Thoughts on the Police Response in DC

ByBrian Platt

On January 6th in Washington DC, several hundred Trump supporters rioted through the Capitol Building disrupting the Senate confirmation of the November election results. In the aftermath, many liberals and those on the left tried to make sense of the police response to this riot. Below are some of the questions that are being asked and my thoughts on them based on the damage that reading police journals and studying policing for years has done to my brain.

Did Republicans want this to happen? Was it "an op"?

I think that the idea that this was somehow all masterminded by the Republican Party or the deep state is pretty farfetched. Reports are now coming out that Trump was "initially pleased" with the riot, but that aides "pleaded with him to intercede" to stop it. Then this was followed by the hilarious video Trump made asking people to go home. These are not the actions of a Machiavellian mastermind. This is a narcissist responding to an event as it plays out.

Some might say, "But look at who benefits. They are going to be able to push for greater police funding. Any move to the left by democrats will be countered by a fear of the chud Republican base. It's disciplining." And the thing is, you can make that argument for anything that happens because the capitalist class is winning – and not barely winning, but crushing the working class.

A recent study from the RAND Corporation, hardly a Maoist rag, found that since 1975, over $47 trillion has been redistributed upwards to the wealthiest ten percent due to the diminishing wages of the bottom ninety percent. And this is a trend that is accelerating. During the Obama Administration, 95% of the economic gains of his fabled recovery went to the top 1%. And during the first six months of the Covid pandemic, America's billionaires became nearly $700 billion richer while 8 million Americans fell into poverty. Again, you do not have to look to Jacobin or Counterpunch to find proof of this massive redistribution of economic power, it's discussed regularly at outlets like Bloomberg.

This unprecedented concentration of economic wealth has led to an equal concentration of political power. In 2014, two political scientists conducted an unprecedented study comparing nearly 1,800 policy debates in Congress with polling data and tax records to see who determined the policy preferences of Congress. "The policy preferences of economic elites have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do," the authors write, before offering this salve, "To be sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically elite citizens who wield actual influence." The 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened up political campaigns to unlimited amounts of dark money – opposed by 80% of the public – guarantees the further entrenchment of elite power.

When one class dominates the other as thoroughly as the American capitalist class dominates the American working class, everything is going to look like it redounds to the capitalist class because they control every lever of power. So, if something happens, they get to choose the response, which will of course be self-serving, giving the illusion that it was the plan all along. But world events are not always of their choosing and I guarantee that no Senator or House Rep wanted to be wearing those ridiculous bags on their heads. And these representatives of the capitalist class carry a lot of weight and wield a lot of power. They are reacting to events just like we are, only unlike us they have the power to take control, shape narratives, and choose winners & losers. You don't always need a conspiracy when you have that kind of power to come out on top.

Isn't this just a failure of the leadership of the Capitol Police Department?

Asking if individual leaders failed is always a deceptive question because it skips the tedious "why did they fail" phase to go straight to the much more satisfying "who to blame" phase of analysis. Because of this, it almost always ignores the ideological and structural elements that guaranteed the failure in the first place. Did Capitol PD fail to properly protect the Capitol Building? Obviously. But the real question is why?

One obvious answer is that they failed to correctly judge the threat that the chud gathering might pose to the capital and members of Congress. How did this happen? Police are trained to perceive certain groups as threats, for instance, the poor are treated as much more threatening than the rich. Black people are treated as much more threatening than white people. And left political organizations are treated as much more threatening than right-wing political organizations.

This is built into the DNA of American policing from its creation as a labor control system originating in the slave South. Police are trained in the same way that dogs are trained to salivate at the sound of a bell, through a system of rewards and punishments. In this training they learn who is a threat and who to ignore. In their origin as slave patrols, American police were taught to protect the interests of the planter class by preventing slaves from running away and stopping slave rebellions. Today, they protect the interests of real estate speculators by carrying out homeless sweeps. They protect business interests by enforcing loitering laws and prosecuting theft. They protect landlords by carrying out evictions. And they control the potentially explosive social dynamite that is the unemployed/underemployed working class by putting millions of poor people in cages. In short, the police have masters, those masters have interests, and the police learn to serve those interest – just like a good dog does.

What we saw at Trump's rally in DC was not an uprising of the urban proletariat. It was not an insurgency of Mao's rural peasant guerillas. It was the beautiful boaters. A collection of small business tyrants, off-duty cops, wayward youth of the wealthy, and hopelessly internet-warped boomers. It was the winners of America who make up the more comfortable tears of the middle class. They also make up the most right-wing element of American society. Carrying Confederate flags, wearing white nationalist paraphernalia, and shouting that there is a grand socialist conspiracy out to get them. These people don't threaten capital, they are its most devout and fanatical adherents.

