The January 6 insurrectionists in Washington were able to break into the halls of Congress, in part, because of lax security. The Capitol Police had a standard unit on shift, or about enough officers “for a routine day,” the Associated Press reported. The heightened security outside the Capitol (fencing, barricades, Humvees) since the rampage, the arrests that followed, and the increased police presence in states across the country may have kept some would-be rioters away this weekend.
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In Richmond, one self-styled militia leader said her group would boycott Lobby Day in protest. “This year Halifax County Militia will protest the continuing disrespect and invasion of our rights, by our absence from Richmond,” Mitzi Thompson, a leader of the group, said in a statement. Other far-right militia groups urged their followers to stay away from protests, arguing that they were a “trap.”
Monday’s relative calm does not mean that insurrectionists were cowed by the arrests that followed January 6; the rioters may simply have gone dormant. On August 12, 2018, the first anniversary of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jason Kessler, one of the rally’s organizers, sought to organize a similar march in the nation’s capital. Police were out in force, and a throng of reporters gathered, as did thousands of counterprotesters. But fewer than 50 people took part in Kessler’s anniversary march.
What lies dormant is perhaps most dangerous. In 2001, Timothy McVeigh wrote a letter to Fox News explaining why, six years earlier, he’d bombed the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. The 11-day siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992, and the federal siege in Waco roughly six months later, had radicalized him. But they had not led him to act immediately; he waited for two years before the bombing. Though McVeigh was a singular case of destruction, the anti-establishment sentiments and conspiratorial thinking that motivated his terrorism also undergirded the far-right movement that stormed the Capitol and attempted to overturn the results of the election.
In February 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Judiciary Committee that racially motivated extremists were a national threat priority. Yet when dozens of people on the bureau’s terrorist watch list gathered among the throngs in Washington, according to The Washington Post, the government failed to take the threat seriously. As my colleague Robinson Meyer noted recently, security theater will not stop the next insurrection. Nor do more militarized police forces reduce crime. But until America stops treating white supremacy with kid gloves, it will never be in the clear.
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By 5 p.m. yesterday, Stoney had plenty of thanks to go around—to the law-enforcement agencies for keeping the peace, to the citizens of Richmond for their patience. If the city’s preparedness had anything to do with preventing violence from happening, it’s going to keep at it. “We’ll stay vigilant in the coming days,” Stoney said in a statement.
Reed has his eyes on the days ahead as well. “Regardless of the challenge, Montgomery is ready.”