The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol left the public reeling. And though we have a lot more to learn about the attack—the authorities from Capitol Police to the Justice Department continue to offer the public shockingly little information—it is clear that this was a threat the government had the ability to prevent but failed to.
President Biden and members of Congress have already expressed interest in potentially expanding counterterrorism laws in response to the attack. But the fundamental issue is not that officials’ hands were tied by the law, but rather that they took their finger off the pulse of the looming danger. Despite warning signs flashing red well before January 6—including out in the open—our government was shockingly unprepared.
Reports indicate the top tier of the FBI only learned of the attack already underway through a game of phone tag with staff in the building and a mutual friend acting as an intermediary. Most rioters were able to simply walk out of the Capitol, handing them the opportunity to discard or destroy evidence of unlawful activity, or potentially cause greater harm as days went by before they were tracked down and charged.
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The Constitution Project seeks to safeguard our constitutional rights when the government exercises power in the name of national security and domestic policing, including ensuring our institutions serve as a check on that power.