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5 April 2021updated 28 Jul 2021 6:54am

A US Capitol attack brings the security debate to the fore

Additional security in the wake of the Capitol storming on 6 January has received criticism from across the political spectrum.  

By Emily Tamkin

On 2 April a US Capitol police officer, William “Billy” Evans, was killed after being rammed by a vehicle at an entrance to the Capitol complex in Washington, DC. Another officer was injured.

The suspect, who was identified by law enforcement sources as 25-year-old Noah Green, left the vehicle with a knife in his hand. He was shot and killed by police. It was revealed that Green had recently posted on social media about “end times” and also of his interest in the Nation of Islam, a Black separatist organisation and designated hate group. He described himself on Facebook as a follower of the organisation’s leader, Louis Farrakhan, who is a notorious anti-Semite.

Joe Biden, who was not in Washington, DC at the time of the attack, said the events had left him “heartbroken”, adding that he knew “what a difficult time this has been for the Capitol, everyone who works there and those who protect it”.

Investigators have not yet determined the motive behind the attack, but do not believe it was terrorism related.

How the events on Friday will impact security around the Capitol building is also as yet unknown.

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This is the fourth death of a Capitol police officer this year. One was killed on 6 January, when a mob stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of Biden’s election, leaving dozens injured and five people dead. Two other officers took their own lives in the days after the storming. There does not at present appear to be a direct link between the events last week and those in January, but the storming of the Capitol earlier this year led to increased security around the building, a move that has attracted criticism from across the political spectrum.

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Congressional Republicans objected to recommendations to increase security because they felt there had been a lack of bipartisan input on the task force that was addressing the security concerns. Others, such as the Republican California representative Darrell Issa, pointed out that implementing the recommendations meant “a lot of requests for money”.

Members of both the Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, have supported legislation that would prevent new protective fencing around the Capitol complex becoming a permanent fixture.

The Democrats’ Eleanor Holmes-Norton, who represents Washington, DC in Congress, is one vocal critic of the new fencing, while the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, also tweeted that the US capital “would not accept” a permanent fence.

The fenced-off area covers three miles and prevents access not only to the Capitol, but also to the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and major roads, therefore isolating part of the city. Charles Allen, who represents the ward that houses the Capitol, said the fence was cutting off “part of our neighbourhood”. On 24 March, officials took down the protective perimeter fence that had been erected since the January attack, leaving only an inner fence intact.

There’s a political element to the debate, too. The Capitol building, called “the people’s house”, is meant – as the name suggests – to be accessible.

In this way, a debate is forming around how best to secure the US capitol from future attacks. On the one hand, there is the argument in favour of tight security: there are hundreds of workers in the building who need to be protected, and who have every right to do the work of legislating, supporting, protecting and reporting on legislators without fearing for their lives.

On the other hand, there’s a city – one with a population that already has less political representation than others in the US – that doesn’t want to see life interrupted or constricted.

“I do think they’re going to have to rethink probably the perimeter and security of the entire complex – the Supreme Court, Library of Congress, Capitol – really think how they can keep it safe,” said Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California, on 2 April. What this rethink might mean in practice is still unknown.