“Norton, Van Hollen Introduce No Fencing at the United States Capitol Complex Act”

Photo by angela n.

From the Office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton:

“Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) this week introduced the No Fencing at the United States Capitol Complex Act, which would prohibit the installation of permanent fencing on the grounds of the United States Capitol complex. After the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a fence was erected around the Capitol that stayed in place for months as officials recommended a permanent barrier. Norton criticized permanent fencing as both cosmetic and imprecise and instead called for smarter, state-of-the-art solutions.

“Permanent fencing would send an un-American message to the nation and the world, by transforming our democracy from one that is accessible and of the people to one that is exclusive and fearful of its own citizens,” Norton said. “Already, the distance between government and the people has grown, with trust in government at historic lows. We should not entrench that distance further by placing intimidating barriers between ourselves as public servants and the people we serve, especially when such barriers are neither effective nor necessary.”

“We can’t ever allow the U.S. Capitol to become a fortress where the American people are left on the outside looking in. We can and should secure Congress without walling it off. This bill is about making sure the people can always safely access the heart of our democracy and impact the decisions made in our nation’s halls of power,” said Van Hollen.

Norton’s introductory remarks are below.

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

on the Introduction of the No Fencing at the United States Capitol Complex Act

October 17, 2023

Mr. Speaker.

Today, I introduce the No Fencing at the United States Capitol Complex Act, which would prohibit the installation of new permanent fencing on the grounds of the United States Capitol complex. I am pleased that Senator Chris Van Hollen is introducing this bill in the Senate.

After the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, the Capitol complex became an untraversable fortress surrounded by frightening fences capped with barbed wire—typical of authoritarian regimes. Although more needs to be done to protect the Capitol complex, the failure of Capitol security leaders to plan for the predictable and openly announced attack on the Capitol on January 6th does not justify closing the complex to the public, to whom it belongs. We can and must maintain our commitment to security without sacrificing public access by using the least restrictive means necessary to address security.

The January 6th attack on the Capitol, which had little to do with the lack of permanent fencing, was the greatest intelligence and security failure in the history of our nation’s capital. There were countless security failures on January 6th that we can and must address, including: taking threats of extremist violence seriously at an earlier stage; closing the Capitol building grounds during high-profile and high-threat events, as is typically done, but was not done on January 6th; manpower; building security; and training. Permanent fencing, which is incredibly imprecise, would not address those security lapses. It is more likely to keep out children, joggers and tourists than a coordinated attack on the Capitol. In fact, it is a form of security theater—it would make the Capitol “look” safer but mask the lack of state-of-the-art security measures that could prevent attacks in the future. Every threat to the Capitol since January 6th has been stopped by longstanding and new security measures and the excellent work of the Capitol Police. Permanent fencing would not aid the Capitol Police in stopping threats but it would create an image of authoritarianism, secrecy and inaccessibility. The Capitol complex is for all the American people, and, with proper security, must remain open to them.

Permanent fencing would send an un-American message to the nation and the world, by transforming our democracy from one that is accessible, transparent and of the people to one that is closed off, secretive and fearful of its own citizens. It would tell the world that the most powerful nation must rely on crude barriers for safety instead of state-of-the-art intelligence and security protocols. The Capitol has welcomed First Amendment protests and demonstrations for centuries without becoming a fortress. The openness of the Capitol and our democracy is our strength, not a security weakness that needs to be rooted out. Any further consideration of permanent fencing is desperate, distasteful and disrespectful of our history and institutions.

Furthermore, the Capitol complex does not exist in a vacuum. It is immediately surrounded by residential neighborhoods and local businesses, which form the heart of the District of Columbia. Permanent fencing would cause serious damage to the fabric of these communities. After January 6th, these residents and businesses were more than understanding as their neighborhoods turned into militarized zones. They waited patiently as officers checked their identification on their walks home or took alternative routes when they found blocked streets. Permanent fencing would infringe on their ability, as well as the general public’s ability, to enjoy the public spaces that define our nation’s capital.

The distance between government and the people has grown, with trust in government at historic lows. Installing permanent fencing at the Capitol complex would only increase that distance.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”

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