Yesterday was the day when some seem to have feared that supporters of Donald Trump would attack the Capitol. To meet this supposed threat, National Guard members armed with M4 rifles were out in force.
But the assault on the Capitol did not occur. According to the Washington Post, the threat “proved to be a mirage.”
Was there a reasonable basis to fear an attack? The Post says that the fear was based on predictions by some Trump supporters that the former president would return to power on March 4, which used to be Inauguration Day.
But was there any reason to believe that Trump supporters would commemorate this supposed event by storming the Capitol? I doubt it.
The January 6 storming occurred after Trump called on his supporters to come to Washington. The idea was to exert pressure on Mike Pence and others as the election results were about to be certified (although I don’t think there’s evidence that Trump envisaged a storming of the Capitol). Trump was in Washington that day and delivered a speech to his supporters.
None of these elements was present yesterday. Trump did not call on supporters to come to D.C. Trump himself was in Florida and gave no speech, as far as I know. Congress was engaged in no activity affecting the outcome of the 2020 election.
Were Trump supporters coming to Washington in large numbers? Nothing in the Post’s report suggests that they were. Thus, it seems that the show of force was a response to an imaginary threat.
The Capitol area has been a militarized zone for two months. Yesterday, the militarization was even more pronounced. According to the Post:
Along the fence, which stretches from the east side of the Supreme Court to the Mall, police shooed away anyone who lingered nearby.
“Have you seen the news?” they asked.
A better question would have been, have you seen the fake news.
About 5,200 Guard members remain on duty in Washington. The security operation costs $2 million per week to maintain. The Guard’s mission here is scheduled to end March 12, but the Capitol Police has asked that it be extended for 60 days.
The Post reports that “the oppressive security measures have become increasingly controversial in recent weeks, particularly among the people who have to live with them every day.” D.C.’s mayor Muriel Bowser no longer supports the large presence of troops.
Why are the troops still here? Why will they remain after yesterday’s false alarm?
One explanation is that Capitol police force officials and others with a say want them here. They don’t want to tolerate any risk, however small, of another January 6. It doesn’t matter to them whether Capitol Hill is oppressively militarized. That’s not their concern.
Another explanation is that some officials want to promote the view that Trump supporters pose an ongoing threat to the Capitol. They want to get all the mileage they can from January 6.
Whatever the true explanation — and both of the two above can be true — I think the oppressive security measures on Capitol Hill are a disgrace.