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National Guard bolsters security in nation’s capital ahead of inauguration

Thousands of members of the National Guard will be in Washington, D.C. for President-elect Biden's inauguration after the violent attack at the U.S. Capitol last week raised concerns over security. Many of those worries also extend to 50 state capitols, where the FBI says protests will take place as well. Nick Schifrin spoke to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to learn more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Moving now, as Congress and law enforcement officials beef up security today, and in preparation for the inauguration of Joe Biden in exactly one week, we thought we would look at the security arrangements that were in place the day the Capitol was assaulted last week.

    What did officials expect? And why was the National Guard not in a position to respond?

    Nick Schifrin looks at what happened on January 6 minute by minute.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    January 6 dawned with a fateful decision already made. D.C. National Guardsmen deployed to intersections and Metro stops, but the city and military agreed there would only be 340, all unarmed.

    Federal authorities, including the Capitol Police, declined Guard help. The assumption was, they wouldn't be needed.

  • Rep. Mo Brooks:

    Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!


  • Nick Schifrin:

    At 9:13 a.m., President Trump's supporters began to speak, and fill the Ellipse, in the shadow of the White House.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    12:15 p.m., President Trump departs from his teleprompter and urges the crowd to fight.

  • Donald Trump:

    We're going walk down to the Capitol.


  • Donald Trump:

    And we're going to cheer on our brave senators, and congress men and women. And we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you will never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.


  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thirty-eight minutes later and a mile-and-a-half away, as President Trump continued speaking, his supporters arrived at the edge of the Capitol, and fought with Capitol Police.

    Thirty second later, they were through. Thousands approached the Capitol's base and more Capitol Police.

  • Man:

    (INAUDIBLE) these politicians!

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The two sides faced off. By 1:15, they clashed on the Capitol steps. That's almost exactly when President Trump concluded his speech, once again urging supporters to the Capitol.

  • Donald Trump:

    So, let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

    I want to thank you all. God bless you, and God bless America.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump drove back to the White House as his supporters streamed by the thousands east to the Capitol. That's when, at 1:30 p.m., D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and requested an additional few hundred Guardsmen who had already been put on 12-hour recall. McCarthy agreed.

  • Man:

    They broke through! It's on!

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, by then, it was too late, 2:00 p.m.

  • Man:

    They're getting into the Capitol tonight.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Rioters violently broke into the Capitol itself; 2:20 p.m., Capitol Police struggled to hold their ground.

    At that exact moment, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund called D.C. National Guard Commander General William Walker and Army Secretary McCarthy. Sund pleaded for as many National Guardsmen as possible, the same Guardsmen he said he had been blocked from requesting days before.

    The Army says McCarthy ran to acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller for approval. It was granted at 3:00 p.m. But the D.C. National Guard needed to call in the rest of its Guardsmen. And the Guard who'd already deployed needed to go back to the D.C. armory to pick up riot shields and get briefed on a new, more confrontational mission. There was no cavalry on instant standby.

    Meanwhile, the Capitol descended into violence. Members of Congress sheltered. Insurrectionists fought police. As lawmakers hid, rioters sat in their seats. The Capitol had been overrun.

    Still, other states wanted to help. At 3:46 p.m., National Guard Bureau Commander General Daniel Hokanson spoke with the head of the Virginia National Guard. At 4:40 p.m., McCarthy spoke with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. The Pentagon says none of the Virginia or Maryland National Guard could arrive until the next day.

    But Hogan said the approval process took too long.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    So, we had multiple times the general was — we would run it up the flagpole. We're ready. Don't have authorization. Don't have authorization.

    I can't tell you what was going on, on the other end on the decision-making process.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The D.C. National Guard falls under multiple jurisdictions, and military officials acknowledge its deployment is bureaucratic.

  • Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy:

    Thank you, Mayor Bowser.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At 4:50 p.m., after most of the damage was already done, Army Secretary McCarthy acknowledged deploying the D.C. Guard wasn't easy.

  • Ryan McCarthy:

    There was additional requests that came forward from the Capitol Police, and for us to truly understand the specifics behind their requests and how we would support the operations, a lot of questions were asked, a little bit of confusion.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Military officials believe local and federal authorities underestimated the potential for violence and should have asked for more help.

    But they also acknowledge they were stung by their association to June's violent clearing of Black Lives Matter protests. So, before and after the election, they took pains to ensure the military had no role.

    And when law enforcement authorities didn't request National Guard at a rally protesting the election results, the military was eager to comply. By 6:45 p.m., hundreds of National Guard had arrived outside the Capitol. As many as 20,000 of them could be in D.C. for next week's inauguration, when military and local officials say they are eager, instead of hesitant, for a show of force.

    And that show of force will include Guardsmen who are armed. You can see that already today, Guardsmen with long rifles, helmets, and body armor. That's an acknowledgement of what the D.C. police chief calls a — quote — "major security threat."

