With the country still reeling from Wednesday’s violence in Washington, serious questions are being asked about how such a massive security breach was able to happen at the heart of US government.
Crowds of pro-Trump supporters were able to force their way inside one of the country’s most historically and politically significant buildings while elected lawmakers were inside moving to certify Joe Biden’s election victory.
The world watched as a mob of rioters seemed to roam free around inside – looting and vandalising symbols of US democracy as they went.
President-Elect Joe Biden has been scathing of the “unacceptable” handling of the rioters and compared it to the heavy-handed militarised response to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator, also railed against the security failures. “They could have blown the building up. They could have killed us all. They could’ve destroyed the government,” he said.
How could this be allowed to happen?
Criticism centres on preparation by police and their failure to anticipate possible violence, despite evidence that radical pro-Trump supporters and other groups were openly discussing their plans online.
The Washington Post, citing sources close to the matter, says that Capitol Police charged with guarding the building and its grounds did not make early requests for help from the city’s main police force or the National Guard nor set-up a multiagency command centre to coordinate response to any violence.
And without an adequate security perimeter in place, their sparse police lines were quickly overwhelmed by thousands descending on the Capitol.
Dozens of officers were injured, and one later died, in the effort to retake control – including some with armour, weapons and chemical spray agents.
Did police treat Trump supporters differently?
To many, the optics were a sharp contrast to last year’s protests following the death of George Floyd, when rows of National Guard Troops guarded and enforced order in the capital.
Even hours into Wednesday’s violence, protesters were filmed being escorted or guided out of the building without arrest – even appearing to be helped down the Capitol stairs and having doors held open for them to exit. Another viral clip appeared to show a police officer posing for a selfie with a man inside.
Many rioters photographed and even live-streamed their crimes. One was pictured, his face uncovered, with his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, and then showing off a letter he appeared to have stolen from her office. A Confederate flag was paraded by another unmasked man and a well-known conspiracy theorist – wearing horns, fur and facepaint – was seen posing by a Senate chair that had been occupied by Vice President Mike Pence just hours earlier.
Nick Ochs, a known member of the Proud Boys far-right group, tweeted a selfie of himself inside and later told CNN: “There were thousands of people in there – [the police] had no control of the situation. I didn’t get stopped or questioned.”
But despite the severity and scale of the chaos, relatively few arrests had been made by nightfall Wednesday.
Supporters of BLM and others on the left have voiced their outrage at the perceived double-standard of policing the events. The incoming vice-president, Kamala Harris, said the disconnect was “unacceptable”.
We have witnessed two systems of justice: one that let extremists storm the U.S. Capitol yesterday, and another that released tear gas on peaceful protestors last summer. It’s simply unacceptable.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 7, 2021
“I cannot think about moving on or turning the page until we reckon with the reality of what we saw yesterday,” she wrote. “True progress will be possible only once we acknowledge that this disconnect exists and take steps to repair it.”
Top congressional Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi were damning in their criticism of security failures – helping to force the departures of top officials.
The chief of the US Capitol Police, Steven Sund, had initially defended his force in a statement on Thursday – describing the actions of law enforcement as “heroic” and their plan robust.
But within hours his resignation was announced, alongside the departures of the sergeant-at-arms for both the House and Senate.
Aside from the clear lack of preparation, confusion mounted during the violence about when and if other security forces were being deployed to help.
According to the Washington Post, Pentagon officials had placed strict operational limits on the DC National Guard ahead of protests and remained concerned about the “optics” of armed military personnel at the Capitol.
Defence officials on Thursday sought to defend the speed in which they authorised and mobilised Guardsmen to respond to the violence.
Multiple US media outlets, citing senior sources, have suggested that President Donald Trump allegedly showed reluctance for the National Guard to be used to quell the unrest.
If true, this is a complete contrast to the highly visible show of force the president has repeatedly called for against left-wing and BLM protesters. Gordon Corera, the BBC’s security correspondent, says this emphasises how security decisions appear to have become politicised under the Trump administration.
Professor Clifford Stott, a specialist in the policing of crowds who advises the UK government, has been analysing the police response to BLM protests in Seattle. He told the BBC there would be “powerful and important” questions to be asked about how officials failed to prepared for the escalation by Trump supporters.
“It was the failure to predict that that led them to be inadequately prepared when it did happen and led them to be reactive and have to mobilise more resources,” he said. “It’s not just about the complexities of the police response, it’s also about what appears to be a poor level of risk assessments around how they understand whether resources might be necessary in the first place.”
What was known in advance of violence?
The gathering of the president’s supporters, while Congress was certifying the election result, was not spontaneous. The protest was pre-planned and followed months of escalating rhetoric from President Trump and some of his Republican allies seeking to undermine the result.
In the days (and indeed weeks and months) before the attack, people monitoring online platforms used by extreme pro-Trump supporters and far-right groups had warned of rhetoric encouraging violence at the Capitol, including toward lawmakers, over the election result. Some were even pictured wearing clothing that said “MAGA: CIVIL WAR” printed alongside the 6 January 2021 date.
Prof Stott, who researches the psychology of group violence and hooliganism, told the BBC he found the overarching mood of “joy” among rioters openly committing crimes particularly interesting.
“There was a very clear purpose to that crowd and that was driven by the idea their actions were legitimate, given their perception that their president – as their commander in chief – had sanctioned them to go and do this,” he says. “And that sense that Capitol Hill itself had been over taken by corruption.”
Some appeared confused and angry at why officers had used force against them. One Yahoo News video, viewed more than 25m times on TikTok, shows a woman visibly upset that she had been maced by police, despite declaring: “We’re storming the capitol – it’s a revolution!”
Some radical supporters have responded with disbelief and frustration at the concession video shared by President Trump on Thursday following the violence.
The U-turn came only a day after he told supporters: “We will never give up, we will never concede” and openly pressured his vice-president to overturn the election result.
Will the rioters face legal action?
Vice-President Mike Pence is among those who have called for those involved in the breach to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and given the brazen behaviour of many involved, prosecutors surely have no shortage of evidence to draw from.
As Facebook moved to remove videos seen to incite or encourage the events, some open-source investigators called for people to archive evidence to help with crowdsourced identification.
Meanwhile, many seen in viral images from inside are already known figures within far-right groups and QAnon and related conspiracy networks.
Dozens of people are already facing charges – including one man officials say had a semi-automatic rifle and 11 Molotov cocktails – and police have also appealed for help identifying offenders not yet in custody.
Michael Sherwin, the acting US Attorney for DC, said on Thursday that prosecutors would bring “the most maximum charges we can”, when asked if crimes such as seditious conspiracy and insurrection could be tabled.
He also refused to rule out investigating anyone deemed to have incited the violence, including President Trump.
“We’re trying to deal with the closest alligators to the boat right now,” he said.
“Those are the people who obviously breached the Capitol, created violence and mayhem there and then exited. But yes, we are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building.”
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.
The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.
“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”
But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.
On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.
Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.
The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.
Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.
Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.
Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.
A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.
But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.
The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.
Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.
A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.
Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.
The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.
Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.
It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.
The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.
“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.
In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.
“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.
“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”
Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.
He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same.
“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”
Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.
The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.
But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.
Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”
The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”
The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.
“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided.
“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”
Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.
“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”
The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.
He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.
He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.
“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.
“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.
“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”
Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”
How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers
Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.
The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.
After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.
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