Timeline: How law enforcement and government officials failed to head off the U.S. Capitol attack

Thousands of Trump supporters march toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Thousands of Trump supporters march toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
Updated Feb. 18 at 6:00 p.m.

In the 17 days after President Trump began to encourage his supporters to descend on D.C. until the siege that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, law enforcement and city officials braced for potential violence in the nation’s capital.

But despite numerous internal briefings, intelligence warnings and planning meetings, officials failed to take sufficient action to fend off the attacks — with deadly consequences. Once rioters began to move en masse to the Capitol, it was too late.

Too few Capitol Police officers stood in their way, and there was no chance to summon enough backup quickly enough to keep out the violent mob. The riot unleashed hours of unchecked aggression and close calls as marauders came within 60 seconds of encountering Vice President Pence, nearly trapped lawmakers, and looted and vandalized the seat of U.S. democracy for the first time since British forces burned the Capitol on Aug. 24, 1814. Five people died in the violence and dozens of police officers were injured. More than 200 people have been charged so far by federal prosecutors.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for an independent commission to investigate the storming of the Capitol and efforts to disrupt Congress as it was formalizing President Biden’s victory, saying there needs to be a panel similar to the one that studied the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In addition, the inspectors general at four federal agencies and the Capitol Police Board have launched investigations into the preparedness and response to the attack.

This reconstruction of the key moments leading up the Capitol siege and the law enforcement response that day is based on video footage, public documents and the accounts of members of Congress, congressional aides and officials with the Capitol Police, D.C. government, D.C. police, Defense Department, FBI and D.C. government. It is being updated with new information.

Police clear people from the U.S. Capitol grounds before curfew on Jan. 6.
Police clear people from the U.S. Capitol grounds before curfew on Jan. 6. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Carol D. Leonnig, Paul Kane, Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Rosalind S. Helderman, Peter Hermann, Paul Sonne, Dan Lamothe, Karoun Demirjian, Missy Ryan, Emma Brown, Michael Brice-Saddler, Julie Zauzmer, Joyce Sohyun Lee, Meg Kelly, Dalton Bennett, Elyse Samuels, Sarah Cahlan and Jon Swaine contributed to this report.

Design and development by Leo Domínguez and Chiqui Esteban. Project editing by Matea Gold. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof.

Aaron Davis is an investigative reporter who has covered local, state and federal government, as well as the aviation industry and law enforcement. Davis shared in winning the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2018.