    D.C. is asking people not to come to the city, and is trying to cancel all public protest permits. There are fences now around the Capitol and around Vice President Pence's official residence.

    Officials moved up what's called the national special security event to today, so it would include scheduled protests for this weekend, as well as next week's inauguration.

    Those security fears extend to all 50 state capitals, where the FBI says protests will take place as well.

    And to discuss that part of the story, I'm joined by Michigan's Attorney General Dana Nessel.

    Thank you very much. Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    What happened last week here at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., sadly, must have felt all too familiar to you. Back in April, of course, in Lansing, armed protesters entered the building. They demanded to access a legislative chamber.

    Do you think federal authorities should have done more to recognize that that event in April was almost a prelude to what happened here last week?

  • Attorney General Dana Nessel:

    I absolutely do.

    I think that Michigan in many ways was ground zero and was a dry run, if you will, to see what could happen in the event that people tried to take over a state capitol. You know, they were successful in the event of what happened in Lansing in April.

    They chose not to do anything, but we know, from those who plotted to kidnap and execute the governor, that one of their alternative plans was actually to take over the state capitol, either blow it up or to begin executing people inside of it.

    So, I do think that those who decided to take over the nation's Capitol saw what happened in Lansing, were encouraged by it, and decided to do the same thing in Washington, D.C. And, in fact, many of the people that were at the Michigan Capitol in April were also at the Capitol last week.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's look forward now.

    Yesterday, you tweeted that the Michigan Capitol Building is — quote — "not safe."

    What are you concerned about?

  • Dana Nessel:

    I'm concerned about firearms in the building.

    At long last, the Michigan Capitol Commission acted to ban the open carry of firearms, but we still don't have metal detectors. They're not going to be wanding people. Essentially, people could bring in virtually anything that they want, and they're not prohibited from doing so.

    So, of course, I am gravely concerned that people will bring firearms into the building or perhaps some sort of device which could be an explosive device of some sort.

    And that is not a safe set of circumstances, when you have had thousands and thousands of threats against lawmakers in our state and against lawmakers all across the country. It's a recipe for disaster.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thousands of threats against lawmakers in your state, but also a specific threat this weekend.

    The FBI says that there will be armed protests in state capitals over the weekend. And they specifically warned that supporters of the so-called Boogaloo movement are planning to commit violence in Michigan and Minnesota.

    Are state, are federal authorities doing enough to prepare for this weekend's events?

  • Dana Nessel:

    Well, I know that there's going to be coordination between federal authorities and state authorities, and also local and municipal authorities. and, of course, those at the Capitol Building as well, since I imagine everything will be geared towards that.

    Of course, on Sunday, the Capitol Building is closed. They're building a fence around it. The National Guard, I'm told, is coming in. And there's going to be a very heavy police presence. But, next week, our legislature is scheduled to be in session.

    And when they are in session, according to the Open Meetings Act that we have in our state, it has to be open to the public as well. So, those meetings have to be accessible.

    And so my concern is, what then? If you're going to allow people to come in, and you are not going to ensure that they do what they do in every single courthouse in the state of Michigan, which is just to make sure that people are not carrying firearms or explosive devices, how can you ensure that you are keeping the members of the public who are there, our lawmakers, and the staff at the Capitol Building safe?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You mentioned the National Guard.

    Governor Whitmer, as I understood, have not yet said that, in fact, the National Guard would be deployed on Sunday, even though Lansing's mayor has asked for it. Will the National Guard be deployed?

  • Dana Nessel:

    My understanding is that, yes, they will be.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Parler and other social media organizations where these right-wing extremists have been coordinating are being taken down, and there are reports that they are using encrypted apps.

    Does that present a concern to you that you might not be able to know what's coming?

  • Dana Nessel:

    Well, I think it means that we have to be more vigilant than ever.

    And those who are in law enforcement who are charged with monitoring those types of spaces are going to have to really step up their game and make sure that they're on top of it and make sure they understand exactly who is communicating with who and what, if any plans are being made.

    I will say, I think it's going to be more difficult for the average person who wants to participate. They're really going to have to be deep down in the weeds for them to know exactly what, if any plans are being made, if they're not going to be able to use the other types of social media platforms that people have become more accustomed to and that are easier to access.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, finally, it seems to me that, since 9/11, this country's national security has been so focused and we have fought wars over the threat of international terrorism.

    Do you believe it's time to shift some of that focus?

  • Dana Nessel:


    We know that domestic terrorism is the biggest threat to our nation right now. And we need to become more focused on it. Unfortunately, I think what we have seen for a very long time is that, as long as you had people who really were domestic terrorists, but, at the same time, were supportive of the federal administration — and by that, I mean specifically President Trump — you had a federal government that was really unwilling to take the proper and appropriate steps to combat it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, thank you very much.

  • Dana Nessel:

    Thanks for having me.

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