Anger and incredulity at police failure to defend the Capitol from mob

Photograph: Reuters

Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, is demanding that the chief of the Capitol police stand down, the day after pro- rioters easily invaded the US Capitol in Washington, disrupting and endangering members of Congress.

On Thursday, Pelosi said she was seeking the resignation of the chief, Steven Sund.

The California Democrat also said Thursday that the House of Representatives sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving, another key security official, had already submitted his resignation. He reports directly to Pelosi, while Sund answers to both the House and Senate.

And the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said he will fire the Senate sergeant-at-arms, Mike Stenger, if he has not stepped down by the time the Democrats take control of government with Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January and Schumer becomes the Senate majority leader.

The storming of the US Capitol by a pro-Donald mob on Wednesday has provoked incredulity among US politicians and former law enforcement officials over how police allowed the stunning invasion to occur.

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Related: America shaken after pro- mob storms US Capitol building

As members of Congress and Mike Pence sought to certify the votes of the presidential election inside, a large group of pro- rioters, encouraged by the president, marched on the Capitol.

But moments later, many scaled flimsy fences, brushed past police and made their way into the seat of American legislative democracy as the vice-president, political leaders and staff fled to secure rooms, some wearing gas masks and some elderly members of Congress needing assistance while evacuating.

The mob then ransacked offices and posed for pictures on the Senate dais. Four people died amid the chaos, including a woman who was shot by a law enforcement officer, police said.

The incredible breach has drawn sharp criticism of the US Capitol police, a 2,000-officer force dedicated to the protection of the domed building.

Videos showed officers standing by as rioters rushed past them, with one officer even posing for pictures with the invaders inside the building. The mob was later allowed to leave the Capitol largely unhindered, with one elderly supporter helped down the steps by a police officer.

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Capitol police evacuate journalists and House press staff members from the Capitol.

Capitol police evacuate journalists and House press staff members from the Capitol.

Capitol police evacuate journalists and House press staff members from the Capitol. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Such scenes were a vivid contrast with anti-racism protests across the US last summer, where largely peaceful protesters were subjected to teargas, rubber bullets, beatings with batons and mass arrests.

Mondaire Jones, a newly elected congressman, called for a full investigation of the security breach on Wednesday and said that if the rioters “had been Black, they would have been gunned down before they got inside the Capitol”.

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“My feelings about this are bolstered by the footage of law enforcement agents taking selfies with these domestic terrorists who had breached security, and of security removing metal barricades in order to allow the mob to get closer to the Capitol,” Jones, a New York Democrat, said on Thursday.

Tim Ryan, a fellow Democrat who chairs a committee that oversees the Capitol police’s $460m annual budget, said he was dismayed that the mob even got close to the building’s exterior, let alone inside and into the very heart of the seat of power.

“Those were illegal acts, and those people should have been immediately arrested,” Ryan said.

Supporters of Donald Trump push past Capitol police officers outside the Senate Chamber on Wednesday.

Supporters of Donald Trump push past Capitol police officers outside the Senate Chamber on Wednesday.

Supporters of Donald brush past Capitol police officers outside the Senate Chamber on Wednesday. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

This surprise was shared by former law enforcement officials familiar with the Capitol.

“It’s like watching a real-life horror movie. I mean, we train and plan and budget every day, basically, to have this not happen,” Kim Dine, who was chief of the Capitol police from 2012 to 2016, told the Washington Post. “How it happened, I can’t figure that out.”

Dine said he was surprised that the mob was allowed to gather near the Capitol and then allowed to enter without large numbers of arrests.

The Capitol police were apparently not prepared for the attack, with the force outnumbered and not wearing any sort of riot gear.

Assistance was provided by the Metropolitan police department, Washington DC’s city force, but it was not until an hour after the hordes roared through the perimeter that national guard troops were called upon by Washington’s mayor.

This left police unable to protect the approach to the Capitol and the many doors and windows of a building originally completed in 1800.

“Once they lost the steps, they lost the doors and windows,” said Terrance Gainer, who served as Capitol police chief and later as the US Senate’s sergeant-at-arms.

“I truly had to suspend my disbelief because I didn’t think you could breach the Capitol,” said Gainer, the former Capitol police chief. “I have great confidence in the men and women who protect Congress, but there will need to be a full accounting. We’re going to have to have a deep dive into what went wrong.”

A pro-Trump rioter sits with a police shield outside the Senate chambers after breaching Capitol security.

A pro-Trump rioter sits with a police shield outside the Senate chambers after breaching Capitol security.

A pro- rioter sits with a police shield outside the Senate chambers after breaching Capitol security. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

The US Capitol police was formally created by Congress in 1828 after a son of John Quincy Adams, the sixth US president, was attacked in the Capitol’s Rotunda, the central domed atrium.

Answerable to Congress, rather than the president, the force is responsible for the protection of the Capitol and members of Congress.

Such protection usually involves intelligence work on specific threats but the police appear to have been caught shorthanded, despite weeks-long planning of the invasion by rightwing extremists on social media platforms such as Parler.

The mob was incited further by , who in a rally shortly near the White House before the riot repeated false claims that the election was stolen from him, calling for his supporters to “take back our country”.

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