WASHINGTON — As a mob of President Donald J. Trump’s supporters rampaged through the Capitol on Jan. 6, William J. Walker, who was commanding the District of Columbia National Guard, watched helplessly, waiting for hours for approval to deploy his troops to help a badly overrun police force put down the deadly riot.
He suspected — and still does — that part of the reason for the delay was that Defense Department officials were overly concerned about the optics of sending in the Guard against the pro-Trump rioters, a move that amounted to special treatment of the mostly white crowd when compared to the law enforcement tactics used against protesters at racial justice marches in the recent past.
“We were all frustrated by the tight limits that were placed upon us,” Mr. Walker said. “The 57th anniversary of the march of Dr. Martin Luther King? No restrictions. On July 4? No restrictions. When the monuments were attacked and we came out? No restrictions to move the quick reaction force. The restrictions came for Jan. 5 and Jan. 6.”
On Saturday, when pro-Trump protesters are set to descend on Washington to rally in support of those charged in the Jan. 6 assault, Mr. Walker, who is now the top security official for the House of Representatives as its new sergeant-at-arms, said things would be different. This time, he is off the sidelines and a crucial player in preparing the Capitol for potential violence.
warned on Friday could lead to violence. “We’re going to get through this.”
He and other Capitol officials have changed policies based on lessons learned in the wake of Jan. 6. A damning portrait has emerged of the preparations and response to the attack, including police leaders failing to equip officers with much-needed riot gear and intelligence officials ignoring or discounting serious threats of violence from Trump supporters.
“The U.S. Capitol Police were surprised. They had not anticipated anything like that,” Mr. Walker during a recent interview in his office. “Using the lessons identified on that tragic day, Jan. 6, will help us ensure that we don’t have a repeat.”
For one thing, this time, the National Guard is already standing by to help; the Department of Defense authorized the deployment of 100 troops on Friday.
Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson, a military intelligence officer, took over as sergeant-at-arms in the Senate; and J. Thomas Manger, a veteran police chief of departments in the Greater Washington region, recently become the chief of the Capitol Police. Only J. Brett Blanton, who as the architect of the Capitol is responsible for maintaining the complex, remains in the same position he occupied on Jan. 6. He also continues to serve on the revamped Capitol Police Board, the body charged with security decisions for the complex. A former Navy officer with a bronze star from Iraq, Mr. Blanton has said he was cut out of key security decisions regarding Jan. 6.
Congress has approved a $2.1 billion emergency spending bill to pay for Capitol security improvements, thought it stopped short of fulfilling all of the requests from top officials, including stripping out money to create a quick reaction force of the National Guard to respond to emergencies at the Capitol. Mr. Walker said he was still advocating for the creation of a retractable fence that could pop up “instantly” to prevent a breach of the Capitol.