Newly obtained recordings show US Park Police overwhelmed on January 6, hours before rioters attacked the Capitol, with insufficient resources and action taken to control the fray across the city.

Seven hours of radio recordings from Park Police, obtained and reviewed by CREW, reveal a law enforcement agency inundated with risks before then-President Trump even gave his fateful speech, with thousands of unattended vehicles and bags, mobs of protestors at the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument and armed individuals.

The recordings also make plain the difference in response between the hands off approach taken with pro-Trump protestors who would later attack the Capitol and the violent action taken against peaceful protestors for racial justice in Lafayette Square seven months earlier.

As the day went on, the tapes make it abundantly clear that USPP was unprepared for the threat of a riot, lacking manpower, plans and supplies, including radio batteries. They got so overwhelmed during the attack on the Capitol itself that after an officer was attacked with a pipe, USPP could not make the arrest, wishing instead for another agency to step in: “Not making any arrests up here, we cannot afford to lose the personnel up here.”

“This is going to be an ongoing issue throughout the day.”

At 7 AM, as District residents were waking to start their day, Park Police officers were already fretting about the day ahead of them, confronted with piles of bags around the Ellipse, on the ground and thrown into trees and bushes, making it impossible for them to check all the unattended bags for threats. Hours later, pipe bombs would be discovered in similar bags in front of the Republican and Democratic National Committee headquarters.

Two hours later, Park Police officers were confronted with a sign of things to come at the Washington Monument, as they quickly found themselves unable to control the crowds. “Park Service has requested that the Flag Circle is closed, uh, we have about 300 people up here—they’re all refusing to leave. Do we have any react squads so we can have a small show of force, get this area closed?” one officer radioed.

They weren’t the only one: “You’re gonna have to come up to the Flag Circle because we’re telling thousands of people over here the exact [inaudible] in our hands giving them to read and they’re refusing to leave, so.”

The officers were told to do their best to “push them out” while waiting for backup, but that was not a feasible option, as they were already overwhelmed and losing control of the situation: “People are refusing to leave, uh, the only other thing I can think I can do is threaten arrest which is gonna incite the crowd so unless we get some officers up here I’m gonna standby.”

Three minutes later, around 9 AM, the situation worsened. 

“I’ve got individuals breaking through the fence line,” an officer radioed.

Multiple Park Police response teams moved towards the monument to help. The situation quickly worsened as Park Police made an arrest.

“Units are backed into the monument, everyone’s breaking through the bike racks,” reported one officer.

“There’s a large crowd that’s following us. We’re going back into the monument with the individual that’s under arrest. They’re breaking through the bike racks,” said another. 

“We’re not going to be able to hold that base and that fence line with the numbers we have”

The response came in the same minute: “Be advised, uh, superintendent’s been notified. Washington Monument’s gonna be closed down, we’re not going to be able to hold that base and that fence line with the numbers we have. Have the units up at the base advise it is, uh, closed.”

Closing the monument didn’t immediately solve the problem, however. In one officer’s call from inside the base of the Monument, protestors can be heard in the background:

“We’re inside, uh, they’re at the front of the gate.”

The monument was surrounded. 

“We’ve lost the Flag Circle already. We’ve got units up there trying to push people out. I understand that the Monument will be closed for the day, um, we’ll do what we can to, uh, push people out of the Flag Circle but it’s going to be difficult to hold all day long with, uh, what we got here,” an officer reported.

And now came another problem—how to get the arrested individual to the vehicle that would take them to the station. 

“We have a mob of onlookers inside the Flag Circle right outside the entrance to the Monument so, um, just be advised, uh when you’re coming up to get the prisoner just standby for now,” one officer communicated. “The prisoner is inside the base of the monument with multiple park police officers. They are completely surrounded with protestors and they’re trying to figure out a plan, how to get the arrestee down to the wagon,” reported another.

A plan was hatched: twenty or so officers would form a bubble around the arrestee, and two horse mounted patrol squads would escort them out. After a scary moment with the crowd surrounding the horses, Park Police  removed the arrested individual from the grounds.

“Please do not take any type of enforcement action. Let it happen.”