Police are trained to see these people as allies, not threats. They are the ones feeding the police info on NextDoor about teens walking in their yard or turning over the video footage from their Ring cameras to save the police money on domestic surveillance. These are the cops' kind of people. This is why Capitol police rejected offers of crowd control support from the DOD. They didn't see the chuds as a threat, a situation created by the political character of policing in America.

So did the police leadership fail? Of course, but everything that caused that failure is built into policing itself. Police crack heads at BLM protest because they see black people and the left as their enemy. They weren't prepared to crack heads here because they see MAGA chuds as their allies. Much like how police violence is not the fault of a few bad apples, what happened in DC is not an individual problem of a few bad police captains, it is a systemic problem.

Were the police simply overwhelmed? Didn't a similar thing happen in 2017 when leftist protesters stormed the airports? Or in Minneapolis when protesters burned down a police station?

This is one of the biggest storylines that is developing amongst both libs and the contrarian left. They say, "Look, Capitol police were simply overwhelmed." And this is appealing because it has a certain element of truth to it. Police were wildly outnumbered at various points during the riot. But it also ignores the basic question: Why were they so overwhelmed? This event had been planned in the open for a month. Reddit, Chan, and Parler boards have been rife with talk about storming the capitol, starting the second civil war, and all sorts of other stupid shit. Police monitor those boards. They ignored all that chatter because they don't see these people as a threat. They do not see them as a threat because they aren't a threat to capitalism.

Now, some online pointed out, "Didn't left groups overwhelm the police in a similar manner when they did the initial airport protests in 2017? Or in Minneapolis in response to the death of George Floyd?" Again, these seem like reasonable points at first until you realize that both of those events were more or less spontaneous acts that police had no time to anticipate and prepare for. That is the exact opposite of what happened in DC. Watch the video of Minneapolis police fleeing the precinct on the first night of the George Floyd protest. They are so stricken with fear and panic that black people are outside that they run over their own gate in their haste to escape. They look like Nazi officers fleeing Berlin in May of 1945, pure chaos. Now watch them open the gates and casually walk with the chuds in DC. That difference in fear and urgency tells you all that you need to know.

It might also be pointed out that, in Seattle at least, those that tried to storm the airport were pepper sprayed by police, kettled, and arrested. This happened because the Seattle airport protest came several hours after the initial protests in NYC, again, because these were spontaneous acts. That little bit of lead time allowed Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle Port Authority to mobilize a police response at the airport and even allowed SPD to shut down light rail service to the airport to prevent more protesters from showing up.

Yes, you can surprise the police and take advantage of that surprise. This is what good organizers have to do when the police perceive their movement as a threat. That is not in any way what happened in DC. Police had a month to prepare for the DC rally. What they showed up with is a measure of how they viewed the threat. That was a choice determined by the political character of the police.

Would the police have just shot everyone if they were black?

This is the take that got the most heat because there is an absolute element of truth to it. If this were a large BLM protest made up largely of black men – as the chud protest was largely white men – storming the capitol, the police response would have been far more violent. A simple survey of the police response to BLM events all year shows that to be the case. If police had one month of lead time, with people openly posting about starting a new civil war online prior to the event, then DC would have been an armed camp – the city is most heavily fortified city in the country. Thousands of police would have streamed in from the surrounding area and the National Guard would have already been deployed. This, of course, isn't speculation. It is exactly what happened in DC this summer.

The one thing that it is important to not avoid here is the question of politics. What if the chud rally had a large contingent of black Republicans in it when this went down? Then would the police have reacted more violently? The answer is likely no. There are non-white proud boys, non-white Q people, non-white alt-righters, and plenty of non-white small business tyrant Republicans that have come out to Patriot Prayer events, alt-right events, Trump rallies, etc. They have generally been met with open arms by police. Again, the question of politics is key.

Now remember how police treated the predominantly white anarchist protesters in Portland all summer. They were brutalized, kettled, arrested, black bagged. Imagine if the group storming the capitol building was a coalition of PNW Antifa types – anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-cop, and predominantly white. Would they be met in the same congenial way? Would the police remove barricades and snap selfies? Of course not. The police would mobilize a brutalizing response. Again, we don't have to speculate, that is exactly what happened in Portland and Seattle.

