GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — As protests turn to riots on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, TV cameras and everyone with a cellphone captured every moment.
The moment an unprepared and poorly backed up police force was overrun, the moment windows were smashed as people broke their way into the hall of Congress, and even the moment a rioter was shot and killed.
All of this equated to a heartbreaking stain for the history books.
For former law enforcement officer Terry Clanton, it was a sight that left him puzzled and asking how.
“How did we get here? I have no explanation as to what happened,” he said, 24 hours after the riots broke out.
Clanton served as a law enforcement officer for 36 years, with his more recent time being employed for a department just north of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. He now oversees law enforcement training courses at Guilford Technical Community College.
The courses he helps oversee span several weeks and includes a specific focus on two areas that focus on handling situations similar to what unfolded in Washington D.C. Those classes focus on dealing with Sovereign Citizens/Anti-Government Individuals and Domestic Terrorism & Hate Groups.
As historic and unnerving as what took place on Wednesday was, Clanton explained that it includes so many different teaching moments for law enforcement officers of today and tomorrow.
For example, he points to the thousands of hours of videos that have been made available online of the incident. From the start that involved peaceful protest, up until the moment of the final rioters leaving the steps of the capital.
“Our instructors, in all disciplines of public safety, are constantly taking those videos and are going back and constantly updating our course materials,” he said.
Instructors across the country have begun to break down what law enforcement on site did right, and what they did wrong. A hindsight look into preventing the next chaotic large crowd gathering event.
The videos also allow officers and instructors to analyze exactly who is in the crowd, and which type of “group” they may be associated with (domestic terrorism, anti-government, hate group, or sovereign citizen).
For example, Clanton described how most anti-government individuals seen by police carry themselves in a distinct way.
“They’re not going to recognize the officer’s authorities, they’re not going to recognize the state’s authorities. So, they won’t have a license plate tag, or they won’t have a driver’s license. They may present you with a homemade tag, or a homemade license,” Clanton said.
The type of training Clanton oversees, and the type of training officers go through, has changed drastically over the years, and even these past few months following the protests/riots over the summer.
He explained that when he began his law enforcement career, there were a handful of hate groups that law enforcement were train to combat. He says that number is well more than a hundred.
“We’ve gone from focusing on one or two small groups to hundreds of splinter groups, and every group type seems to have multiple variations,” he said.
Officers not only have to change their tactics to handle the messaging, movement, and gatherings of these groups. That, coupled with fighting off wild conspiracy theories, spread even quicker through social media, is a task not easy for any police force. Even one as well equipped as the Capitol Police.
As more information continues to trickle out on how mass chaos unfolded in Congress on Wednesday, Clanton said it, coupled with how law enforcement officers responded in the summer, should be studied by all law enforcement trainers about how to grow, improve, and continue to protect those around you.
“I think it’s going to be remembered as an opportunity to improve what we do, and how we do it. That we learn, not only from our success, but our mistakes.”
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