WASHINGTON – As a crowd of supporters of President Donald J. Trump lashed out in the Capitol on January 6, William J. Walker, who commanded the District of Columbia National Guard, watched helplessly, waiting for hours for the approval of deploying troops to help a heavily overwhelmed police force quelled the deadly riot.
He suspected – and still does – that part of the reason for the delay was that Defense Department officials were too concerned about the optics of sending the Guard against pro-Trump rioters, a move that amounted to special treatment of the predominantly white crowd. in relation to law enforcement tactics used against protesters during racial justice marches in the recent past.
“We were all frustrated with the strict limits that were placed on us,” Walker said. “The 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s walk?” No restrictions. The 4th of July ? No restrictions. When the monuments were attacked and we got out? No restriction to move the rapid reaction force. The restrictions came for January 5 and 6.
On Saturday, when pro-Trump protesters are expected to descend on Washington to support those accused of the Jan.6 assault, Mr Walker, who is now the House of Representatives’ top security official as the new sergeant- at -arms, said things would be different. This time around, he’s on the sidelines and a crucial player in preparing Capitol Hill for potential violence.
The rally will be a big test for Mr Walker – as well as the rest of the security apparatus on Capitol Hill and across Washington – and he has said they will be ready for anything.
“It has my full attention and all my attention,” Walker said of the “Justice for J6” rally, which warned federal law enforcement officials on Friday that it could lead to violence. âWe’re going to be fine. “
He and other Capitol Hill officials changed policies based on lessons learned in the aftermath of January 6. A damning portrait has emerged of the preparations for and response to the attack, including police chiefs who failed to equip officers with much-needed riot gear and intelligence officials. ignore or ignore serious threats of violence from Trump supporters.
âThe United States Capitol Police were surprised. They hadn’t planned anything like that, âWalker said in a recent interview in his office. âUsing the lessons identified on that tragic day, January 6, will help us make sure we don’t have a repeat. “
On the one hand, this time the National Guard is already ready to help; the Defense Ministry authorized the deployment of 100 troops on Friday.
Authorities on Thursday restored the temporary fence around the perimeter of the Capitol that had been erected in the aftermath of the January 6 riot.
âPeople can come and assemble, but they have to do it safely,â Walker said.
Mr Walker, a native of Chicago and a former Drug Enforcement Administration special agent who spent decades in the National Guard, has been installed as the House’s top security post as part of a nearly complete overhaul of security personnel of the Capitol in the after the January bombing.
Lieutenant-General Karen Gibson, a military intelligence officer, took over as the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms; and J. Thomas Manger, former chief of police for the Greater Washington area, recently became chief of police for the Capitol. Only J. Brett Blanton, who as architect of the Capitol is responsible for the maintenance of the complex, remains in the same position he held on January 6. He also continues to serve on the revamped Capitol Police Board, the body responsible for security decisions. for the complex. A former naval officer with a Bronze Star from Iraq, Mr Blanton said he was excluded from key security decisions regarding Jan.6.
Congress approved a $ 2.1 billion emergency spending bill to pay for Capitol Hill security improvements, believing it has failed to respond to all requests from senior officials, including the withdrawal of money to create a National Guard rapid reaction force to respond to emergencies on Capitol Hill. Mr Walker said he still advocates for the creation of a retractable fence that could appear “instantly” to prevent a breach of the Capitol.
The first black person to lead House security, Mr Walker said the work came with “a tremendous sense of pride and pressure.”
“I’d better get it right,” he said, sitting on a couch in his meticulously kept office, an American flag pinned to the chest of his navy suit. “It could take 232 years before another African American gets the chance.”
He was outspoken about the dysfunction that hampered the response to the attack on the Capitol, eliciting contempt from some of his colleagues in the process. After Mr Walker testified to Congress in March about how senior military officials blocked his efforts to quickly send troops to help quell the riot, one of the top military leaders refused to shake his hand, according to a person familiar with the interaction.
It was not the first time in his career that Mr Walker had shone an unflattering spotlight on what he saw as a significant problem in government.
While at the DEA, he testified on behalf of black agents in a long-running racial bias trial in which they said the government systematically discriminated against them within the agency. Mr. Walker gained a reputation at the agency as a fierce investigator whose work took him from Chicago to the Bahamas, Miami, Puerto Rico, Washington and New York.
âI was a totally, radically different person,â Mr. Walker said of his career there. âI didn’t abuse it, but the arrest was swift.
In 1986 he was involved in a major case that led to the conviction of 18 members of the Gambino organized crime family.
During the investigation, Mr Walker helped secure the seizure of nearly $ 6 million – a record for the DEA at the time – after a Long Island heroin dealer he stalked him. offered, as well as to other agents, a bribe.
“He offered us a million dollars – $ 250,000 each,” Walker said. âWe handcuffed him. I said, ‘Don’t go anywhere.’ He quickly picked up a pay phone to call his supervisor to get a warrant for the man’s house.
“If he has to give us a million, what does he have left?” He wondered.
Derek S. Maltz Sr., former head of the Anti-Drugs Task Force in New York who worked with Mr Walker, recalled being involved in a major wiretapping case in Queens for years. later which officers said would bring in over a million dollars in drugs and guns. . At the time, Mr. Walker was the agency’s second manager in New York.
Mr Maltz said that in informing Mr Walker of the matter, Mr Walker surprised the other officers by saying, âI am coming with you. “
“It’s unheard of that a senior executive, No. 2 of the DEA’s New York office, is going to take to the streets,” Maltz recalled. After making the arrests, Mr Walker volunteered to personally bring the people back in custody for reservation, Mr Maltz said.
In the National Guard, Mr. Walker encountered a series of different challenges as he rose through the ranks. When Mr. Trump appointed him Commander of the DC National Guard in 2018, Mr. Walker was tasked with ensuring troops were prepared to respond to national emergencies, including deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
Colonel Earl G. Matthews, who was a senior assistant general councilor of the army at the time, said Walker immediately tightened fitness and punctuality requirements.
“He got a lot of complaints, but he held people high,” recalls Col. Matthews. âHe’s a classic guy in a conservative mold. He’s a very serious guy who loves the army and loves the country. Few can say that they were nominated by both Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi. It is a straight arrow. But he’s also a truth-telling guy in power.
He did so after Jan. 6, when testifying before a Senate committee about what he called “unusual” restrictions placed on the National Guard that day. He explained in detail how he was only given permission to mobilize troops to respond to the riot more than three hours after requesting it, and said military officials had expressed concerns about the riot. “optic” to send troops to the Capitol.
The violent outburst which took place over nearly five hours caused injuries to nearly 140 police officers. At least five people died in the attack and its immediate aftermath.
âSeconds counted,â he said. âMinutes counted. “
Mr Walker said the events of that day, with a mob attacking police as symbols of racism and white supremacy marched through the Capitol, still haunted him.
âIt’s a mystery to me how in 2021 we could still have this division and this deeply ingrained hatred,â he said. âIf you study some of those who have been arrested, some have just arrived here. Some of them have become Americans. Does anyone who just arrived in America have a problem with me? It’s embarassing. I have been here. “