The Coup at the Capitol (Part 1)

Welcome to Part 1 of my series: delving into the events of last week's attack on the US Capitol, while placing the facts and evidence coming at us quickly, into some kind of context that makes sense.

Trump prepares to overtake Capitol Police and storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021, in response to Congress beginning the process of formally certifying Joe Biden's election win. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/via AFP)

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The events at the US Capitol last week have presented us with the overwhelming task of not only sorting out what happened, but who was specifically involved, and how high up the plan for insurrection went. The breach of one of our most sacred institutions has caused a need for an immediate reckoning of our government and ideals, in addition to managing the ongoing stress experienced by not knowing what comes next.

It’s clear America has some big problems to solve. The only way to start that process, is to pick up each painful piece of evidence in the assault on our democracy and analyze what it means both legally, for the sake of justice, and civilly, for the sake of our country. In my next few articles, I will attempt to sift through some of the major clues, as they reveal themselves, in an attempt to complete an overarching analysis of what happened last week.

My goal is to put the criminal acts under a microscope, and also to pursue just how deeply the rot has seeped into our federal agencies — the guardhouses entrusted with our most precious ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I will be compiling the information as we get it, and putting it into various categories for analysis. My hope is that the next few installments of this series begin to whittle down everything we know into a more narrow focus on a day with so many broad angles, to ultimately come to an understanding of the complete facts and devise an optimistic plan for healing the monumental cracks in our national foundation.

The Immediate Aftermath

U.S. Capitol police officers secure the House Chamber and point their guns at a door during the riot on January 06, 2021 in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/via Getty Images)

A growing number of House Democrats have expressed concern about the tactical decisions made by some Capitol Police officers on Wednesday during the riots, and the FBI is supposedly investigating whether the attack was aided by police or anyone else with access to the federal building. Many news outlets and journalists are scrambling to pin together a comprehensive view of what took place and who might have aided and abetted Trump’s incitement of the riot — we just don’t have a clear and credible view of the entirety of Wednesday’s events at this time.

During a nearly four-hour conference call with most members of House Democrats on Friday, many demanded that the decisions, made by Capitol Police leadership and some officers, before and during the riots, be fully investigated due to concerns that the insurrectionists were assisted somehow by law enforcement on the inside.

According to two Congresspeople who participated in the call, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) expressly told the entire Democratic Caucus that he believed the riots were “an inside job.” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) openly questioned how the mob was able to locate his unmarked, third floor office and steal his iPad, but they did not seem to find his main, ceremonial office, that is clearly marked in the Capitol entryway of Statuary Hall.

Several people who were participating in the conference call, relayed that Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) specifically raised the question of possible collusion among some Capitol Police officers. House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) also told a radio station that Democrats weren’t able to confirm yet where the weak links really were, and if the failure of Capitol Police was the result of “poor planning or whether it was because there was certain kinds of infiltration.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) also gave an interview that is set to air this Sunday, in which she purportedly confirmed that she believes some Capitol Police officers assisted the rioters by helping to direct them once they had gotten inside the building. Jayapal called this proposition “one of the most troubling things” about the attack. 

According to Politico, Jayapal went on to explain in her interview with Greta Van Susteren, “I am very sad to say that I believe that there were people within the Capitol police and within the Capitol building that were part of helping these insurrectionists to really have a very well-coordinated plan for when they were going to come, how they were going to come.”

Even more concerning is the fact that Rep. Jayapal reveals that she believes this was a case of direct involvement, rather than Capitol Police just being over-run. When asked if she believed officers simply looked the other way or if they were more intricately involved beforehand, Jayapal tells Van Susteren, “It appears that way, both from what happened, how coordinated it was, how easy it was.”

What We Know For Sure

Five people have now been confirmed dead, including US Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who was killed in the line of duty. Sicknick was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials. He was able to make it back to his station, where he collapsed with a bloody gash in his head and was then rushed to the hospital, where he died. 

