South Africa

US Capitol security to be beefed up amid threats to lawmakers

Washington Threats to members of US Congress have nearly doubled in the first two months of the year compared to the same time period in 2020, according to the acting head of the US Capitol police, who plans to ask Congress for a more than 20% budget increase for the department.

In testimony prepared for a Wednesday House hearing, acting chief Yogananda Pittman said there has been a 94% increase in threats to lawmakers in January and February in the aftermath of a January 6 riot at the Capitol stoked by former president Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the presidential election was stolen from him.

A “significant focus” for Capitol police in the next fiscal year “is centred on member security” outside Washington, Pittman plans to say in a Wednesday hearing of the House appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

Pittman will also outline other security needs at the Capitol and its surrounding buildings. The January 6 attack by a mob of Trump supporters trying to stop the formal counting of the electoral college votes that certified Joe Biden won the presidency shows that “the level of existential threats to the US Capitol and grounds are increasing as well”, she will say.

Separately, acting House sergeant at arms Timothy Blodgett has alerted lawmakers that there will be heightened security  at the Capitol on Thursday tied to conspiracy theories about March 4 being the “true inauguration day”. People associated with the far-right conspiracy movement QAnon have been circulating the baseless claim that Trump would be inaugurated on that day.

On Tuesday night, the Capitol police posted a statement on Twitter saying that “based on the intelligence we have, the department has taken immediate steps to enhance our security posture and staffing for a number of days, to include March 4”.

To cover the increased security needs for members of Congress, Pittman plans to request a total budget, including salaries and general expenses, of $619.22m for fiscal 2022. That’s a 21% increase over the current fiscal year.

‘Evolving threats’

Pittman also plans to talk about the “lessons learnt” after intelligence failures leading up to the January 6 attack. Her budget request includes resources for “emerging technologies” to improve communication, as well as “new officer safety equipment based on the evolving threats and physical security requirements for the Capitol complex.

The acting chief’s prepared remarks for Wednesday’s hearing also include a pledge to work with the architect of the Capitol “to produce recommendations for the physical hardening of the Capitol complex”, as well as getting more space for a larger Capitol police force and its new equipment.

“This will require a significant investment in the necessary training, tools, and information gathering resources needed to meet the dynamic and ever-changing security challenges, including the rising threat of domestic terrorism,” she says in her written testimony.

Pittman also plans to say the threats will require the department having a dedicated standby ready force of two platoons (80 officers) at all times — “thereby removing the department’s full reliance on partner agencies for mission support when faced with an immediate threat event”.


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