As armed insurrectionists stormed the United States Capitol last week, outgoing Capitol Police chief Steven Sund said he pleaded with the Pentagon for help. “I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” he recalled saying in an interview with the Washington Post. “I have got to get boots on the ground.”
“Literally, this guy is on the phone, I mean, crying out for help,” John Falcicchio, chief of staff for Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was on the call, added. “It’s burned in my memories.”
However, Sund and others told the Post, he was rebuffed by Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Piatt said, according to Sund, who has resigned in the wake of the deadly riot. All told, according to Sund, six requests for National Guard assistance both before and during the crisis were denied; the Pentagon and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving were both reluctant to mobilize the reinforcements because of the “optics,” according to the Post, while Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger suggested the Guard be alerted more informally.
Whatever “optics” or “visual” they feared, what ultimately transpired was even worse: Rioters, encouraged by Donald Trump, overran Capitol Police and stalked the halls of congress, vandalizing the building, breaking into offices, and searching for high-ranking officials like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Mike Pence before Guard troops were finally sent in. Five died in the attack, including a Capitol Police officer; another officer who responded to the attempted coup, committed suicide days later. It was a massive security failure, both at the top and among some individual officers who were seen posing for photographs with the pro-Trump mob or allegedly assisting them, and has raised significant security concerns for the January 20 inauguration of Joe Biden as MAGA extremists raise the specter of additional violence.
The reckoning for the January 6 security failure has already begun: Sund, Irving, and Stenger have all tendered their resignations amid bipartisan outrage, and investigations are sure to yield more troubling details. But Sund’s story points to a systemic breakdown beyond the errors he and those who have already stepped down made—and the outgoing chief is warning that without changes going forward, democratic institutions remain vulnerable to such attacks. “They were extremely dangerous,” Sund told the Post of the pro-Trump crowd, “and they were extremely prepared.”
— Jared and Ivanka’s Final Chapter in Washington Demolished Their Future— After a Day of Violence, Trump’s Allies Are Jumping Ship— The Unbearable Whiteness of Storming the Capitol— Gary Cohn Is a Test Case for Trying to Wash Off the Trump Stink— The Deeply Unsettling, Not Entirely Surprising Images of Trump’s Capitol Hill Mob— Twitter Finally Muzzling Trump Is Too Little, Too Late— The Eerie Charlottesville Echoes of Trump Supporters’ Capitol Coup— From the Archive: Inside the Cult of Trump, His Rallies Are Church and He Is the Gospel
— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.