How Police Were Complicit in the US Capitol Riot

Jan 7, 2021
6:38 PM

Capitol police in riot gear guard at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/José Luis Magana)

What occurred on January 6, 2021, in Washington D.C. was only possible with the participation of local police. Americans have all seen the footage of police separating barricades allowing the mob of far-right extremists to gain access to the U.S. Capitol. Actions that were only made possible by a certain number of officers having prior knowledge of what was to occur—willingly putting the lives of elected representatives in immediate danger, including the Vice President.

In August of 2020, the FBI issued a bulletin warning of violent escalations by far-right groups leading up to the election. They would later issue an even more ominous warning after Joe Biden was elected as the next president. The latter bulletin warned of an escalation of violence that would increase as we came closer to Biden’s inauguration. Warnings that most of America shrugged off just as they did with the Nashville bombing and Donald Trump’s inciteful lies.

Additionally, federal authorities for decades have warned of the infiltration of law enforcement by anti-government militias and hate groups. Warnings that law enforcement agencies met with disregard allowing the infiltration to grow unabated. The infiltrators weren’t just recruited in small rural police departments. There are known members of these groups who are police officers in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Houston.

Historically (as the FBI noted in a heavily redacted 2006 internal intelligence assessment regarding the white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement) hate groups have always expressed interest in “infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel.” The memo continued, stating how it “can lead to investigative breaches and can jeopardize the safety of law enforcement sources or personnel.”

The 2006 assessment also noted how the FBI became aware of the term “ghost skins” used by white supremacist groups to define “those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.” It also noted at least one neo-Nazi group who encouraged so-called ghost skins to gain employment in law enforcement agencies to assist in warning various groups of investigations while spreading their hateful ideologies.

More recently, police officers in Portland, Oregon, were found to have been communicating via text with the Proud Boys who regularly participate in “protests” with white supremacist and white nationalist groups. We also see the lines consistently blurred by those who carry Blue Lives Matter flags alongside Nazi and Confederate flags—both of which are associated with hate groups. In 2015, the FBI issued yet another warning of far-right groups infiltrating law enforcement. Yet another warning that was ignored by Americans at-large.

Law Enforcement Knew What Was Coming

On the day of the Capitol Riot, Newsweek published an article titled, “FBI, Homeland Security, White House Advisers Foresaw Possible Riots, Looked the Other Way.” In it, they discussed how “they feared Donald Trump would pull a ‘Samson,’ bringing down the whole house on top of him before he left the White House,” to the surprise of not one person of color.

William Arkin writes: “Officials from the FBI, the Secret Service, Homeland Security, the District of Columbia government, the Pentagon, the National Guard, and the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region who spoke to Newsweek last weekend on condition of anonymity, all talked about the potential for protesters and militias and paramilitary goons —egged on by the President— to storm Capitol Hill and even the Capitol building itself.”

Yet no action was taken to prevent it “because everyone was looking the other way.”

Law enforcement certainly knew what was coming due to the permitting of the event in which Trump incited the crowd to attack the U.S. Capitol. Online message boards had been riddled with extremist activity leading up to the event. Federal authorities are well aware of what was being said, who was saying it, and who they were inciting with their speech. It’s clear that local police were also aware of the potential for an escalation of the events that were planned.

One only has to look at the preparedness of authorities when protests for racial justice occurred in the city compared to the lack of preparation when so-called “protesters” are White with white supremacist and extremist views. Those extremists turned what was regarded as a protest into an open insurrection broadcast on television and online all over the world.

Everyone from politicians (including President-elect Biden) to congressional leaders have spoken out about the anomalies in law enforcement presence between the terrorist activity on January 6, and the largely peaceful protests after the murder of George Floyd. Many have pointed to attacks against peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square using tear gas and riot control tactics for a Trump photo-op in front of St. John’s Church while holding an upside-down Bible.

In this combination of photos, on June 3, 2020, demonstrators, left, protest the death of George Floyd at the U.S. Capitol in Washington and Trump rioters try to break through a police barrier January 6, 2021, at the same location. (AP Photos)

Another issue of contention is the favoritism shown by law enforcement as they cleared the Capitol building arresting no one. Less than a dozen people were arrested by police during the attack until the curfew went into effect when dozens were apparently arrested. Now, the FBI and D.C. police are asking for the public’s help in identifying rioters and for any information leading to arrests despite having them in their grasp on the evening of the attack on the Capitol.

The preferential treatment given to terrorists who are all part of the same movements that tried to kidnap elected officials and made death threats against lawmakers and racial justice activists is the epitome of white supremacy. Americans show concern and even fear when their friends and neighbors stand up for justice while shrugging their shoulders when terrorists bomb cities.

The absurdity of where America is in 2021 is telling.

Police Involvement Is Evident

Police taking selfies with domestic terrorists and moving barricades to allow them access to the Capitol is more than enough to prove their involvement in what occurred. Similarly, D.C. police have previously assisted members of hate groups who committed violent acts against peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters helping them to escape areas where the violence was committed.

Not only have D.C. police escorted members of the Proud Boys to a local bar known for being their gathering point after violent acts against innocent civilians, but we’ve also witnessed them high-fiving the same group and throwing up white power gang signs at each other. Police have taken sides with far-right groups due to the misconception that everyone other than hate groups and militia despises them.

Much of what police officers believe stems from the propaganda used by the very police unions that claim to represent and stand up for the police. That same rhetoric puts police officer’s lives as well as the lives of citizens in danger nearly every day. They create division and sow discord between police and the citizenry they are tasked with serving and protecting. In Washington D.C. just as in many previous protests the impacts of the divisive rhetoric is beyond apparent.

The culture of policing in America is one of no accountability and about assuming the innocence of officers who are just as likely to fall for conspiracy theories and blatant lies as anyone else. With counter-movements like Blue Lives Matter driving hateful propaganda, it makes the associations between hate groups more than apparent. The coded language they use is the same rhetoric that the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists have used for decades.

In addition, many police trainers also employ the same language. Hundreds of police officers have been caught using racist rhetoric online in the last few years. The trainers behind “warrior training” for police, who have helped normalized hate speech among cops, rushed to their defense. They argue that cops have a right to free speech without addressing how such beliefs have a direct impact on how police officers operate and how it affects their judgment in everyday situations.

When we hear of racial profiling and how cops fear for their lives when dealing with Black and Brown suspects while showing restraint when suspects are White, it’s easy to see where it comes from. These are not outliers. They never were. Cops showed us just how much they know how to deescalate situations on January 6 in Washington D.C. They don’t need more training in dealing with suspects of color. They need to be fired for harboring hateful beliefs.

You can’t reform hate out of the system as long as racists and bigots run the system. What happened in D.C. on that fateful day was only made possible by the police who let it happen. Police who harbor hate for the people they are supposed to serve and the country that employs them. Enough is enough. It’s time to address a system of justice that knows not how to be just.


Arturo Domínguez is an anti-racist political nerd, journalist, and founder of The Antagonist Magazine. He is a top writer on racism on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here.