Shocking and horrific video footage has also surfaced of a Capitol Police Officer being dragged down the stairs and out of the US Capitol Building, where he was then beaten by the insurgent mob with their fists, feet, crutches and even a pole flying the American flag. Some initially thought this might be the moment when Officer Sicknick was beaten, but it was another officer who was injured in this attack.

DC Acting Police Chief Robert Contee said the officer later expressed that he was terrified the mob was going to kill him and says the scene made him personally “sick to his stomach.” The video shows the officer being ripped from a threshold inside the door of the Capitol Building and further into the crowd, where his fellow officers were unable to get to him to provide assistance. Chief Contee confirmed that the officer in question has recently been released from the hospital and is starting to recover from his physical injuries. Contee also said that the rioters, injured a total of 56 DC Police Officers last Wednesday when they stormed the Capitol.

Ashli Babbitt, 35, who was a 14-year veteran of the US Air Force and a Trump supporter, was fatally shot by police. Chief Contee confirmed, "One adult female and two adult males appear to have suffered from separate medical emergencies, which resulted in their deaths." Many officers also suffered injuries in their efforts to protect members, aides and journalists from the mob of violence that took over the building.

A member of the Capitol police covers his face as pro-Trump protesters storm the US Capitol to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress, at the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. (Photo by Ahmed Gaber, via Reuters)

Following the unprecedented events on Wednesday, Officer Howard Liebengood, who was on duty at the US Capitol during the attack and witnessed the coup, died by committing suicide on Saturday following the traumatic event. Officer Liebengood had been assigned to the Senate Division of the US Capitol since joining the department in 2005 — he was 51 years old.

According to CBS News, there have been "a couple of incidents" where US Capitol Police have had to respond to officers, who were there during the riots, threatening to harm themselves after the brutal attack. A female officer has surrendered her own weapon for fear of what might happen in the wake of the riot.

Journalist Michael Kaplan reports that the police department is “demoralized,” according to an inside source. This source went on to add, “There’s tremendous moral injury, a sense of failure weighing them down. They went home to family and were asked how did this happen. And it’s very easy for those officers to interpret that as ‘how could you let this happen?’”

Media Also Under Attack

Rioters destroy TV equipment outside the the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo by Jose Luis Magana/via Associated Press)

Politico reporter Melanie Zanona, who was near the House floor, heard Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), yell over to the Republican side of the room: “Call Trump and tell him to call this off!” Soon a lawmaker sitting on the Republican side yelled back something along the lines of, “I bet you liberals are glad now you didn’t defund the police.” Then he said, “Let’s hear it for the Capitol Police,” and got a few people to start clapping as the riot was taking place.

Several journalists and news photographers were also trapped in the attack on the Capitol building. According to Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, it was the heroic action by Rep. Abagail Spanberger (D-VA) that saved them by telling police who they were, and demanding the media be allowed inside the protective barriers to shelter. Erin Schaff, photojournalist for The New York Times described her harrowing experience that included her equipment being broken, and yet still making her deadline and filing her day’s photos of the entire event.

“Murder the media” was carved into a door of the United States Capitol. A video taken by Bloomberg News reporter William Turton, shows the crowd outside of the building, getting increasingly violent, advancing on a camera crew and yelling, “Get the [expletive] out of here,” as they began to destroy equipment. Footage taken on Wednesday evening also showed pro-Trump rioters destroying the Associated Press’ (AP) journalism equipment as media was pushed away from the Capitol by police. Video that was taken of the incident shows a violent mob chanting "CNN SUCKS!" as people surrounding them smashed equipment owned by the AP.

Trump has long referred to media as "enemy of the people," with his supporters frequently echoing this characterization, and that sentiment was prevalent throughout the attack on the Capitol Building. Rioters began harassing reporters on the scene who were trying to cover the event, and WRC-TV reporter Shomari Stone tweeted a video of the attack and stated: "I’ve never seen anything like this in my 20 year career."

The Limited Conclusions We Can Draw at this Point

Many investigations have be launched within the Capitol Police Department, FBI and through Congress to discern what really happened last Wednesday, as some of the events that were reported and captured on video show officers engaging in what appears to be an inside job.

