Critics often accuse police of overstating or overreacting to the danger they face and using that to explain the use of lethal force. That makes what happened at the Capitol so much more surprising. One protester, Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed as she attempted to enter the Speaker’s Lobby, but few shots were fired on January 6. While it is true that police initially responded to the largely white crowd far less aggressively than they often responded to Black Lives Matter protests this summer, some officers say they held their fire because they were afraid to start a shoot-out they couldn’t win.
“I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns—we had been seizing guns all day,” Daniel Hodges, a D.C. police officer, told the Post. “And the only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”
David A. Graham: Don’t let them pretend this didn’t happen
Once inside, some putschists were prepared. They came with schematics and maps of the building, and set about their work with purpose. Some wore tactical gear and carried flex ties, which would have been useful for kidnapping and hostage-taking. If not for the quick thinking of the Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who drew a column away from the Senate floor, they might have walked through the unlocked doors and into a chamber still filled with lawmakers.
Only on Friday did it become clear how much danger Pence had been in. Secret Service officers whisked Pence and his family to a hideaway in the Capitol—but just one minute before Goodman made his stand, and only about 100 feet from the stairs up which the officer was chased by the mob, according to the Post.
Under almost no circumstances would the insurrection have succeeded at overturning the election, though that doesn’t lessen the gravity of the attempted coup. But it could have been much worse. A firefight could have broken out between police and putschists. Members of Congress could have been taken hostage or killed. Pelosi could have been shot and killed. Pence could have been lynched. The insurrectionists were there because the president of the United States lied to them, claiming that the election had been stolen and that Pence could save Trump’s presidency, and because he had demanded that they act. “We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said that day.
Clint Smith: The whole story in a single photo
Yet this slow realization comes even as many conservative media outlets and politicians attempt to gaslight the public, as I warned they would. One leading voice of Trumpism, Tucker Carlson, insists, “What happened last week was not new or unusual.” While some Republicans have sought to spread baseless conspiracy theories about leftist agents provocateurs, many others have simply tried to minimize what happened. During debate over Trump’s historic second impeachment this week in the House, most Republicans did not defend Trump, but instead claimed that what happened was more like the civil unrest over policing this summer.