With the situation at the Washington Monument finally resolved, Park Police hardly got to relax, as another unruly crowd took to the Lincoln Memorial.

“We’ve got a large crowd here and we’re trying to push them out, they’ve got a giant banner flag thing going on here. There’s a lot of people who need some assistance.”

It was 9:45 AM, and officers relayed a frightening scene.

“There’s uh, about five to eight hundred people here. Is the react coming or what?”

 “Yeah, we’re sending a react team.”

“We have individuals with shields and gas masks at the statue.” 

“Ok they’re at the Lincoln Statue with shields and masks?” 

“10-4 and [inaudible] taking pictures right now with a flag that says ‘Fuck Antifa.’” 

Despite the escalating situation, the officers and react team were then given instructions to not intervene. 

A new unit called in, telling the units on the scene to “monitor only. Please do not take any type of enforcement action. Let it happen.”

“Yeah, we’re waiting on y’all,” an officer responded.

“Even when react gets there, monitor only. Let it happen unless we have major major issues.”

At the same time, a call came in from the Washington Monument. 

“Just for situational awareness we’re gonna need react squads in the flag circle area…just for safety there’s a guy, a white male walking around the flag circle with a pitchfork,” an officer reported.

The station coordinator repeated the same instructions:

“Ok ma’am 10-4, per [previous instructions] just monitor only at this time.”

A minute later, the react squad arrived at the Lincoln Memorial and were told again to “monitor only.” 

“Copy,” an officer responded. “We don’t have the full react squad coming up, we’re not gonna agitate them.”

As the situations at the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial unfolded, other Park Police units responded to a multitude of security issues. Unattended bags and vehicles continued to pour into the Mall, and groups of protestors, some armed, were raising new concerns.

“[Metropolitan Police Department] reporting 8, um, individuals heading towards the WaMo grounds in full riot gear,” an officer announced. “All units on WaMo grounds be direct.”

Another call came in reporting a group of 100 protestors heading eastbound on the mall screaming “fuck antifa.” “Seems like majority of them are wearing orange hats,” the officer reported. 

Then, the situation took a frightening turn.

“This comes from MPD, uh, possible several individuals on the southwest quadrant of WaMo grounds that may be armed,” a unit radioed.

At 11:48 AM, just before Trump began his speech, Park Police provided an update:

“MPD has eyes on one in a tree, confirmed armed.” 

The individual was arrested shortly thereafter.

“The Capitol has been breached. Protestors have entered the building.”

Less than an hour later, the day had turned into a horror movie.

“Capitol Police is reporting a possible IED, First St., south of the Capitol by the Republicans club, uh, it’s been photographed, it’s currently being investigated this is breaking right now…it’s being described as a black pipe with wires protruding from it.”

About 15 minutes later, following the conclusion of Trump’s speech, Park Police units received another update. 

“And uh, just for the station and unit’s information, it looks like some of the crowd is, uh, starting to disperse at this time, both east and west,” added another. 

“Those that are dispersing, are they heading eastbound towards the Capitol or just kinda everywhere?”

“Yeah just kinda, uh, all directions from where we can see, East, West and South,” the one officer responded. Another added, “majority of the crowd is heading eastbound, taking Pennsylvania, Constitution and the Mall towards the Capitol.”

Around ten minutes later, an officer reported on a second IED. Then the true nightmare began. 

“Situational awareness only, protestors are throwing projectiles at Capitol and MPD. MPD has deployed multiple munitions.”

“The scaffolding has been breached by protestors,” an officer at the Capitol reported.

“The whole West slope looks like it was breached on the North end,” an officer added a few minutes later. “That is correct,” his colleague confirmed. 

Park Police quickly became involved, noting the disaster scenario that was about to play out, “MPD is reporting that they do not have enough personnel to hold the line currently.” 

“Yeah 10-4 that line cannot be held,” another officer confirmed. 

“Windows at the East Rotunda have been broken out, those are ballistic rated windows, um, and they’re trying to break out additional windows in that area.”

Then came the official call: “The Capitol has been breached. Protestors have entered the building.”

Header photo by Tyler Merbler under Creative Commons license.

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