Immediately following the riot, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced his intention to fire the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, Mike Stenger, when Democrats take control of the chamber later this month, and Stenger submitted his resignation shortly thereafter. In addition, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) has confirmed that two US Capitol Police officers have been suspended and 10-15 other Capitol Officers are being investigated for their behavior during the events.

Two men overtake the Senate gallery carrying zip ties, likely meant to restrain people and take hostages after rioters seized the US Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2020. (Photo by Win McNamee, via Getty Images)

Several factors don’t add up and have caused the FBI to become suspicious, including the ease with which the mob found its way to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, when that location is notoriously difficult to find. Another concerning factor is the two men who were seen in pictures carrying zip ties into the chambers of Congress while wearing tactical gear.

These supplies, along with the number of Confederate flags being brandished and the shocking noose that was erected on the West Front of the US Capitol have lead many to suspect the plan went a lot further than just storming the Capitol Building. Wednesday’s insurrection may have included the idea of taking hostages or executing people by hanging them outside the building.

Early videos also surfaced showing a small number of officers pulling down barricades for the rioters and, in another instance, stopping for a photo with one of them. One Capitol Officer was photographed wearing a MAGA hat during the insurgency and another took selfies with the mob — both officers have been suspended pending an investigation. For now, the FBI’s investigation is focused on Capitol police, but will also look at other Capitol staffers, including “engineers, plumbers and janitors.”

The fact that we are proceeding into an even bigger event with the inauguration, without truly knowing the full extent of who exactly was involved in planning this insurrection from the inside, is still cause for great alarm. The United States Secret Service also confirmed yesterday that it was investigating an officer who posted comments on Facebook accusing lawmakers who formalized Biden’s win of treason, while echoing Trump’s conspiracy theories about the rigging of the election.

On Monday night, the Capitol Police briefed Congressional Democrats on three significant plans for more potentially gruesome demonstrations in the coming days. All three potential plots pose serious threats to Congress, visitors and residents of Washington, DC, leading up to Biden’s inauguration.

The first is a demonstration being referred to as the “largest armed protest ever to take place on American soil.” Another “protest” is set to take place to honor Ashli Babbitt, the woman killed while trying to climb through a window to break into the Speaker’s Lobby during Wednesday’s pro-Trump siege of the Capitol. Yet another, and perhaps the most disturbing plot, involves insurrectionists forming a perimeter around the Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court, and then physically blocking Democrats from entering the Capitol and even using deadly force, so that Republicans can hypothetically take control of the federal government.

Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Daniel Hokanson, said on Monday that up to 15,000 National Guard troops have been authorized to assist with security for inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20. There are currently 6,200 National Guard members who have already been mobilized following the attack on the US Capitol Building and the Pentagon plans to have 10,000 National Guard troops in DC by Jan. 16, according to a senior defense official. 

A supporter of US President Donald Trump wears a gas mask and holds a bust of him after he and hundreds of others stormed the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC after a Trump speech on the Ellipse incited them to action. (Photo by Roberto Schmidt/via AFP)

Given that the investigations into the inside players in the coup have just begun, and it was the Department of Defense who took 4.5 hours to deploy federal troops when the Capitol was being seized, confidence in federal performance is wavering. The increasingly unstable behavior of Donald Trump and his emergency declaration yesterday to supposedly protect inaugural activities, after he incited the first riot at the Capitol, only increases the unease moving forward. Consider that Trump has now authorized troops and made a point to publicize it, after so publicly inciting his supporters into enacting a coup in his name. It is not a far stretch to think Trump may have had federal troops purposely stand down during the riot.

The most frightening aspect moving forward is the combination of two things — that we have failed to glean a comprehensive understanding of exactly who was involved on the inside and how many federal officers are compromised, and the possibility that the insurrection at the US Capitol Building last Wednesday was simply a dry run in preparation for the real attack, which is still impending.


Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.

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