Fact Check: Did Capitol Rioters Face a Weaker Law Presence Than BLM at Lincoln Memorial?

In the week since the Capitol building was stormed by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump on January 6, footage of the event has been shared widely online showing how the rioters made their way past police barricades, seemingly with ease, up through the Capitol doors without much pushback from law enforcement.

Comparisons ignited on social media from photographs from the Capitol Hill riot next to a photograph from a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Washington on June 2. The photograph being compared to the riots was tweeted by ABC News' Martha Raddatz, showing the D.C. National Guard, according to the Washington Post, heavily guarding the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in preparation for violence.

The comparisons come from assertions that the same level of law enforcement preparation depicted in Raddatz's picture was not seen at the Capitol prior to the riot.

If it had been BLM protesters storming the Capitol, would they have been met with more force than the Trump supporters at the Capitol?

The Claim

A day after the riot, President-elect Joe Biden gave a speech to introduce Judge Merrick Garland as his choice for attorney general, according to NPR. In his speech, he addressed the riot and Raddatz's photo of law enforcement heavily guarding the Lincoln Memorial from last summer after his granddaughter shared it with him.

He claims the photo shows a large protective presence in full military gear, with scores lining the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a much greater presence for a Black Lives Matter protest on June 2 than for the rally-turned-riot last week.

Biden said there has been unequal justice carried out regarding the response to the event. He claims that if BLM was at the Capitol protesting, they would have been treated much differently than the Trump-supporting rioters who were able to overpower law enforcement and that there has been unequal justice regarding the response to the two events.

"What we saw yesterday, in plain view was another violation of a fundamental tenet of this nation. Not only do we see the failure to protect one of the three branches of our government, we also saw a clear failure to carry out equal justice....It is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. The American people saw it in plain view."

Capitol Hill, Donald Trump, Election
Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with the U.S. Capitol police during a riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Facts

The world witnessed BLM protests break out in a call to end police brutality for months last year after a video emerged capturing the moments George Floyd died while being detained by Minneapolis police on May 25 as officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.

In Washington, as part of protests sweeping the nation, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the White House on May 29, according to the Washington Post. The demonstration lasted until the early hours of the next morning. Tensions rose after law enforcement allegedly used gas and sprays to disperse the crowd.

Afterward, Trump tweeted that protesters would have been "met with 'vicious dogs' and 'ominous weapons' if they had breached the enclosure" [of the White House], according to Poynter.

Trump did not issue a similar warning this year before rioters breached the doors of the Capitol.

On June 1, after Trump's warning, a video from the Washington Post showed law enforcement, including members from the Secret Service, D.C. National Guard and U.S. Park Police, wearing riot gear in Lafayette Square in front of the White House using gas canisters and grenades containing rubber pellets to dispel BLM protestors. Another video showed an officer attacking a journalist covering the protests.

That evening, there were 289 protest-related arrests, according to a report from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

The following day, Raddatz tweeted photos of the scene of June 2 showing D.C. National Guard members lined up clad in camouflage and armor as they guard the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. They appeared to expect violence from BLM protesters.

The photo has circulated again on social media since the riots. Many users have been using it as a point of comparison and outrage that the Capitol had not been as heavily guarded as the Lincoln Memorial.

Just a reminder, the 1st image was the security during a Black Lives Matter protest, the second is from today. *ETA Image 1 is the Lincoln Memorial Image 2 is from the Capitol 1&2 show there’s a...

After the surge on the Capitol, Facebook user Deidre James posted Raddatz's photo of the guarded Lincoln Memorial next to an image of the early moments of the riot on January 6, showing a barricade of police with much fewer officers than those standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The officers are seen holding a fence to separate the rioters who appear to be wrestling with the fence in an attempt to break through. James wrote that the images "show there's a stark contrast to the response and treatment of citizens protesting" on her post, which received more than 800 shares.

A widely shared video from the same early riot moments in the photo James posted was tweeted by Associated Press correspondent Philip Crowther, who wrote, "The moment it all began." The video shows how the first rioters on the scene eventually overpowered the police fence barricade, pushing past law enforcement as they cheer and run toward the Capitol.

CNN reported that "D.C. police arrested more than five times as many people at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer than they did during the day of insurrection at the Capitol," after analyzing Metropolitan Police Department data.

Although protesters were met with police force in Washington on the day of the insurrection, a video shows one police officer stopping to take a selfie with a rioter while another video shows an officer holding a rioter's hand helping them down the stairs.

While D.C. Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department Robert Contee told the press the day after the riot that they had no intelligence of the attack beforehand, other law enforcement officials such as an unnamed FBI source that spoke with NBC News says they in fact had prior information and that the FBI even visited over a dozen suspects before Jan. 6th to dissuade them from storming the Capitol.

Messages shared on pro-Trump forums such as Parler and TheDonald show that the raid on the Capitol was discussed and planned days in advance.

Despite the knowledge law enforcement officials obtained about the impending riot at the Capitol, they were overpowered by rioters. The D.C. National Guard appeared to be more prepared in protecting the Lincoln Memorial last summer than at the Capitol.

Politifact reported that "Federal and D.C. forces planned for unrest from Black Lives Matter protesters. Capitol Police planned for a peaceful demonstration by Trump supporters."

The Ruling

Mostly True.

Although it is unknown what law enforcement's response would have been had Black Lives Matter infiltrated the Capitol instead of Trump supporters, BLM protesters in Washington on June 2 were met with a heavier law enforcement presence than the rioters at the Capitol.