That is not to oversimplify things from the other direction and say that race is not a factor. Blackness is considered a threat to capital's power because blackness has been linked to poverty and exploitation by the choices of American capitalists and the structures of American capitalism. Choosing to tie slavery to blackness created a system of racist super-exploitation that is still foundational to American capitalism. It cannot be neatly disentangled from class in America any more than you can disentangle your mother's genes from your own. Racism is written into the genetic code of American capitalism and American policing. But, be that as it may, even the most racist capitalists in America have always found non-white people that they can exploit for propagandistic purposes. If those were black Republicans storming the capitol, Reps and Senators would be pushing police out of the way to get a photo-op.

The point of this is that the police – and more importantly, those they answer to – do make these distinctions. They know that they can shoot a poor black man without consequence, but they can't shoot Clarence Thomas or Colin Powell or Oprah without consequence. Part of my point here is to calm down some of our more excitable white comrades; the police will shoot you too. They shoot white people all the time. Doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't resist them, but it does mean that it is a possibility.

The police exist to protect the capitalist class and the horrifying system of exploitation that they feed off of. The left seeks to overturn the power of the capitalist class and expropriate the expropriators. As American history shows, from Gabriel's Rebellion to the Everett Massacre to COINTELPRO to the assassination of Fred Hampton to Standing Rock & Ferguson – if you challenge capital, the police will fight you with every means of violence at their disposal.

Is this a qualitative shift in these right-wing movements? Are they moving from worshipping the police and "the law" to a more radical right-wing praxis?

There has always been right-wing violence against the police in America. From the Posse Comitatus freaks in the 1970s, to The Order in the 1980s, to the militia movements in the 1990s, the sovereign citizens of the 2000s, and the boogaloo boys of today – there have always been right-wing groups that rail against police and even act out violently against them. In fact, it has long been accepted that the majority of pre-meditated attacks against police – bombings, ambushes, etc – have been carried out by right-wing groups for the last forty years.

This doesn't matter one bit with regard to the police relationship to the far right.

Consider the fact that when the Justice Department began its civil rights and use of force investigation of Seattle PD in 2011, officers complained that they were "under siege" by "the enemy" and compared it to the standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Of course, it was the police who killed Randy Weaver's wife and son at Ruby Ridge. It was the police who shot up the Branch Davidians' compound and then burned 76 people alive inside it. So, how do the police hold this seeming contradiction in their heads where they are the spiritual victim of historical events carried out by police? The answer is that right-wing politics are not a rational politics. They are more felt than intellectualized – a mixture of grievance, anger, and entitlement – so they can contain countless contradictions and still remain perfectly coherent to the believer.

Both the events of Ruby Ridge and Waco have become key martyrdoms in the imagination of the American far right (willingly in the case of Weaver, unwillingly in the case of the Branch Davidians) with intense motivating power, and the police in this country are politically aligned with the far right. So, there is no dissonance there. That was an attack against the right  they are on the right  so that was an attack against them. The illogic of it is immaterial because the aggrievement is felt. This is why the head of the Seattle police union, Mike Solan, is tweeting conspiracy theories that the chud rioters were actually secret BLM activists at the same time that the head of the Chicago police union is praising the chud rioters as "pissed off patriots." And if the two of them were in a room together, they would not see a contradiction there.

What holds the police and the right-wing together isn't mutual respect or manners, it is politics. They are welded together by their politics. What is at the heart of that politics? Racism, as rooted in America's historical systems of labor exploitation and continued up through this day. A hatred of the poor, as best demonstrated in the way that both groups treat the homeless. A worship of personal property rights, which is not exclusive of the destruction of property in the defense of people's imagined property rights. Devotion to hierarchical structures that determine which people are counted as human in this society. And a deep feeling of aggrievement that they have been wronged.

Now, these politics, surprise, surprise, just so happen to uphold and entrench the power of the capitalist class. So how did these people get these politics? Police go through professional training that is designed to filter out those that might be more sympathetic to the targets of police violence. Training then inculcates recruits with a new and "correct" set of values allowing them to make split decisions without even thinking about it. For example, they will instantly point out the numerous suspicious traits and potential violations that a homeless person might exhibit as per their training, but be at a loss when a banker walks by on his way to launder money for the Sinaloa Cartel. This is then re-enforced with on-the-job training, where older, more experienced officers take new recruits through the ropes and show them "how it really is" on the streets. Recruits learn which laws are enforced and which are ignored; which acts are crimes and which are just doing business; which people are suspect and which are given full rights as citizens. Over time, this molds the individual into the cop, the very purpose of professionalization.

