Today's D Brief: Failed insurrectionists storm Capitol; Biden’s victory, certified; Senate flips; New COVID records; And a bit more.

The U.S. Congress has at last certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, but not before an insurrectionist, Confederate flag-waving, pro-Trump mob overwhelmed police and stormed the Capitol building for about seven hours Wednesday afternoon — triggering scenes of unrest and violence more typical of retrospectives from the Arab Spring nearly a decade ago. 

The mob was “inflamed by Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election and hope[d] to block the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden,” Reuters reports. Even after Biden’s win was certified by lawmakers in the early morning hours Thursday, President Trump still wouldn’t fully accept the results. “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out,” the outgoing president said in a statement this morning through his aide Dan Scavino, “nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.” (That statement came from Scavino rather than POTUS because Twitter and Facebook suspended Trump’s accounts on Wednesday for fomenting unrest.)

Rewind: “Our country has had enough, and we will not take it anymore,” Trump said at a rally just minutes before the attack and moments after Vice President Mike Pence defied Trump’s unconstitutional wishes and did not stop election certification proceedings in a joint session of Congress. “You have to show strength, and you have to be strong,” Trump told the crowd. Then as he returned to the White House, the crowd advanced on the Capitol and began mobbing police “in waves” to try to enter the complex. “The mob broke windows, entered both the Senate and House chambers and went into the offices of lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif,” the Associated Press reports. They even set up a noose outside the building.

Four people died in the riot, DC’s police chief said late Wednesday night. Three died of medical conditions, and one woman was shot by Capitol Police, according to unidentified law enforcement officials speaking to the Washington Post. The woman was Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran who had frequently retweeted QAnon-related conspiracy theories.  

Hours after the riot began, Trump finally posted a video on social media telling the mob, “You have to go home now,” and added, “We love you.”

Pipe bombs were also found near both Republican and the Democratic National Committee headquarters, “and a cooler containing a long gun and Molotov cocktails was discovered on the Capitol grounds,” the New York Times reported

Amazingly, Congressional “Staff members grabbed boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place,” the Associated Press reports. Otherwise, “the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.”

Maybe the biggest question of all: How’d the rioters even get into the Capitol? (Reuters investigates here, as does the Times in separate coverage, here.) The U.S. Capitol Police, whose $516 million budget maintains a force of 1,879, were notably ineffective at keeping the rioters out of the building. Numerous videos appeared to show officers overwhelmed by, acquiescent to, and even solicitous of the mob. 

“Many procedures worked fairly well — notification that evacuation to safer spaces might be needed, dispersal of gas masks,” tweeted Christopher Clary of the Stimson Center, “but the basic failure to have sufficient force to secure the perimeter is mystifying.”

“I didn’t think you could breach the Capitol,” said former Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, to Reuters. "We’re going to have to have a deep dive into what went wrong,” he added. 

“We train and plan and budget every day, basically, to have this not happen,” Kim Dine, chief from 2012 to 2016, told the Washington Post. No current leader of the force would talk on Wednesday to the Post, whose story notes that other federal and municipal agencies may also have miscalculated the risk. More to that, here.

Police arrested 26 people on the Capitol grounds, the DC Police Chief said Wednesday evening. Far, far more of the rioters were allowed to leave.

  • By contrast, Capitol Police detained nearly 300 people during a peaceful October 2018 protest of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.) And plenty of people pointed out how little force was used against the Trump rioters compared to the largely peaceful civil-rights protests of the summer and fall.

And the military response? Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser requested National Guard troops at around 2 p.m., according to Reuters, which “was about 45 minutes after the rioters had breached the first barricade.” Acting Pentagon chief Chris Miller activated the entire D.C. National Guard at around 2:30 p.m. (Many didn’t show up to the Capitol until closer to 6 p.m.)

Many of the rioters were dressed in pseudo-tactical gear with identity-concealing masks. Others, including a newly elected member of the West Virginia legislature, seemed unconcerned with the possible consequences of federal crimes that start with using force to enter the floor of a House of Congress and go up to sedition.

One vital question: When does the accountability begin? Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian of coups and right-wing authoritarians: “If there are not severe consequences for every lawmaker & Trump govt official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this ‘strategy of disruption’ will escalate in 2021.”

The Nazi echo, as described by Peter Singer on Twitter: “Hitler’s ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ in 1923 was a hapless march on power, certainly not seizing a national capitol. After facing little consequence, 10 years later Nazis were the ruling party. The lesson scholars took was society must be intolerant of intolerance.”

And then there are, of course, the optics of it all. Nina Jankowicz, who studies disinformation at the Wilson Center: “Putin is pleased to see a divided America, to see images that can fuel his whataboutist propaganda and policies, that he can use to undermine the US on the international stage for years to come. He did not engineer it, but he and other adversaries will cheer it.”

