Even after the 7,000 National Guard troops currently deployed around the United States Capitol pack up following the impeachment trial, the Hill will not be returning to normal. “We must harden this campus,” House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett warned in a closed Appropriations Committee session late last month. Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, recently called for “vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure.” Those plans—prompted by the January 6 riot that is now the subject of a presidential-impeachment trial—would include expanding the perimeter around Congress by several blocks to encircle House and Senate office buildings; adding permanent fencing; and positioning rapid-response forces around the complex.
These steps would come on top of the concrete jersey barriers installed after the Oklahoma City bombing, and the pop-up vehicle ramparts and K-9 patrols added after 9/11. With those visible fortifications as a backdrop, observers of the January 6 mob attack slid easily into a Western Front vocabulary; they reported a storming, an incursion, and finally a “breach.”
Within living memory, the Capitol was a true public building, nearly unguarded, a sociable and disorderly place. As a congressional aide in the 1980s, I saw how Congress operated before security became an overriding concern, and I remember the day it all changed. Before November 7, 1983, all 10 of the Capitol building’s grand entrances were open to visitors. The Senate was supposed to be in session that evening. By sheer luck, members had concluded their business, and a crowded reception nearby had ended, when a bomb exploded not far from the Senate chamber.