The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. Capitol Police to begin removing Capitol fencing, saying no ‘known, credible threats’

Dozens of D.C. residents rally Saturday morning on Second Street against a four-mile razor-wire-topped fence that was put up after the Jan. 6 Capitol breach. (Michelle Boorstein/The Washington Post)

U.S. Capitol Police will reduce the security perimeter erected after the breach of the Capitol, having determined that “there does not exist a known, credible threat against Congress,” according to a security memo sent to U.S. lawmakers on Monday.

Over the course of this week, acting House sergeant-at-arms Timothy Blodgett said, security officials will begin “repositioning” inner-perimeter fencing closer to the Capitol to allow some pedestrian access to the grounds.

The complex has been surrounded by the seven-foot black metal fences topped with razor wire since just after the Jan. 6 riot, in which hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump violently stormed the Capitol to try to disrupt the certification of the electoral college vote.

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Blodgett’s memo said that while the Capitol Police and the National Guard will maintain their “increased security posture,” he expects the National Guard to ease its presence at the complex “in the coming weeks.”

The announcement follow weeks of complaints by lawmakers from both parties who said the fencing made the Capitol complex look like a prison complex, while locking out the public and closing down roads that are vital to commuters and emergency services.

D.C. officials and Capitol Hill residents had also decried the fence’s intrusion into neighborhood and city life.

Blodgett’s memo said “inner perimeter fencing” will be repositioned to encircle Capitol Square, between Independence and Constitution avenues and First Street NW and NE.

Late next week, the memo said, work crews will begin removing the outer-perimeter fencing to open Independence and Constitution avenues to traffic again. This past weekend, crews modified fencing on Third Street between Independence Avenue SW and Constitution NW to allow traffic, as well as on Louisiana Avenue NW and Washington Avenue SW near the Capitol complex.

Razor wire will be removed from the inner-perimeter fencing, the memo said. Workers last week began removing some razor wire — an eyesore that particularly outraged neighborhood residents and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting delegate in the House.

The inner-perimeter fence surrounding the Capitol building will remain as workers finish security repairs to the Capitol, according to the memo. Bike racks will be staged outside House office buildings, the memo said, without offering additional detail.

“The USCP will continue to monitor the threat posture, should a change occur, plans will be reevaluated,” Blodgett wrote.

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Despite protests of the fencing, which was seen by many as an affront to democracy, Capitol security officials had largely held off on making any changes until seeing the results of independent or internal security reviews.

One such review, led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, concluded last week. In addition to finding major deficiencies in Capitol Police staffing and resources, Honoré’s task force recommended mobile or “retractable” fencing, which could be raised from underground, if necessary, during security events.

Norton said Monday that she was briefed on those plans last week and, while she opposes permanent fencing, would not take issue with a retractable fence. But she questioned how long officials would need to keep the inner-perimeter fencing up around the Capitol, even as they worked on security repairs.

“It seems to me that their time frame could be more rapid, given the inconvenience they’re causing to the public and members of Congress,” she said.

Her next phase of fighting the Capitol fence, she said, will include lobbying to make sure the public has full access to the building again. Blodgett did not mention in his memo how the decisions to relax fencing and the National Guard presence would affect Capitol visitors.

Norton said that if there are no credible threats, visitation shouldn’t be a problem — and pointed specifically to March 4 as an example. The House of Representatives did not convene March 4 after Capitol Police unearthed chatter among believers in disinformation who believed Trump would be reinaugurated that day and planned to come to the Capitol.

But virtually no one did.

“Nothing happened on March 4. Nothing!” Norton said. “How many dress rehearsals do we need to get the Capitol open to the people of the United States? I would call that a case in point. If they couldn’t gather 2 cents worth of people to gather on March 4, then who believes, particularly with Trump out of office, there is any threat to the Capitol?”