The January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol thrust its police force into a sympathetic national spotlight; like any other government agency, the U.S. Capitol Police has seized this opportunity to expand its mission and acquire additional funding.
Now the Capitol Police plans to build regional field offices in the states: California and Florida, for starters.
“The Department is also in the process of opening Regional Field Offices in California and Florida with additional regions in the near future to investigate threats to Members of Congress,” notes the department in a press release.
The Capitol Police will also procure more riot gear, invest in use-of-force training camps, and provide “psychological trauma and stress” counseling for its officers. (“New wellness support dogs, Lila and Filip, will spread the message of wellness by helping engage the wellness team with our employees,” notes the press release.)
It is vital to ensure that the actual U.S. Capitol is protected. The events of January 6 must never repeat themselves; fortunately, the proximate cause of the Capitol riot—the sitting president encouraging his followers to delegitimize an election that he lost—seems very unlikely to recur. The Capitol Police require sufficient funding to provide security for the building, and with an annual budget in excess of $600 million, including an $88 million increase over last year, they undoubtedly have what they need.
The department does not need to become yet another unaccountable intelligence agency involved in the dubious and often nakedly political project of conducting widespread surveillance on the American people. Opening field agencies and monitoring “threats to members of Congress” are actions that dilute the Capitol Police’s very clear mandate to guard the Capitol building. The FBI, National Security Agency (NSA), Department of Homeland Security, and CIA are already empowered to investigate threats to political leaders; the federal government does not need to hire additional spymasters for this purpose, especially given that the agencies burdened with doing so have tended to violate the rights of innocent Americans.
But make no mistake: The Capitol Police has every intention of becoming just like the FBI and the NSA. According to the press release, it aspires to move forward “along a new path towards an intelligence based protective agency.”
This development should be vigorously opposed by all civil libertarians. Unfortunately, funding for the Capitol Police is tied into a larger, fraught political narrative about right-wing threats to law and order. For many on the right, Trump and his unhinged supporters are the good guys, which makes the Capitol Police the bad guys. For liberals, it’s the reverse. This has hopelessly scrambled what should have been a clear consensus that the U.S. does not need another domestic spy agency.
Case in point: Contrary to the conservative notion that liberals are trying to defund the police, the Democrats proposed $1.9 billion in additional funding for the Capitol Police and House Republicans voted unanimously against the bill. Several Democratic members of the progressive “squad”—Reps. Cori Bush (D–Mo.), Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.)—stuck to their police-skeptical principles and joined with Republicans to oppose the funding. But Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (D–N.Y.), and Rashida Tlaib (D–Mich.) voted “present” rather than “no,” and the bill passed the House by a vote of 213–212.
“As a result of AOC’s craven act in refusing to join with the other three Squad members in uniting with the GOP to stop it, there is now yet another federal law enforcement agency attempting to assert its power outside of Washington: the Capitol Police,” writes Glenn Greenwald. “They intend to open ‘regional offices’ in two of the country’s largest states with plans to grow even further. Perhaps even more significantly, they are turning themselves into a preventative ‘intelligence-based’ private police force for Congress which, by definition, will monitor and spy on Americans beyond what the FBI, NSA and CIA already do.”
One does not need to minimize the horrible spectacle at the Capitol in order to reject the idea that its police force should get millions or billions more dollars and an increased presence outside of Washington, D.C. All Americans should condemn the deranged, lawless mob—and the man who summoned it—while still zealously opposing the relentless expansion of the national security state.
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