WASHINGTON — A pair of US Capitol surveillance videos disclosed last week by prosecutors offer a new perspective into how a mob overwhelmed police officers and repeatedly breached a main access point to the building during the Jan. 6 riots.
The footage shows a small team of US Capitol Police officers vastly outnumbered by the crush of people trying to get in. There are at most five officers in the frame at any given moment; hundreds of people flow through that entry point on the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol over the span of roughly 13 minutes. The rioters in large part do not turn around when police try to block their path but appear to argue and negotiate before they push past officers or until the officers retreat.
The videos don’t have sound, but they show tense verbal exchanges as the officers make several attempts to stop the mob from getting inside. The confrontations are mostly nonviolent, unlike clashes at other locations around the Capitol where rioters attacked police with makeshift weapons — including flagpoles, pieces of wood and metal, fire extinguishers, chemical sprays, and their fists. In the middle of a final confrontation at the doorway, the officers suddenly retreat, and it’s not evident from the video why, but the timing coincides with an escalation of violence elsewhere around the Capitol.
A Senate report released over the summer described widespread “intelligence and security failures” that left police officers on the ground unprepared for the surge of thousands of supporters of then-president Donald Trump who descended on the Capitol. In the new videos, the officers who initially try to contain the Upper West Terrace breach aren’t wearing helmets or other special protective equipment, and there doesn’t appear to be a coordinated plan for how to secure the doors. There’s no officer stationed at the exterior doors at first; the officers are seen responding to rioters who are already inside the building and encouraging them to leave, and the departing rioters make the initial breach possible when they open the doors to go out.
Each video is 40 minutes and covers the same period of time, from 2:20 p.m. to 3 p.m. The footage was captured by two cameras mounted in the middle of a hallway between two sets of doors, one leading outside to the terrace on the west side of the Capitol and one leading inside to a set of stairs going up to the Rotunda. The cameras face opposite directions, recording events on both sides of the hallway.
The government released the footage in the case of Ethan Nordean, one of the 630-plus defendants charged with participating in the riots. Nordean, described in court papers as a leader in the Proud Boys extremist group, is charged with conspiring with other alleged rioters to assault the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election. Nordean has been pursuing challenges to the lawfulness of the charges against him as well as to his incarceration. His lawyers argued in court filings this summer that the videos showed police permitted people to come into the Capitol and, specifically, captured officers “authorizing” Nordean’s entry.
The government has disagreed with Nordean’s account of what the videos show, calling his lawyers’ description “grossly inaccurate.”
“In actuality, the video as a whole depicts a riotous mob forcibly breaching the Capitol and endangering the lives of, among others, law enforcement who swore to protect the Capitol, the public servants who work there, and private citizens who, unlike Defendant, lawfully and peacefully petition the Legislative Branch,” prosecutors wrote in a July 29 filing.
The US attorney’s office has opposed releasing surveillance footage from the Capitol in several Jan. 6 prosecutions, arguing on behalf of the US Capitol Police that revealing the vantage points of cameras inside the building creates a security risk; a judge in another case recently sided against the government and ordered disclosure. Prosecutors initially fought allowing the videos in Nordean’s case to become public but filed a notice in court on Oct. 8 that they were dropping that position. (A media coalition that includes BuzzFeed News had petitioned the court to make the footage public, but that became moot once the government no longer opposed it.)
Here are key moments from the 40 minutes of footage. The full videos are also available below:
2:33:13 p.m. to 2:35:58 p.m.
Both videos start at exactly 2:20 p.m., but the action doesn’t pick up until 13 minutes in. Two officers open the interior doors, revealing rioters who are already inside passing by. A half dozen people walk past the officers to leave the building, and when they open the exterior doors, rioters who are outside use that opportunity to come in. A person carrying an American flag holds one of the exterior doors open and waves to signal to others that they can go inside.
An officer who has been holding one of the interior doors open to allow people to leave doesn’t move at first when a single rioter who entered through the exterior doors makes their way inside. But that officer then moves away and a second masked officer replaces him, standing in the doorway and temporarily halting rioters as they file in. A crowd forms in the hallway. It’s not clear whether there are other officers inside out of view of the camera, but at most only three officers are visible standing directly in the doorway. Less than a minute later, the mob pushes past them and makes its way into the Capitol as more rioters stream in from outside.
