On the evening of January 6, 2021, an FBI official reached out to their colleagues and compared the day’s events to Black Lives Matter protests that took place the previous summer:

“Folks, sorry I’m going to miss the winter iteration on the streets of D.C. with you. For those there in June, you know the drill: use your heads and look after each other.”

The official’s assessment is misguided on two counts: first, law enforcement clearly did not employ the same “drill” when responding to Black Lives Matter protests and the insurrection—and in fact employed a mere fraction of the power used during the Black Lives Matter protests to address the violent attack on the Capitol. Second, the insurrection was an unprecedented and deadly attack on democracy—far from just another iteration of the regular peaceful protests that take place in Washington, D.C., as this official implies—and in no way comparable to overwhelmingly peaceful protests for racial justice.

CREW reviewed numerous government documents that demonstrate the vastly different treatment that insurrectionist groups and racial justice groups received. In June 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Law Enforcement Safety and Compliance Directorate implemented an “all hands on deck” response to racial justice protests, increasing officer numbers and supplying rifles and other weapons. Ahead of January 6th however, the agency decided to only provide support “as needed” in an “off-sight [sic] standby status.” Meanwhile, as the Secret Service relayed information about pro-Trump groups coming to D.C. to incite violence, the National Guard dispatched 851 personnel to Kenosha, Wisconsin in anticipation of the district attorney’s decision on whether to prosecute the officers who killed Jacob Blake. Ultimately, no violence erupted in Kenosha. 

Even before January 6th itself, federal law enforcement appeared to lend more credibility to the potential for counter demonstrations by anti-fascist groups than the right-wing protesters that were demonstrating a potential for violence. According to documents CREW obtained, a member of the Secret Service noted in an email that the “vast majority” of the groups coming to D.C. on January 6th were arriving in support of Trump, then listed four specific groups out of the 50 indicated to be demonstrating: the Proud Boys, Refuse Fascism, They Them Collective/DC Your Liberation and MillionMAGAMarch. The Proud Boys are a far-right, fascist, white supremacist group registered as a terrorist group in other countries, that the Secret Service knew may bring violence to the Capitol. MillionMAGAMarch was mentioned in the same email to have organized two previous demonstrations in November and December 2020 that led to “large groups of some minor reports of violent activity… [sic]”

Meanwhile, the two plainly anti-fascist groups had no indications of potential violence in any of the documents CREW obtained nor seemingly online ahead of the demonstrations. Refuse Fascism is a notably non-violent anti-Trump advocacy group, and They Them Collective—a pro-Black and -Brown liberation group—was described to be coming as a counter to the Proud Boys.

When pro-Trump groups began arriving in D.C., surrounding the Washington Monument, and ultimately attacking the Capitol building on January 6th, law enforcement still took a hands off approach. Despite the clear warnings about what was headed toward the Capitol, the US Park Police had inadequately prepared before January 6th, so its officers were rapidly overwhelmed to the point where they could not afford to make arrests and let any personnel leave the scene with arrestees. As insurrectionists gathered on the Washington Monument grounds, the officers noticed some of them were wearing full riot gear and were potentially armed. Other officers monitoring insurrectionists at the Lincoln Memorial were given instructions to not intervene so as to not “agitate” the rioters. The morning of the attack unfolded with discoveries of pipe bombs and violence against the Park Police themselves, yet units on the scene were ultimately told to “monitor only. Please do not take any type of enforcement action. Let it happen.” This is in stark contrast to the government’s response to the peaceful racial justice protests in D.C. in 2020, which were met with preparation of aerial surveillance by drones, calls to put a stop to the “riots and domestic terrorism,” and a mobilization of several different federal agencies to provide law enforcement support.

The actual attack on the Capitol was also completely incomparable to protests for racial justice. Insurrectionists were extremely violent, vandalizing the Capitol building to gain access and committing more than 1,000 assaults on federal officers, which led to an estimated 250 injured law enforcement officers across numerous agencies, including 140 injured Capitol Police and D.C. police officers, and at least seven deaths. Rioters also explicitly threatened elected officials, threatening to hang Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi—all with the aim of preventing the certification of the election. Meanwhile, the vast majority of protests for racial justice were peaceful; one report found that 93% of protests across the country were peaceful, and D.C.’s police chief went on record to say that when protests in Washington were at their height, they occurred “exclusively without violence.” Federal law enforcement offices reported that 155 officers and federal agents were injured over the course of the first week of racial justice protests—less than occurred in just a few hours on January 6th. Despite the obvious differences, D.C. police arrested more than five times as many people at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 than they did during the day of insurrection at the Capitol.

Despite what an FBI official shared with their colleagues on January 6th, the insurrection and Black Lives Matter protests were not the same “drill” at all—and even though the mob at the Capitol was drastically more violent before and after the attack, insurrectionists did not experience anywhere near the same amount of police force racial justice protesters did. The public deserves to know why peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters faced an extreme police response while law enforcement granted violent insurrectionists significant leniency.


Photo by Tyler Merbler under a Creative Commons license.