Homeland security experts weigh in on law enforcement response to mayhem at U.S. Capitol

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Questions persist over the handling of riots in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, which ended with hundreds of people bashing windows and storming the US Capitol. Five people, including the a US Capitol officer, died in the ruckus.

"This was a riot that stirred up by the president, incited by the president, to interfere with the lawful functions to interfere with a co-lawful branch of government. And in an effort to actually stop that function, which for a number of hours actually succeeded. So it fits in the classic definition of terrorism," said David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Before joining academia, Schanzer served as Democratic staff director for the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security from 2003-2005, counsel to then-Sen. and current President-Elect Joe Biden (1996-1998), trial attorney for the US Department of Justice (1992-1994), amongst other roles for elected officials and departments.

In a blog post following Wednesday's events, Schanzer documented the long-rising tensions that eventually led to the riot.

"They believe they're losing their grip on power, and then they've been told the fantasy that somehow they have a right to take it back by force," Schanzer said.

He was critical of law enforcement staffing levels in place prior to the rally.

"It's clear to me that there were not enough law enforcement officers there to start with, before the marchers, in what was a protest and evolved into a mass riot. So whoever thought that they had enough police there to protect the building, protect the constitutional function and the people that were in there, made very bad errors of judgment. Why they did so I think will have to be investigated thoroughly," said Schanzer.

Three days before the pro-President Donald Trump protest at the Capitol, the Pentagon asked the U.S Capitol Police if it needed National Guard manpower. And as the mob descended on the building Wednesday, Justice Department leaders reached out to offer up FBI agents. The police turned them down both times, according to a defense official and two people familiar with the matter.

"The lack of preparation to have enough resources on stand-by to deal with something like this, I find fairly surprising and highly unusual," added Fred Burton, the Executive Director for the Ontic Center for Protective Intelligence.

Burton, who previously served as both a police officer, special agent, and deputy chief of the counterterrorism division at the US Diplomatic Security Service, acknowledged the time it takes to mobilize the National Guard but questioned the whereabouts of other agencies in providing assistance.

"When you start thinking about that process, what if this had been a couple of active shooters? How long would that have taken to get additional resources on the scene? So those are the kinds of things that just don't add up in my mind. And I know we'll get answers to those eventually, but I'm really somewhat surprised that there wasn't just a faster uniformed federal law enforcement, mutual-aid help to kick in," Burton said.

One striking image that has spurred debate surrounds rioters simply walking out of the US Capitol in front of police, with some comparing how they were treated by law enforcement to those of Black Lives Matter activists this summer. Burton, however, stressed the need to take the respective situation into account.

"You're going to conserve your resources to protect those elected officials, knowing that you have to get the vote count back up and running shortly. You have to do an Improvised Explosive Division sweep for the building. You have to make sure people aren't hiding under desks or closets," said Burton.

In that moment, Burton stressed the goal was to restore order and limit further damage and destruction.

"You have enough surveillance technology to be able to identify those individuals responsible for the horrendous acts of violence, and pick them up at a later date," said Burton, who pointed to the dozens of arrests that have occurred during the past 48 hours.

RELATED: FBI looking to identify people who incited violence in Capitol riots

Schanzer understands critics' dissatisfaction with rioters' being allowed to walk out of the building, but like Burton, stressed the need to account for the totality of the situation.

"I think you had a situation once law enforcement was totally overwhelmed and outnumbered, that efforts to conduct mass arrests and get people into custody might have actually led to more violence. SO it was too late to use force appropriately to do that once that Capitol had been breached. The goal at that point was to get people out of the Capitol peacefully, and then worry about enforcement, which is taking place now, fortunately, aided by many people's own social media, who were documenting their criminal activities with videos and photos, and then posting them online. So I don't want to second-guess the tactics that occurred once the breach had happened. But I fully understand the disparity of treatment and why people are asking these questions, and they're extremely legitimate," said Schanzer.

Outside of staffing inadequacies, Schanzer also highlighted the important function of background work for such a wide-scale event.

"If you have individuals who have constantly been agitating and promoting lawlessness and violence, you should be prepared and watching those individuals undercover, preparing ahead of time," Schanzer said.

"There's a three-prong failure here-- a protective intelligence failure which means no intelligence to indicate the potential for mob violence could occur, however that doesn't mean you don't need to plan for it, which would be my second point. Meaning, you have to have a contingency plan in place in the eventuality of this kind of mob violence action taking place. Third part when you look at this, is not having a quick reaction force on standby that you could muster very quickly. And clearly, as you look at, and I feel so horrible for these US Capitol Police officers inside the facility, because they were not prepared for that kind of mob seizure. Having said all that, when you look at mob violence and mob seizure in general, it is one of the more problematic physical security challenges that anybody has to try to mitigate," Burton explained.

The FBI is continuing to seek help in identifying individuals involved in the riot.

Friday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced his office would assist with investigations into North Carolinians involved in breaking into the Capitol.
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