Federal Agencies Respond to Riots at U.S. Capitol
The Justice, Homeland Security and Interior departments are among those involved.
Personnel from various law enforcement agencies responded to the riots in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday as Congress took up the presidential election certification process.
Congress convened shortly after President Trump addressed his supporters at a rally, continuing to challenge the results of the election. Following that, hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, inciting violence, forcing members of Congress to evacuate and making all those inside the Capitol buildings seek shelter. Various law enforcement agencies were sent to the scene in addition to the Capitol Police, amid the chaos.
“The violence at our nation’s Capitol building is an intolerable attack on a fundamental institution of our democracy,” acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement on Wednesday night. “From the outset, the Department of Justice has been working in close coordination with the Capitol Police and federal partners from the Interior Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Guard, as well as the Metropolitan Police and other local authorities. Earlier this afternoon, the Department of Justice sent hundreds of federal law enforcement officers and agents from the FBI, ATF, and the U.S. Marshals Service to assist the Capitol Police in addressing this unacceptable situation, and we intend to enforce the laws of our land.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the Justice Department, “sent about 100 specially trained officers to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., this week to supplement the existing Justice Department facility security personnel,” BOP Spokesperson Justice Long told Government Executive. “The BOP officers are trained to respond to public safety issues and have been deputized under the authority granted the U.S. Marshals Service to enforce federal criminal statutes and protect federal property and personnel. These officers are wearing clothing that identifies them as BOP staff and includes numerical markings unique to each officer.”
The agency was unable to clarify what specific “federal property and personnel” the BOP officers are protecting.
As for the Homeland Security Department, “Federal Protective Service and Secret Service have been requested to provide assistance to Capitol Hill Police. They are fulfilling that request,” the agency told Government Executive. “The Department of Homeland Security has stood up the DHS Virtual Situation Room to facilitate department and interagency communication and coordination as we do for many large events in D.C.”
On Tuesday, many agencies in downtown D.C. received extra protection. One of them was the Export-Import Bank and a representative gave the following statement to Government Executive on Wednesday night:
"The safety of our employees is our highest priority at the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Nearly all of our employees have been teleworking successfully since mid-March 2020. For the small number of employees who have been both teleworking and working in EXIM’s headquarters when necessary, EXIM implemented a health and safety protocol that all must follow prior to entering the building. This protocol includes receiving permission to enter the building prior to arrival.
Earlier this week in response to certain restrictions announced by the District of Columbia, EXIM reminded staff that our maximum flexibility telework policy was in place for January 5-6. Additionally, essential staff, such as Resource Management and the IT Help Desk, were asked to stay home. Earlier this afternoon that approach was extended through January 8, 2021."
A Veterans Affairs Department spokesperson said the department is “taking appropriate measures to protect its employees and property.”
The riots have been much different from the protests for racial justice over the summer following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May. The vast number of unmarked federal agents sparked fear and confusion during those protests. Also, BOP went into a national lockdown for the first time in almost 25 years.
Many have been criticizing this response for not being as strong and proactive as that for the racial justice protests. It also led to calls for Trump’s removal from office under the 25th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and impeachment again.
“If you’re worried about violent protests because of [Black Lives Matter], it should be the same with the Proud Boys in today’s rally,” Joe Rojas, Southeast regional vice president at the American Federation of Government Employees' Council of Prison Locals, told Government Executive. “Sad.”
President-elect Biden, who will be inaugurated in two weeks, called on Trump to “step up” to restore order, during remarks on Wednesday afternoon. This is “an assault on the people’s representatives, on the police officers sworn to protect them, and the public servants who work at the heart of our Republic,” Biden said.
Shortly after, Trump released a video in which he repeated the election was stolen and told everyone to “go home now.” Later on he tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously [and] viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly [and] unfairly treated for so long.”
Congress is expected to come back into session later on Wednesday night to resume the certification process.
Eric Katz contributed to this report.