Although the document does not go into detail on how the unit would address the Proud Boys, it does consider the pro-Trump group Women for America First. In case of “an attempted or anticipated West Front action,” the CDU would be sent there to create a police line “using the excess bike rack at the west end of each walk-way.”

The CDU plan was to have less-than-lethal grenadiers ready if needed to disperse crowds. There were eight grenadiers listed in the plan: four equipped with a pepperball system and the other four with a FN-303 system.

When Pittman was asked by the committees why additional less-than-lethal munitions in the department’s possession were not authorized, Pittman said it didn’t have enough personnel to deploy those systems.

“Fewer than ten are trained to use USCP’s full suite of less-than-lethal munitions,” the Senate report said.

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton has recommended that the department train more grenadiers and enhance its less lethal weapons systems. 

Because of Republican opposition, Congress has yet to authorize an independent, bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 attack.

Capitol Police response

In a lengthy response, the department touched on many issues with the CDU plan itself.

“The CDU report never should have said ‘arrests were not anticipated.’ Arrests are never the goal, but always a possibility,” the department said in a statement, adding there is a “higher potential for violence” when there are clashes between protesters and counterprotesters.

Regarding mutual aid, the department said the CDU report was inaccurate and that “USCP coordinated with our federal and local partners, such as the FBI and MPD. Then-Chief Sund also asked for support from the D.C. National Guard.”

The department also largely echoed Pittman in questions about acting on intelligence. “The USCP consumes intelligence from every federal agency. At no point prior to the 6th did it receive actionable intelligence about a large-scale attack,” the department said. “Neither the USCP, nor the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, Metropolitan Police or our other law enforcement partners knew thousands of rioters were planning to attack the U.S. Capitol. The known intelligence simply didn’t support that conclusion.”

The department did not, though, answer a question posed by CQ Roll Call as to the identity of the CDU plan’s author.