Several members of the U.S. Capitol Police are sworn in to testify to the House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 27, 2021.
( AP Photo/ Andrew Harnik, Pool
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. On Tuesday, the House select committee formed to investigate the violent January 6 Capitol insurrection held its first hearing. Earlier in the week, we discussed the racist language rioters hurled at Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, and the hard truths they revealed about our history.
Harry Dunn: "Everything is different, but nothing has changed. Why is telling the truth hard? I guess in this America, it is."
Melissa Harris-Perry: The hearing took place despite opposition for most congressional Republicans, who've largely resisted Democrats' attempts to examine the causes of the riot, including former President Donald Trump's role in inciting the violence.
Following this week's testimony from the law enforcement, we wanted to hear from someone with deep knowledge of the inner workings of the Capitol Police Force. Joining me now is Terry Gainer, who served as the Capitol Police Chief from 2002 to 2006, and then as the Senate Sergeant at Arms until 2014. He's currently a CNN political analyst. Thanks for being here, Terry.
Terry Gainer: Melissa, it's good to be with you. Thank you for covering this.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We heard just a very brief portion of officer Dunn's testimony. I'm wondering about how you felt watching the testimony from him and the other officers this week.
Terry Gainer: I actually thought the testimony was both chilling and agonizing. I know, and I've worked with two of those officers, including Harry Dunn. It was very personal. You combine their personal experiences with the video that was shown during the testimony and that we've seen, really tells a powerful story, but it hurt actually. These were friends.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I had that same sense of just feeling gut punched. Can you help us to understand how Capitol Police are different from, say, our local police departments? Is there something different about processes of recruiting or hiring or training?
Terry Gainer: No. The training and the hiring is really very similar. They are full federal law enforcement officers. They go to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia for six months after they've gone through a rigorous process, which includes the background checks and polygraph. These are men and women, with many of them have college degrees, some form of military, some with experience in the civilian world before doing this.
Then they come up to the Hill, and they go through another two months of school at a very unique training center just outside of Washington, DC, and they go through a lot of specialized training of how it will be to police in and around the Hill. They pay a lot of attention to all the threats that we had definitely seen after 911. They are good solid officers who are, some ride motorcycles, some on cars. We even had horses for awhile. It's a good federal law enforcement agency.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You mentioned a time period I want to hear more about. You served as chief during those years immediately following 911. What was the daily sense of threat during that time, and what kind of effect did it have on the officers and on your protocols?
Terry Gainer: We nearly doubled the size of the department after 911. I had been the executive assistant chief in Washington, DC, and asked to come over to take over that position. The threat, if people remember after 911, was improvised explosive devices, devices being delivered by planes and cars and trucks or backpacks, and then ultimately shoes. That certainly was the concentration as we tried to harden the Capitol and the streets and bollards, and who could go where and what type of access. Then even the big Capitol Visitor Center was developed so that people would only come in that way.
The threats kept evolving after 911, but I have to admit, Melissa, that even when I was chief or the chief law enforcement officer of the Senate as Sergeant at Arms, we did not practice or anticipate at that time an insurrection with thousands of people storming it. We did practice for a lot of things after 911, but not for insurrections, not armed rebellion.
We had protocols in place that would have kept small groups that we anticipated could have tried to come to the skin. We had that Capitol Visitor Center open so you would have to be screened to come into the building, but to attack in the numbers that were done there, and rush both the east and west front steps was not something we anticipated. We did not train to fight armed insurrectionists in the building. We did not talk about what use of force would be used in those types of things. That was a shortcoming.
Now, maybe after some of the incidents we saw over the summer, whether there were capitols being taken over, I think in Oregon and Michigan, maybe the thought process should have been changing. That's what we're going to investigate if we finally have a good solid committee hearing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I feel like that's extremely important for the American public to understand that even if there was intelligence coming in, and we'll learn whether or not officers had that intelligence, but that there wasn't a clear protocol because I got to say, I remember as I was watching it, thinking, is this what they're supposed to do? Is this how it's supposed to happen?
Terry Gainer: We train for one or two or three people rushing those steps, and we had enough officers, and there were enough officers to attack and confront them. We had a heavily armed people up on behind some ballistic podiums on each side. In fact, it could take further action, but it wasn't designed to repel hundreds and hundreds at a time. I know, even as this thing was unfolding in the media days, people said, "Why didn't you open fire?"
Number one, that's not the general protocol across the United States, that when you have unruly mobs, there's all sorts of training we've done over the years to try to use crowd control measures less than lethal force, but the size of the crowd, the anger, the hate, the cruelty, the weapons they had, that requires a different thought process not only by the Capitol Police and they're undergoing that now, but law enforcement agencies around the United States. If they're going to be rebellious people, who are intense to do harm, to take over, to hang, who are that hateful, who are that stone in our heart, we've got to think differently how we're going to manage that. Intelligence gathering is one way.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to ask about a really difficult moment. On October 3rd, 2013, Miriam Carey was shot and killed by Capitol Police. She was an unarmed civilian. She had an infant strapped into her car seat. I have to say, I thought about Miriam Carey a lot as I was watching the January 6 events, and wondering how it is that she could have been killed. Let me be clear, it's not that I wish for one more loss of life on January 6, but is part of the reason that that happened, but that there weren't even arrests immediately following January 6 because of this protocol difference that you're revealing for us right now?
Terry Gainer: That's a pretty complicated question. Let me address the first one. We did and do have different procedures when we believe a car is an improvised explosive device vehicle the way they deliver that. Unlike police departments across the United States that have pretty much stopped, saying, you do not shoot at moving vehicles for any reason. Even if the vehicle is coming at the officer, we don't shoot, but on the Capitol complex and other areas, if there's a thought that you are going to deliver a bomb, you are authorized to use force likely to cause death.
I know some of the blowback on that, and frankly, I think there should have been much more transparency, and people should see that now, but that's entirely different, and it's a tough decision for an officer to make, and they're trained to make that decision than it is to open fire on crowds of that size. That's just not how we do it.
We don't turn dogs on crowds of that size. We don't turn fire hoses on crowds of that size. There's other things that need to be done to break up a crowd and put defense in position than opening fire. That would have been the absolute wrong signal, terrible thing to happen.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Terry Gainer, thank you so much for joining us and walking us through this. Terry Gainer served as the Capitol Police Chief from 2002 to 2006, and is currently a CNN political analyst. Terry, thanks so much.
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