Two minutes after the interior doors first opened, five officers — including the one who stood in the doorway before the crowd pushed past — walk through the interior doors toward the exit. Two can be seen holding batons.
2:35:58 p.m. to 2:37:49 p.m.
One of the officers sticks his head out the exterior door, where a crowd is gathering as rioters file in. There’s a section of the hallway that neither camera captures, and that’s where the other officers are standing. No additional rioters are seen moving toward the interior doors, indicating that the officers have again tried to halt their movement forward into the building. Several rioters hold up cell phones, appearing to record the encounter. A person in a green combat-style helmet and what appears to be a gas mask walks up to the front where the officers are standing. A few rioters begin gesturing toward the officers and speaking toward them in unison, appearing to chant.
After about one minute, the officers start to move back toward the interior doors and the crowd surges forward, passing by the officers, who move to the sides of the hallway. Rioters have been tripping over a rug in the hallway, and at one point a person in a red hat picks it up and throws it to the side.
2:40:00 p.m. to 2:41:59 p.m.
After roughly two minutes of uninterrupted entry by rioters into the Capitol, the officers who have been standing in the hallway after the crowd pushed past them appear to make another attempt to stop more of the mob from getting in. The same officer who had stood in the interior doorway at the start to try to stop the initial breach moves toward the exterior doors, joined by his colleagues, and rioters who made it past the threshold into the hallway stop. A few people who open the interior doors from the inside at various points swiftly turn around and go back into the Capitol when they see the confrontation at the exterior doorway.
The crowd outside doesn’t turn around, and a discussion ensues between the officers and the rioters standing closest to them, with a few people pointing and gesturing at the officers.
2:42:00 p.m. to 2:43:59 p.m.
Midway into the discussion between the police and the rioters, some members of the crowd start to press forward, pushing the frontline participants into the police. The situation immediately stabilizes, and a person near the front wearing a beanie puts up their hands as one of the officers does the same. More pointing and gesturing at the officers as the conversation continues. One officer runs his hand over his head. A few people walk through the interior doors and the police let them exit the building through the crowd.
2:44:00 p.m. to 2:45:59 p.m.
Just over four minutes after the latest effort by police to halt the mob, one officer pulls his colleague — who has been talking with the rioters — back slightly and speaks into his ear. The five officers then start to move back to the interior doors and the crowd surges forward. It is not clear what prompts the officers to leave. However, shortly before the retreat, a US Capitol Police officer fatally shot Ashli Babbitt in another part of the building; a police body camera video released in connection with another case depicts DC police officers receiving a radio alert for “shots fired” roughly 30 seconds before the officers at the Upper West Terrace entranceway left the mob, but no audio means there’s no recording of what the officers said to one another.
Rioters once again stream into the building. A person at one point stands in the exterior doorway waving others in. Suddenly, police in riot gear appear in the frame approaching the exterior door from the outside.
2:46:00 p.m. to 2:47:36 p.m.
Local DC police officers wearing helmets are seen pulling rioters away from the exterior door. Two final rioters slip inside as a group of riot police are seen amassing just outside; a few people open the interior doors from inside and move toward the exit but quickly turn around when they see the police. Two officers in helmets — one carrying a baton and one carrying a fire extinguisher — come inside, and a person who attempts to pass through the interior doors backs away with their hands up when they see the approaching police. The officer with the fire extinguisher leaves, and the other officer stands in the interior doorway holding their baton and briefly talks to another officer who appears in the frame inside.
2:49:37 p.m. to 2:51:29 p.m.
After a few minutes of minimal activity, an officer passes through the interior doors to the exit and opens one of the exterior doors, and a cluster of helmeted officers hustle inside and into the building. Some are wearing combat-style helmets while others are wearing bike helmets. Some have batons out; one is carrying a fire extinguisher. For the rest of the videos, which end at 3 p.m., no more rioters are seen entering through these doors. ●
Watch the full videos below:
The full video from the Upper West Terrace Exterior camera.
The full video from the Upper West Terrace Interior camera.