So it is not surprising to learn that the chud crowd had a number of police officers in attendance – not for surveillance purposes as they would a BLM rally, but to participate – flashing their badges at Capitol police to try and gain entrance. It also explains the videos of police opening the doors to the Capitol building to let the chuds in and then congenially escorting them out after they had their fun.

As for the average Trump supporter, it is important to first note that these are not average people. Trump supporters are wealthier on average and those that stormed the capitol appear to be no different. Hilariously, one of the rioters who got some notoriety for wearing a fox head and fur costume was quickly identified as the son of a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge. These are largely fail-sons of wealthy families, boomers who have lost their minds online, and the small business tyrants that have always formed part of the social base of fascism. Why do they have right-wing politics? Because a fanatical belief in personal property rights and a love of brutal authoritarianism undergirds their whole lifestyle. Beyond that, they are blasted daily with media that makes a fetish of the individual business owner/millionaire. In their mind they are Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne fighting for justice. It is in this very media consumption that they first met their greatest hero on The Apprentice.

Did the police allow this to happen?

In the most basic sense, yes. They cleared fencing out of the way for the chud horde to advance, they opened doors, they helped people down steps, they took selfies with the crowd. One chud felt so comfortable with the police that he asked one of the Capitol police where Chuck Schumer's office was when he couldn't find it on his own, and the cop gave him directions. They were as welcoming and hands off as police can be. Most importantly, they showed no consistent signs of any actual resistance or that resistance might be ramped up. This is partly why the chuds are so worked up about the woman who was shot. By their estimation, it was a wild escalation of tactics on the part of one of the cops. And it was, relative to the general police response that characterized the rest of the day.

Did the police plan for this to happen? I don't think so. They simply share a deep political affinity with the chud horde. When they looked into their gaping maws and their dull, incurious eyes, they saw themselves. And they treated them accordingly. Did they get some glee out of watching the press and Congress people flee? Of course, and they even told the press as much, but they weren't planning anything. They were just riding the wave.

After viewing a significant amount of video of the riot, what you see is a chaotic response from the police indicative of a police force that was not prepared for the event and did not see the event's participants as a threat. Even in video of the one doorway that police tried to hold, you see struggle, you see chuds pepper spraying police, you see chuds trying to rip gas masks off of cops, and… you see the most incredible restraint from police officers.

Compare that to police actions in Seattle during the city sponsored & SPD endorsed event at Westlake on May 30th to memorialize George Floyd. During that event – encouraged as something people could bring their families to with SPD claiming they would be there to pass out water – police casually lobbed tear gas, flash bangs, and blast balls into the crowd. They even maced a 9-year-old and then arrested a hot dog vendor for catching it on camera. The "riot" that day happened after these events. Meaning this is how police responded to people just shouting at them as they walked by the police barricade.

In DC, the political alignment between all involved was on display in the selfies that police took with chuds and in the kid gloves with which they handled them. It was also on display in the shock with which the chuds took the shooting of one of their own: "This is not America," a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. She was crying, hysterical. "They're shooting at us. They're supposed to shoot BLM, but they're shooting the patriots." She was crying yesterday, but tomorrow she will be back to shouting "blue lives matter" and demanding the police execute the homeless. It's how this cycle always goes.

How would defunding the police have stopped this?

The failure on the part of the police in DC to control this event had nothing to do with funding, leadership, lack of surveillance, lack of weapons or any of the excuses that it is ultimately going to be blamed on. This spectacle happened because the police are a deeply political organization that is aligned with the goals and the values of the far right. This gave them a blind-spot to the potential of the crowd at Trump's rally and ultimately led to the unusual permissiveness with which they treated that crowd. This blind-spot is nothing new.

In the end, the politics of policing played the largest role. These politics are not just systemic to policing itself, they are system sustaining. Police cannot properly do their job without a deep hatred of the poor. They cannot keep the working class in line without a deeply ingrained racism against black people. They cannot serve their masters without at least a gut level understanding of what kind of political expressions are non-threatening to capital and therefore okay, and which actually have the potential to threaten capital and therefore have to be repressed. Policing is after-all the armed monopoly of violence for the capitalist class.

Democrats are going to push for more funding, more hiring, more weapons, more surveillance; Biden is already promising new domestic terrorism laws. The politics of the police guarantees that these weapons of the state will always be turned against the left. From the Red Scare to HUAC to COINTELPRO to today, that has always been how these rapid expansions of police power play out.

No amount of dial turning or human resources' trainings or computer simulation could have stopped what happened in DC. Nor will they stop it from happening again. The police are not between us and the problem, they are the problem. That is why defunding and ultimately disbanding them is the only solution.