Several former U.S. military officials spoke out against the mob with public statements Wednesday. The list includes former SecDefs Jim Mattis and Mark Esper, as well as former Joint Chiefs chairmen Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.

White House officials resign: Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger (Politico) and Melania Trump's chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham (CNN), both resigned as a result of Wednesday’s “failed insurrection.” 

More below the fold… 


From Defense One

Right-Wing Extremists Storm US Capitol // Bradley Peniston and Katie Bo Williams: Tear gas in the Rotunda after Trump-incited insurrectionists overwhelm Capitol Police, disrupt election certification.

This Is a Coup // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: An armed mob has stormed the U.S. Capitol, using violence to stop the lawful certification of the Electoral College vote.

This is Not a Coup // Kevin Baron: The mob riot on the Capitol Building was disgusting, violent, and deadly. It’s still not a coup. And that matters.

‘Once You Engage in Political Violence, It Becomes Easier to Do It Again’ // Naomi Schalit: A conversation with Ore Koren, a scholar of civil conflict and political violence.

Aging ICBMs Must Be Replaced, Not Refurbished, STRATCOM Chief Says // Patrick Tucker: Even the people who once knew how to fix them are “not alive anymore,” Richard says.

IGs Ask: How Well Do Feds Share Cyber-Threat Info? // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: A key government contractor has already weighed in with a scathing review.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2015, two Islamic extremists killed 12 and wounded 11 more at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine.


Even after Wednesday’s violence, more than 120 House Republicans voted (unsuccessfully) to overturn the election. That includes the following 11 from the House Armed Services Committee: 

  • Joe Wilson of South Carolina;
  • Mike Rogers of Alabama;
  • Mo Brooks of Alabama;
  • Doug Lamborn from Colorado;
  • Vicky Hartzler from Missouri; 
  • Sam Graves, also from Missouri;
  • Scott DesJarlais from Tennessee;
  • Trent Kelly from Mississippi;
  • Matt Gaetz of Florida;
  • Jim Banks from Indiana;
  • And Jack Bergman of Michigan.

Eight Senators opposed certification after the unrest, too, led by Ted Cruz of Texas. The Washington Post lists the other seven, here.
NATO’s reax: “The outcome of this democratic election must be respected,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement Wednesday.
“Disgraceful” is how British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Wednesday’s events. “The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power,” he added.
The view from Germany: Trumpism looks like Nazism. “Violent actions come from inflammatory words—on the steps of the Reichstag and now in the Capitol,” said Berlin’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. More global perspectives in this report from the Wall Street Journal. The Associated Press hits many of the same notes in its reporting of U.S. citizens’ reactions, here.
Misinformation watch: ‘Blame it on Antifa.’ “In thousands of posts on Twitter and Facebook, members of the far right pushed the unfounded claim that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, carrying Trump flags and halting Congress’s counting of electoral votes, was made up of liberal activists posing as a pro-Trump community to give it a bad name,” the New York Times reported.

  • Right-wing media boosted the lies: Axios: “Hosts on Fox News, One America News Network and Newsmax went so far as to baselessly suggest that the unlawful protestors at the Capitol may have been members of Antifa.”

Where to go from here: The FBI wants tips. The FBI is accepting tips and digital media depicting rioting and violence in the U.S. Capitol Building and surrounding area in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.” Enter text or upload files, here.
DC curfew. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a general curfew from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday, and later extended the “public emergency” to 15 days. 

ICYMI: Democrats won Georgia’s two runoff elections Tuesday, which — with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s possible tie-breaking vote — largely gives control of the Senate to Biden’s party now. 

Daily U.S. COVID deaths keep rising. Wednesday saw just shy of 4,000 deaths reported — though some of that may still reflect the backlog of records from the end-of-year holidays. More pertinent are the 7-day average — a record 2,687 deaths — and the 132,476 COVID patients packing the nation’s hospitals, also a record. (New York Times)
Among the dead: a third active-duty service member. Army Sgt. 1st Class Lisa Maria Soto, 38, died Saturday at a civilian hospital near post, Fort Lee spokesman Jefferson Wolfe said. Military Times has a bit more.
A nearly incomprehensible 361,383 people have died in the United States of COVID and its complications, and we’re far from out of the woods; the IHME model is projecting some 567,000 deaths by April 21.
But that model also projects a downward slope in daily deaths that reflects the vaccination effort now in progress (if far more slowly than planned). And Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health — soon to be Biden’s chief medical adviser — says that with slightly faster vaccinations and more mask-wearing, things could look up this year. “I think by the end of the summer, if we get 70 to 85% of the population vaccinated and get a good herd immunity, I think by the fall we could start to approach some form of normality,” Fauci told NPR on Thursday morning.

And finally today: SolarWinds hack exposed 3% of Justice Department emails. That was discovered on Dec. 24, a department spokesman said Wednesday in a statement that marked the first public acknowledgement that DoJ was among the hackers’ victims. The Hill, here.

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