Thursday, January 14, 2021

Fortress DC Shown To Be As Useful As The Patriot Act, Patriot Missiles And The Political Class

slate |  It turns out that Fortress D.C.—the capital city’s permanent, ever-expanding post-9/11 security-scape—is a myth. It’s a myth that residents have put up with because, in some ways, we want it to be true. It made us feel safer and it made us feel important, if only by proxy. (We also put up with it because we couldn’t say no.) And it gave some higher purpose to getting yelled at for unknowingly walking too close to a building or leaving your Swiss Army knife on your keychain when you walk through a metal detector. The scrutiny was frequently more intense for people of color.

Naïvely, I thought they were taking little things so seriously to demonstrate how gravely and ruthlessly they would dismantle a big thing. (After all, Fortress D.C. hasn’t had a problem being ruthless in the name of security in the fairly recent past.) But Wednesday’s insurrectionist siege revealed that there never was any higher purpose to us getting yelled at or detoured. It wasn’t an indication of any higher seriousness at all. It was instead the limits of the security’s reach.

When Fortress D.C. was tested, it failed: An angry mob marched to the Capitol, broke in, and stayed for hours. Unrushed, they sat in the House speaker’s office with their feet up. Unbothered, they walked out with a senator’s computer. I can barely believe these things happened, and not even in my wildest imagination would I have considered them possible before Wednesday. Fortress D.C. failed from a combination of factors that I’m sure will be investigated and enumerated, and people will resign and be fired if they haven’t already. It turns out that yelling at bike commuters, stray tourists, and kids sledding did not prove a successful deterrent to a mob invasion that was announced ahead of time. Whatever the security plan was, it wasn’t sufficient to secure the building, deter the crowd, or prevent tragic and senseless deaths, including that of one of the Capitol Police officers whose superiors failed to adequately prepare for a clearly hostile crowd. Fortress D.C. was so sure of itself it preemptively rejected offers to help. It took local police to get things back under control, and by that point the building and the myth of the building’s inviolability were completely wrecked.

The response will be to double down on more of the same. “Non-scalable” fences will cut off the U.S. Capitol for at least the next 30 days. There will inevitably be more bollards and more metal detectors. More street closures. More intrusions on daily life. More of the things that proved so easily surpassable when there was an effort to pass them. Fortress D.C. didn’t work, and as a consequence, it will get larger. Everyone will lose more public space, more access, and more mobility. And for what?