Op/Ed

Eric Davis: Jan. 6 attack should be probed

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed, a bill creating a special commission to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the attacks and to make organizational and policy recommendations as a result of that investigation.
Before issuing its report in July 2004, the 9/11 commission held 19 days of hearings, took public testimony from 160 witnesses, reviewed more than 2.5 million pages of documents, and interviewed more than 1,200 individuals.
Congress should pass, and send to incoming President Biden, a bill to establish a similar independent commission to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol, the background of the mob violence that occurred that day, and recommendations for policy and organizational changes needed as a consequence of the commission’s findings.
California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier has already proposed a version of such a commission, focusing on security issues at the Capitol Building, that has been endorsed by more than 40 other members of the House of Representatives. Rep. Speier says the commission should investigate questions such as the following: What was the plan to protect the Capitol Building on Jan. 6? How were agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security monitoring social media prior to Jan. 6, and how did they respond to postings encouraging violent action to stop the electoral vote count?
Once the assault on the Capitol began, how did the Capitol Police coordinate with the D.C. Metropolitan Police, the D.C. National Guard and federal law enforcement agencies? Why did it take so long for law enforcement to respond when it was clear the Capitol Police were outnumbered and insurrectionists had gained entry to the House and Senate chambers?
In light of photographs showing some Capitol Police officers opening doors and giving directions to those intending violence, did any members of the Capitol Police have alliances with extremists? Why were so few arrests made at the Capitol on Jan. 6, in comparison with the number of arrests made at other protests in the building, such as those associated with demonstrations against police violence, or the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court?
Rep. Speier and her colleagues have provided a detailed list of questions for a commission to consider, but those questions need to be supplemented with others, focusing on the role of President Trump, the White House, other agencies of government and the media — both traditional media and social media. How did the President’s lies about election fraud, and the amplification of those lies by some members of Congress and elements of the media, contribute to the environment that allowed the Jan. 6 violence to occur?
Were there any connections between the Trump Administration’s purge of the senior leadership of the Department of Defense immediately after the election, replacing many appointees with Trump loyalists, and the slow response to requests from leaders in D.C. and Maryland to deploy the National Guard in and around the Capitol? To what extent did Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, Lin Wood, Roger Stone and other Trump associates play a role in events leading up to the Jan. 6 attacks?
The work of a special investigating commission is not intended to duplicate proceedings to hold individuals accountable for their actions, whether those proceedings involve an impeachment trial of President Trump in the Senate after he has left office, or criminal proceedings against those charged with specific offenses in the Capitol Building, such as entering restricted areas, brandishing unlawful weapons, and stealing or destroying government property.
Rather, the commission’s task should be to recommend organizational changes to address the intelligence and coordination failures that became apparent on Jan. 6, and to educate the American public about the implications of a President continually propounding the “Big Lie” on the stability and resilience of American democracy.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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