In a rush to safety, people sprinted down three consecutive spiral staircases from the Russell Senate Office Building, only to be confronted by the U.S. Capitol Police with weapons aimed at them. An officer sternly commanded them to display their hands.
The possibility that even the U.S. Capitol complex could be subjected to a “swatting” prank became evident that Wednesday. This hoax call method aims to deploy large numbers of law enforcement, sometimes even SWAT teams, to an address based on false information.
During such pranks, the unsuspecting victims can occasionally be detained or even harmed. However, that day, there were no injuries.
The narrative began with a call to the Washington, D.C., police, warning them about an “active shooter” in the Hart Senate Office Building. This message was then relayed to the Capitol Police. Responding immediately, around 20 officers scoured the Senate buildings, floor by floor, in search of the alleged gunman. Though no gunshots were heard or any armed individual spotted, an “internal security threat” alert was issued. The U.S. Capitol Police advised those inside to seek shelter or cover, while some, including the media, were told to evacuate.
The media teams, located near the intricately designed rotunda on the Russell building’s third floor, quickly descended the stairs, running into the armed police on the ground floor. Considering the rushing crowd and the noises from above, it’s understandable that the officers felt the need to be on high alert.
However, there were accounts of confusion. Some reporters mentioned receiving conflicting instructions from the police. As tensions grew on Capitol Hill, there were looming concerns over former President Trump’s impending court appearance in connection with the 2021 Capitol riot.
By Wednesday evening, barriers resembling bicycle racks started to surround Capitol Square. These weren’t as formidable as the barriers post-riot but similar to those used during significant Capitol events.
Preparations were in full swing, reminding many of past events like January 6. This false shooter alarm brought back memories of previous security breaches and incidents. Some recalled the unexpected evacuation in 2022, while others remembered the unfortunate demise of Capitol Police officers in prior years.
Despite the numerous security episodes, this particular event could be dismissed by some as a mere scare since there was no actual threat. Yet, for those working in the Capitol, it represented real fear and genuine anxiety. Such regular upheavals and risks have left many Capitol Hill veterans wondering about the unique dangers of their workplace.
That day, chaos reigned, but nothing sinister was discovered. The call might have been false, but the dread it instilled in Capitol Hill workers was undeniably genuine.