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Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP) Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher February 25, 2021

No, Capitol security is not only Pelosi’s responsibility, but she bears some

If Your Time is short

  • Capitol security is not solely the responsibility of the House speaker. It is provided by the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate, and by the Capitol Police.

  • The House sergeant-at-arms reports to the House speaker, or Pelosi at the time of the attack. The Senate sergeant-at-arms reports to the Senate majority leader — on Jan. 6, Sen. Mitch McConnell.

  • News reports indicate that in the days before the attack,  House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving resisted calls from the Capitol Police to bring in the National Guard for extra security at the Capitol because of “optics.” Irving later testified that intelligence reports didn’t show the need for the extra security, not that he rejected it because of optics.

More than six weeks after supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, posts spread on Facebook claiming that one person was to blame: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

One widely shared post claimed in all capital letters:

"ONLY ONE PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAPPENED AT THE CAPITOL ON 6 JANUARY — ‘NANCY PELOSI’ — SECURITY AT THE CAPITOL IS HER JOB!!!"

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

The post echoes the sentiment in a Feb. 15 letter to Pelosi from four top GOP House members. It suggested the California Democrat was at least partly at fault, asserting that "the Speaker is responsible for all operational decisions made within the House." 

The post is wrong: Security at the 1.5 million-square-foot U.S. Capitol building does not fall solely to the speaker. Though Pelosi does have a role in the hierarchy overseeing security, there is no indication she controls its day-to-day operations.

Responsibility for Capitol security shared

Capitol security is provided by the sergeants-at-arms , who are the chief law enforcement officers for the House and Senate, in coordination with the Capitol Police, a federal law enforcement agency.

The House sergeant-at-arms reports to the speaker of the House, or Pelosi at the time of the attack. The Senate sergeant-at-arms reports to the Senate majority leader; in the days leading up to and including Jan. 6, that was Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell. 

Security of the Capitol Complex is the direct responsibility of the four-member Capitol Police Board, which includes both sergeants-at-arms, said Jane Campbell, president and CEO of the United States Capitol Historical Society.

The Jan. 6 attack

On Jan. 6, a joint session of Congress was held in the House chamber to officially count the electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election.

The proceedings were interrupted by a mob protesting the election results that showed Joe Biden winning over then-President Donald Trump. The attack left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, whose death the following day is still under investigation.

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Former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving resigned after the attack, as did former Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger and Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.

Irving told Sund ahead of the riot that he did not want National Guard troops at the Capitol on Jan. 6 because of bad "optics," the Washington Post and the New York Times reported.

In Feb. 23 testimony before lawmakers, Irving said that "optics" did not play a role in his decision. He said he, Stenger and Sund agreed the intelligence they received didn't warrant the troops.

The Times reported that at 1:09 p.m. on the day of the attack, minutes after protesters had burst through the barricades and began using the steel debris to assault the officers, Sund asked Irving for help from the National Guard. Irving called Sund back an hour later and said congressional leaders had approved the request; the article does not identify the leaders. But another hour passed before Defense Secretary Christopher Miller gave final approval to the request.

In his testimony, Irving said he didn’t recall receiving a call from Sund until shortly before 2 p.m. Sund testified that the call was made shortly after 1 p.m.

The delay in deploying the National Guard was caused by communication breakdowns, inaction and confusion over who had authority to call for the National Guard, the Times analysis found.

Pelosi called for an independent 9/11-type commission to review and investigate the Capitol attack. She also tapped retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to investigate security failures that day. McConnell has blasted Pelosi’s proposal as "partisan by design."

Our ruling

A widely shared Facebook post claimed that only Pelosi is "responsible for what happened at the Capitol" on Jan. 6, "security at the Capitol is her job."

Responsibility for Capitol security is shared, it is not solely the responsibility of the Speaker. 

Security is provided by the sergeant-at-arms of the House, the sergeant-at-arms of the Senate and the Capitol Police. The House  sergeant-at-arms reports to the House speaker, Pelosi. The Senate sergeant-at-arms reports to the Senate majority leader, then McConnell. The Capitol Police is overseen by a four-member board that includes both sergeants-at-arms.

News reports indicate that before the attack, the House sergeant-at-arms resisted calls from the Capitol Police to bring in the National Guard for extra security at the Capitol because of "optics," but he said intelligence reports didn’t warrant the extra security.

The chain of command for Capitol security does include Pelosi, but it does not fall solely to her as this post claims. Others in the chain of command include the Senate majority leader and the Capitol police chief. We rate the claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Feb. 13, 2021

Associated Press, "Posts falsely cite Pelosi as responsible for security during Capitol insurrection," Jan. 20, 2021

McClatchy, "Devin Nunes and top Republicans fault Nancy Pelosi for Capitol attack. Here are the facts," Feb. 19, 2021

Washington Post, "At stake in Senate hearing Tuesday: The story of the Capitol riot, and who is responsible," Feb. 22, 2021

Washington Post, prepared testimony of Paul Irving, Feb 23, 2021

House Committee on Administrations, Republicans, letter to Nancy Pelosi, Feb. 15, 2021

Email, Jane Campbell, president and CEO of the United States Capitol Historical Society, Feb. 24, 2021

Fast Company, "Who is in charge of Capitol building security anyway? A primer," Jan. 6, 2021

United States Capitol Police, "Capitol Police Board," accessed Feb. 23, 2021

United States Capitol Police, "Oversight," accessed Feb. 23, 2021

United States Capitol Police, "The Department," accessed Feb. 23, 2021

Architect of the Capitol, "U.S. Capitol Building," accessed Feb. 23, 2021

U.S. House of Representatives, "sergeant-at-arms," accessed Feb. 23, 2021

U.S. Senate, "Office of the sergeant-at-arms and Doorkeeper," accessed Feb. 23, 2021

New York Times, "Top Lawmakers Not Told of Police Request for Backup Before Riot, Aide and Others Say," Jan. 15, 2021

New York Times, "The Lost Hours: How Confusion and Inaction at the Capitol Delayed a Troop Deployment," Feb. 21, 2021, updated Feb. 23, 2021

ABC News, "Senate holds 1st public hearing into Capitol assault security failures," Feb. 23, 2021

NBC News, "Capitol security officials blame poor intelligence — and each other — for the Jan. 6 riot," Feb. 23, 2021

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No, Capitol security is not only Pelosi’s responsibility, but she bears some

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