Capitol Riot: How Ignored Warning Signs Present Deep Security Concerns

In the fallout of January’s storming of the United States Capitol, attempts have been made by disinformation agents to frame the attack as simply a spur-of-the-moment incident. These false narratives often portray the rioters as being blameless bad apples, acting out their crimes of passion as fringe, misguided, disorganized lone wolves, not to be confused with the entire conservative tree. In reality, evidence shows the attack had a more sinister origin ignored by a national security community who put representatives in danger.

According to The Washington Post, the FBI and Capitol Police received memos published around 7 p.m. on January 5th, less than 24 hours before the angry mob flooded into Congress. The alerts warned law enforcement of credible threats that extremists were planning to overrun the Congressional building and potentially harm its attending representatives, including former Vice President Mike Pence. Memos which D.C. police chief Robert Contee III and former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund described as containing “key information about the intentions of the attackers” to “commit violence and war,” according to their statements on the memo’s contents.

There’s just one catch. As revealed in last Tuesday’s Congressional testimony, however, these alerts were not flagged for notice by top officials within either agency. This raises several concerns about the functions of national security, such as how these institutions ignored credible evidence of extremism, how their lower-level bureaucrats had the authority to simply dismiss violent threats from being viewed by their superiors, and why the victims weren’t even given a warning before entering the firing line.

“I would certainly think that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something,” Contee told lawmakers.

It wasn’t from a lack of access, according to Sund. During the testimony, the former chief described the Capitol Police as being a “consumer” of intelligence from 18 different federal agencies, including the FBI. In the event of an insurrection attempt, the first line of defense to know of such an attack would be the Capitol Police, assuming they’re actually doing their job. “If they were finding efforts that this was a coordinated attack, that had been coordinated among numerous states for some time in advance of this, that’s the information that would have been extremely helpful to us,” Sund said, adding, “That type of information could have given us sufficient advance warning to prep, plan for an attack such as what we saw.”

From this, one can assume Sund is acting in good faith, describing how his agency ignored a memo in a spur-of-the-moment lapse in judgment. Only there’s more to the story. The report continues to detail how there weren’t just two warnings indicating violence against Congress, but four. As revealed in the joint hearing from two Senate committees, one report found evidence of an attack in the lead-up to Congress formalizing President Biden’s victory. This came in the form of the Capitol Police’s own intelligence report published three days before the riot. The Post describes the 12-page report which mentions how “Congress itself” could be targeted by angry Trump supporters who saw the electoral college vote certification as “the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election.”

This seems like another instance where phone calls, preparation, and plans would be in order, no?

Two days later, another FBI alert issued by its Norfolk field office described how “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,’” obviously referencing leftist movements such as Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA. “Get violent,” the thread continued, according to the bulletin. “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.”

“There were clearly intelligence issues with information that was out there that didn’t get to the right people, actions that weren’t taken,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee, told reporters during a break in the hearing. And she’s entirely right. The report found dozens of people on the terrorist watch list were in D.C. on the day of the riot, including many suspected white supremacists. Several reports were either ignored or poorly handled, including those conducted by the agencies themselves. All of this resulted in five deaths and an understaffed law enforcement resistance that couldn’t stand up to rioters with pipebombs and dog masks.

Sure, the FBI issued a counter-statement to Klobuchar’s by saying many of these threats were posted on anonymous forums with untraceable addresses, many of which “could not be attributed to a specific individual” as “the language was aspirational in nature with no specific and credible details.” However, even if this was the case, does that stop the FBI from keeping tabs on suspected terrorists in the D.C. area? Does it prevent phone calls being made advising Capitol Police to increase their ground presence? Does anonymity shield Congressional officials and staff from being given warnings that their lives could be in danger? No. Instead, three memos were buried and the Norfolk report was simply released as yet another bulletin board blip in the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal, a resource available to all law enforcement officers. An embarrassing effort from the Capitol Police and the FBI Washington Field Office’s supposed “terrorism task force.”

But none of this should come as a surprise. You don’t need to access the secret FBI databanks to find evidence of explicit racism within the law enforcement and national security sectors. Since 2000, police officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia, according to a piece in The Guardian from Mike German, a former FBI agent who infiltrated similar far-right groups. In addition to this, anti-terror research groups have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist and nativist social media activities, whereas the FBI have casually tried to conflate unspecified “black identity extremists” with these overwhelming far-right activities.

From all this, we know where the institutional biases lie, it’s just a matter of whether good faith actors are being vigilant enough to root it out. As it stands, this frontier is sorely lacking that initiative, culminating in the natural consequences of underestimated threats, understaffed resistance, and harm to democracy itself. It’s one thing when people can easily blame former President Trump for quietly disbanding DHS task forces investigating white terrorism, it’s another matter when the supposed opposition from the FBI and the Capitol Police do nothing to stop it. As a result of these hearings, Congress should be expected to conduct more investigations, demand more resignations across several law enforcement branches, and bring potential charges against those responsible.

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