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GOP Congressman “SWATs” Himself

The heated debate about the extent of security measures that need to be maintained on Capitol Hill post-Jan. 6 falls, as do most things in today’s politics, precisely along party lines. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is adamant that perimeter fencing remain in place and that members pass through metal detectors before entering the House floor. Republicans like Wisconsin’s Sen. Ron “Anon” Johnson and Ohio’s Rep. Jim Jordan say the enhanced security is Democrats’ way of sending the message that Republicans are to be feared in the wake of the deadly insurrectionist riot.

Then there’s Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska. Fortenberry has represented his state’s first congressional district for the past 16 years so he’s quite familiar with the Longworth House Office Building where his office is located and with the hidden button in his office that he can press in the event of an emergency to initiate a Capitol Police response.

Over the past two weeks Fortenberry twice has “swatted” himself by making two false calls for emergency help from the Capitol Police – just to see how long it would take for officers to arrive. “Swatting” is the highly dangerous prank where someone calls 911 with fake threats just to elicit a massive, armed military-style police response to a location. In some cases those incidents ended tragically. A California man is serving 20 years in prison after a 2019 swat team response that he initiated turned deadly.

Fortenberry told Capitol Police he wanted to test the duress button in his office. Capitol Police agreed to the unusual request. When Fortenberry pushed the button, they didn’t respond because they knew it was a test. But it turns out that the Nebraska Republican actually wasn’t interested in testing the operability of the device itself; he was really testing how quickly police would get to his office. So when officers didn’t respond to the first button push, he did it a second time. In this instance police officers responded but as they approached his office door they got word it was only a test and turned back.

This apparently upset Fortenberry, who concluded the officers were slow to respond.

When a lawmaker pushes the duress button in his or her office, it automatically triggers a minimum three-person response from the Capitol Police. Typically, a supervisor and two officers rush to the location where the button was pushed.

“It’s a (criminal) charge in most jurisdictions to misuse police services,” the officer said.

Fortenberry’s actions infuriated at least some Capitol Police officers who have been on edge amid the Capitol violence over the past few months.

“The Department is already overworked and hypervigilant for actual threats. Morale cannot get any worse,” said one of the two officers who responded, both of whom requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “This sort of behavior from a member or their staff is reprehensible.”



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