One year after the Capitol insurrection, the complex is repaired and hardened

Looking Back

One year after the Capitol insurrection, the complex is repaired and hardened

The U.S. Capitol Building (Harold Mendoza/Unsplash)

One year ago, on January 6, 2021, a crowd of Donald Trump supporters numbering in the hundreds stormed the 16-acre United States Capitol Building complex in Washington, D.C., hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Rioters scaled the walls and smashed the windows of the U.S. Capitol as Congress voted to certify the state-by-state results, halting the count until January 7.

As Congressional and House staff were ushered away by security, images and videos of insurrectionists breaking into offices and the House and Senate chambers, stealing historic busts and confidential documents, and clashing with Capitol police quickly spread around the world. Five people were killed and likely hundreds more were injured, 138 of them being police officers. Exactly a year later, more than 700 rioters from across the country have been charged for their participation in the violent events that transpired that day.

But in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the five-story, 222-year-old U.S. Capitol, some laid the blame squarely at the feet of Capitol Police and J. Brett Blanton, current Architect of the Capitol (AOC). The AOC’s Office of Security Program manages the Capitol Police Buildings, Grounds and Security team, which is responsible for securing and hardening the Capitol campus. Blanton also sits on the Capitol Police Board.

The AOC oversees the continued maintenance and operation of the U.S. Capitol and surrounding 570 acres of grounds, as well as the Library of Congress, U.S. Supreme Court, and a litany of other historic buildings and the artworks they contain. So, when the complex was breached, critics, including lawmakers, called for a full sweep of the Capitol Police board, including of Blanton.

Blanton, an airport and naval engineer controversially nominated to the position by President Trump in December of 2019 and confirmed on January 16, 2020, is the 12th Architect of the Capitol and the only non-architect to serve in the position. Serve, present tense, because Blanton remains the only original member of the Capitol Police Board to have kept his job. Former House Sergeant at Arms, Paul D. Irving, former Senate Sergeant at Arms, Michael C. Stenger, and Capitol Chief-of-Police, Steven A. Sund, all submitted their resignations within weeks of the attack.

The final figures for the material repair of the U.S. icon, including mental health counseling for traumatized staffers, members of Congress, and Capitol employees, came in at $30 million. Antique period-appropriate mahogany kept by the U.S. Forest Service for 100 year was required to repair the damaged window and door frames, while another $25,000 was needed to restore six damaged sculptures and two paintings from the House’s collection. The damages would have been much worse, notes Smithsonian Magazine, had quick-thinking staffers not worked to reverse the HVAC system and blow out the tear gas and fire extinguisher residue filling the halls of the building, while others worked to hide the House’s ceremonial silver mace from 1841 and silver inkstand from 1819.

Ahead of today’s anniversary, the U.S. Capitol Police Board held a press conference on January 4 to address how repairs were coming along, operational deficiencies that had been identified after the attack, and the slate of security upgrades being put into place in and around the Capitol Building.

According to Blanton, the AOC had received a $300 million appropriation from congress solely for new windows and a camera system on top of the $30 million for repairs. The windows are currently in the design phase and will be put in place in the spring, as Blanton explained the installation requires above-freezing temperatures.

Although the reinforced windows are still being designed, Blanton did point out that a number of security upgrades have already been implemented. Both interior and exterior doors have been reinforced, damaged windows have been repaired, and security kiosks and lighting around the Capitol have been upgraded, all outside of the $300 million.

The new Capitol Chief-of-Police, J. Thomas Manger, also took the podium to give an update on the status of adhering to the recommendations filed by the U.S. Inspector General, Michael E. Horowitz. Of the 103 recommendations given to the Capitol Police, Manger stated that while 90 had been “addressed” so far, only 34 had been fully completed and that the department was working on adhering to the remainder.

Finally, Manger was asked if the Capitol could withstand a similar attack today, and said he believed it would be.