Fact check: Did Capitol Police let mob of Trump supporters in?
Posted January 8, 2021 12:42 p.m. EST
Updated January 8, 2021 5:53 p.m. EST
Question: "Did Capitol Police let a mob of Trump supporters into the building?"
Answer: PolitiFact didn't find evidence of that.
Instead, we discovered that some online video is getting misinterpreted. Many officers had to abandon their posts and barricades because they were far outnumbered and overwhelmed.
The Capitol Police’s inability to secure the U.S. Capitol or stop a mob of rioters from breaching its walls has raised a lot of questions about their security preparations, or lack thereof, for a long-planned demonstration in Washington by Trump supporters. Some commenters are even claiming that the law enforcement agency let the mob in.
Images and videos capturing the chaotic scene have spread across the internet, and a few posts on social media appear to show Capitol Police officers standing aside and letting rioters onto the grounds near the building.
In one video, a Capitol officer is seen posing for a selfie with one of the pro-Trump rioters inside. The man who shared it told PolitiFact that it happened after police managed to start herding the crowd out of the building.
Lawmakers, who are protected by the Capitol Police, are also raising questions about the law enforcement response.
"There were clearly enormous strategic and planning failures by the Capitol Police, by the Sergeant at Arms and anyone else who was a part of coordinating this effort," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said at a virtual news conference Wednesday night, as Congress tried to resume counting electoral votes.
Ryan, who leads the House committee that controls the Capitol Police budget, said he was shocked by some of the images of police interactions with rioters, and would be demanding answers from Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund.
"Is that a training issue? I just don’t know," Ryan said. "The Capitol is getting stormed by a mob and you’re taking selfies with, you know, the people. It’s crazy, just crazy."
But the viral, 14-second video clip that some are using to claim that officers willingly let rioters past barricades and into the Capitol is being misrepresented online, said journalist Marcus Diapola, who shot the video.
"They definitely didn't just open the barriers," Diapola told PolitiFact. "The pro-Trump rioters made a fist like they were going to punch the cops, which is why I started recording. Then (police) backed off the barricades.
"They were completely outnumbered," Diapola said. "There wouldn't have been any point in fighting."
Diapola said the video was taken around 2 p.m. near the northeast entrance of the Capitol and estimated that the officers were outnumbered "100 to 1," with only around 30 officers spread out between three entrances on that side of the Capitol, compared with thousands of protesters.
Another video, taken on the west end of the Capitol, shows rioters quickly overwhelming police barricades and eventually forcing the officers to retreat.
While we found no evidence that officers allowed the mob in willingly, the security breakdown that enabled rioters to breach the building is under intense scrutiny, and officials have said an investigation is imminent.
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, in a Jan. 7 statement, called the officers’ response heroic and said the agency is conducting "a thorough review" of the incident, including "security planning and policies and procedures."
PolitiFact reached out to Capitol Police for more information but did not hear back.
"It has armored vehicles," said Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress, a group that aims to strengthen the legislative branch. "They can deal with incoming aircraft."
Schuman said the force is about as large as Boston’s police department, but while Boston officers patrol an area of about 90 square miles, the Capitol Police have primary responsibility for about 2 square miles.
Ryan said that Capitol Police had assured him they were ready for the day’s long-planned demonstrations by Trump supporters, and that they were coordinating with the Secret Service, city police and the National Guard.
"There was a strategic breakdown, for sure," he said, "and you can bet your a-- we are going to get to the bottom of it."