Washington: A day before rioters stormed Congress, an FBI office in Virginia issued an explicit internal warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and "war," according to an internal document reviewed by The Washington Post that contradicts a senior official's declaration that the bureau had no intelligence indicating that anyone at last week's pro-Trump protest planned to do harm.
A situational information report approved for release the day before the Capitol hill riot painted a dire portrait of dangerous plans, including individuals sharing a map of the complex's tunnels, and possible rally points for would-be conspirators to meet up in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South Carolina and head in groups to Washington.
"As of 5 January 2021, FBI Norfolk received information indicating calls for violence in response to 'unlawful lockdowns' to begin on 6 January 2021 in Washington DC," the document says. "An online thread discussed specific calls for violence to include stating 'Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal."
Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation swat team patrol the halls after the capitol Hill riots. Credit:Bloomberg
The official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss ongoing investigations, added that the report was raw intelligence and that when it was written the FBI did not know the identities of those making the online statements.
The FBI already faces questions about why it was not more attuned to what was being discussed online in the days leading to the attack, and why the bureau and other agencies seemed to do little to prepare for the possibility of mass violence.
Law enforcement officials have said privately in recent days that the level of violence exhibited at the Capitol has led to difficult discussions in the FBI and other agencies about race, terrorism, and whether investigators did not register the degree of danger because the majority of the participants at the rally were white conservatives fiercely loyal to the President Donald Trump.
"Individuals/Organisations named in this [situational information report] have been identified as participating in activities that are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," the document says. "Their inclusion here is not intended to associate the protected activity with criminality or a threat to national security, or to infer that such protected activity itself violates federal law.
"However," it continues, "based on known intelligence and/or specific historical observations, it is possible the protected activity could invite a violent reaction towards the subject individual or others in retaliation or with the goal of stopping the protected activity from occurring in the first instance. In the event no violent reaction occurs, FBI policy and federal law dictates that no further record to be made of the protected activity."
The document notes that one online comment said, "if Antifa or BLM get violent, leave them dead in the street," while another said they need "people on standby to provide supplies, including water and medical, to the front lines."
On Wednesday, a large, angry crowd of people who'd attended a nearby rally marched to the Capitol, smashing windows and breaking down doors to get inside. One woman in the mob was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer; officials said three others in the crowd died of medical emergencies. Another Capitol police officer died after suffering injuries.
On Friday, the head of the FBI's Washington Field Office, Steven D'Antuono, told reporters that "there was no indication" of anything planned for the day of Trump's rally "other than First Amendment-protected activity."
The FBI did not comment on the memo, who saw the document before the mob attack on Congress or what, if anything, was done in response.
For weeks leading up to the event, FBI officials discounted any suggestion that the protest of pro-Trump supporters could be a security threat on a scale with racial justice protests last summer in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody.
Some law enforcement officials took the view that pro-Trump protesters are generally known for over-the-top rhetoric but not much violence, and therefore the event did not pose a particularly grave risk, according to people familiar with the security discussions before the rally.
Now, the Justice Department and federal agents are scrambling to identify and arrest those responsible for last week's violence, in part because there is already significant online discussion of new potential clashes Sunday and again on January 20 when Biden will be inaugurated.
The FBI recently issued a memo saying "armed protests" were being planned "at all 50 state capitols" and in DC in the days leading up to the inauguration, according to an official familiar with the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive law enforcement matter.
Some of this information is unverified, an official said, and the threat probably will differ significantly from place to place.
It includes the possibility that people might storm government offices or stage an uprising were Trump to be removed from office, the official said.
In a statement, the FBI declined to comment specifically on the memo about capitols but said: "Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity. As we do in the normal course of business, we are gathering information to identify any potential threats and are sharing that information with our partners."
The Washington Post
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