Op-ed Winners

How to Prevent a Repeat of the January 6th Security Failure

On January 6, 2021, Americans throughout the nation gazed at their televisions in fear and distress as they witnessed one of the most egregious attacks on federal property in recent memory. Although this insurrection on the United States Capitol represented a horrifying breach of a supposedly secured building, presenting a major threat to elected Congressmen and governmental officials, the events of that day do not warrant new or stricter domestic surveillance laws on the American public. Rather, in examining the intelligence failures of the insurrection, the only plausible modification in legislation should be in considering whether to redistribute the power to deploy state and federal troops.

Despite the insurrection initially seeming like a secret and well coordinated event, no detailed surveillance beyond what would be accessible by any ordinary citizen was necessary to predict and forsee the potential magnitude of the attack. In fact, any individual throughout the United States with an electronic device and access to social media platforms could have witnessed the numerous tweets and posts foreshadowing the event. On multiple occasions throughout the months and days prior to the attack, President Trump on his public Twitter account announced that he expected a large crowd of supporters to gather in Washington DC on January 6th just a walking distance away from the Capitol. Additionally, Trump on numerous occasions even retweeted statements from his supporters who described in militaristic terms that a “cavalry” of the President’s presumably violent supporters would arrive there according to his lead. Furthermore, just by following this simple trail of the President and his supporters’ tweets, any ordinary American could quickly discover that at a minimum the Capitol building, in which the counting of the electoral votes would occur, would require extra security personnel on January 6th. Thus, stricter surveillance laws to gather more detailed public information would not have prevented the failure to recognize the magnitude of the attack. 

In fact, it can be clearly inferred that if governmental officials had done only a basic amount of research regarding the event, they could have deployed extra and adequate personnel. For example, despite lacking one singular leader such as the President and being planned only a few days prior, governmental officials had no problem deciphering when and where Black Lives Matter protests would occur. During these protests, which were much more frequent and numerous, and thus should have each received less individual attention from the federal government, state and federal officials were able to adequately prepare for and deploy extra security personnel in each state. However, in the attack of the Capitol, which was much more predictable by being promoted on numerous social media platforms over the course of multiple months by even the most prominent individual in the nation himself, governmental officials were strangely unable to adequately prepare.

Furthermore, neither a lack of governmental insight nor an inability to adequately deploy troops were the cause of the security failure. Rather, one major reason that the Capitol was unprepared for the attack pertains to the distribution of power to deploy troops in DC and on federal grounds. As opposed to most states, in which the governors essentially have the power to deploy the national guard, since DC is not considered a state, any request from the mayor of DC to deploy the district’s national guard must pass through multiple layers of presidentially-appointed federal authorities. While in order to deploy troops in the actual city of Washington DC, the DC mayor must first pass her request through the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense who are essentially under the command of the President of the United States, the mayor lacks any major power on federal grounds such as the capitol, as instead the Secretary of Defense who is subject to the President’s orders controls the deployment of troops. This complex and convoluted system of power, in which federal authorities who are eclipsed by the President’s jurisdiction have ultimate control over the national guard, prevented an unbiased official from making a rational decision on January 6th against the insurrection.

Thus, to prevent such an event from repeating itself, there are two potential legislative solutions. The first solution is to remove the president’s ability to control the DC national guard by instead granting the power to deploy troops directly to the major of DC. Thus, an official directly elected by the district itself can control the national guard instead of the President of the United States, who may have ulterior and potentially unjustified motives. Such a redistribution in power, which would have to be approved by Congress in order to come to fruition, would resolve this issue in a decisive manner that would likely prove popular not only in DC, but also in the entire nation.

However, another more audacious and perhaps unpopular solution to this issue would be to grant statehood to the District of Columbia. As a multitude of individuals in DC have fought for statehood for many years, this issue of unbalanced distribution of power could propel such advocates to victory, as by obtaining statehood, the power to deploy the local national guard would be immediately directed to the local government. While this latter solution would likely be more controversial, it represents one additional remedy to preventing such a domestic catastrophe from repeating itself.

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