Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they push barricades to storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021.
US Capitol braces for more violence leading up to inauguration
04:45 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

The images will remain etched in our collective memories; throngs of MAGA-hatted attackers rampaging through the US Capitol in a deadly assault stoked by the President of the United States and his accomplices, determined to prevent the winner of the presidential election from taking office.

Frida Ghitis

We know how it looked, how it felt, but we don’t have the full story.

Some alarming details, however, are starting to emerge. On Monday, as acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf resigned, CNN reported that the FBI had received information indicating “armed protests” are being planned at all 50 state capitols and at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Capitol Police officers are under investigation for their behavior during the riot; two have been suspended.

So was the storming of the Capitol a spontaneous event, or was it part of something more orchestrated?

There is mounting evidence to justify profound concern and urgent investigations may face barricades of stonewalling.

Yet, it is imperative that we find out what exactly happened on January 6, and what may still be unfolding. It requires an investigation on two levels at two speeds.

First, the FBI and law enforcement agencies must track down and detain the instigators and ascertain what might remain on their agenda for the coming days. This is particularly pressing because the day after the assault, when President Donald Trump finally agreed to a peaceful transfer of power, in a video that was taped at the White House and over which he reportedly “expressed regret,” he told his supporters, “Our incredible journey is only just beginning.”

Separately, Congress must establish a bipartisan committee to pull every thread and see what unravels.

The generally accepted version of what played out is that a mass of passionate Trump followers gathered on the day Congress would certify Biden’s electoral victory. After Trump and his proxies inflamed their anger over the legitimate election results into a fiery frenzy, they seemingly followed his instructions and headed to the Capitol. There, Capitol Police failed to stop them. The failure of law enforcement, according to this narrative, was the result of a mixture of lack of preparation, poor communications, race of the perpetrators and possibly sympathy for the rioters among some who were supposed to stop them.

But is this an accurate recounting of what occurred?

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the day’s events was the failure of National Guard forces to respond quickly. The timeline is mind-boggling.

At a rally held the night before the riot, attendees heard former national security adviser Michael Flynn tell them Americans were prepared to “bleed” for freedom. At Wednesday’s rally, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani advocated for “trial by combat” to settle the election. Then came Trump’s instructions: “fight like hell.” Following Trump’s speech, and his false promise to join them there, they stormed the Capitol.

By 1:18 p.m. on Wednesday, multiple officers had already been injured, according to a Wall Street Journal reconstruction. At 1:41 p.m., a citywide “Broken Arrow” alert went out reporting the rioters had overrun the police. By 3 p.m., The Wall Street Journal reported that at least three key officials had urgently requested support from the National Guard, Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has since resigned.

Details of their conversations reveal mounting anguish and bafflement as the Pentagon failed to swiftly approve and deploy the troops. Sund told The Washington Post that he pleaded, “I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” he implored, “I have got to get boots on the ground.”

At the same time, Hogan was trying to get the Pentagon to approve deployment of Maryland’s guard, but like Sund, he says the urgent request was met with inexplicable delays.

Sund told The Washington Post he asked six separate times. Hogan, who had approved Maryland’s deployment, told CNN it took two hours to get the necessary authorization.

With people getting killed in the Capitol mayhem, the troops were nowhere to be found. Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of the Army Staff, reportedly disputed Sund’s account and said in a Monday statement that authorization to activate the National Guard came approximately 40 minutes after the start of a conference call between officials around 2:20 p.m. However, the first National Guard personnel did not arrive on the scene until 5:40 p.m. By the time the mob withdrew, four people lay dead, and one Capitol Police officer was so severely injured he died the next day.

What happened? Why did it take so long for help to arrive?

Many have accurately noted that Black Lives Matter social justice protests have faced much stiffer security, but one historian who has watched multiple protests on Capitol Hill, says he saw more security in other pro-Trump demonstrations. Was the Capitol left deliberately underprotected?

Once inside, according to Rep. Jim Clyburn, some rioters headed straight for his office, which is unmarked. “That to me indicated, something untoward may have been going on,” he told CNN.

Investigators should answer questions about why, in the midst of the assault, Trump and Giuliani phoned senators and asked them to try to delay the vote on certifying Biden’s win. Giuliani said it was because he wanted the process slowed down “so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you.” But was something more supposed to happen in the aftermath of the Capitol’s occupation?

If the rampage was nothing more than a spontaneous rally that spun out of control, why were some of the men who occupied the Capitol carrying bundles of flex-cuffs, the plastic restraints used by law enforcement to detain suspects?

If it was all an unplanned protest gone off the rails, why did authorities discover pipe bombs in the area?

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    And what about the truck, parked two blocks from the Capitol and carrying 11 homemade bombs built in such a way that federal investigators said if exploded would have the effect of napalm. Court documents said the explosive-filled mason jars and supplies found closely packed together could have made for a “destructive device.” Authorities say other participants brought guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

    There’s no question that Trump has been trying to overturn the legitimate, democratic result of the election. His followers believed they were about to help him succeed. But we need to know if their attack on the citadel of American democracy was the result of overflowing emotion, or if it was something more sinister. Something even worse than what we saw in those images that will remain engraved in the country’s collective memory. Something that will not end with a Trump impeachment.