USA TODAY US Edition
FBI issued warning before Capitol riots
The FBI issued a dire warning on the day before the Capitol riots that violent extremists were planning an armed uprising in Washington, a plot the attackers described as “war” to coincide with Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, officials confirmed Tuesday.
Assistant FBI Director Steven D’Antuono said the intelligence report, prepared by the bureau’s Norfolk, Virginia, office, included a “thread from a message board” that described an array of preparations for an assault, including a map of Capitol-area tunnels and staging areas in in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
During a Justice Department briefing, D’Antuono said the information was shared within “40 minutes” with law enforcement partners, including the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which includes the U.S. Capitol Police, the agency that led the failed response.
The contents of the warning, first disclosed earlier Tuesday by the Washington Post, included ominous language calling for attackers to “be ready to fight.”
“Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in ... Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal,” the Post reported, citing the document.
D’Antuono said the warning was part of a cache of intelligence that the FBI shared with law enforcement partners in the run-up to the Jan. 6 riots. The prescient nature of the Norfolk warning, however, appeared to represent one of the most serious of the alarms that were touched off before the deadly assault.
The assault, which left splintered doors and shattered windows in the mob’s wake, proved similar to the call to arms by supporters of President Donald Trump, as outlined by the FBI warning.
It was still unclear, however, whether officials specifically acted on the document or altered security preparations to account for the warning.
The siege left five dead, including a Capitol police officer whom pro-Trump rioters allegedly beat with a fire extinguisher.
The assault also raised troubling questions about a clear lack of preparation to confront the mob that overwhelmed U.S. Capitol Police and laid waste to the iconic landmark.
Information about the explicit advance warnings came as D’Antuono and D.C. U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin described a sprawling criminal investigation that now includes more more than 170 suspects, some of whom could be charged with sedition.
Sherwin said 70 had been charged with a range of crimes, including the possession of weapons and explosives.
Federal authorities have not ruled out that some in the mob, who were carrying plastic hand restraints, may have intended to take lawmakers hostage.
Sherwin cast the inquiry as “mindblowing” in scope.
“This is only the beginning,” Sherwin said, adding that some initially charged with minor trespassing charges would likely face myriad felony charges before the investigation was over.
In addition to the mayhem and violence, authorities raised the prospect that some who had riffled the offices of lawmakers may have taken sensitive national security documents.
The assistant director and the U.S. attorney said the investigation was being aided by 100,000 pieces of digital media submitted by the public.
Federal authorities said they also were considering a recommendation from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who urged officials to place riot suspects on no-fly lists to bar them from returning to Washington to disrupt the Jan. 20 inauguration.
The FBI issued a bulletin to law enforcement partners, warning of the potential for armed demonstrations in Washington and in state capitals across the country. The bulletin cautioned that actions could begin Jan. 17 and continue through the inauguration.
Already, state authorities have taken action to fortify their Capitol buildings to guard from any planned assaults.
Sherwin described the scope of the ongoing inquiry as possibly “unprecedented” and said it could see the filing of hundreds of cases before the inquiry is complete.
The chief federal prosecutor in Washington said a federal grand jury was booked for Monday to consider an array of charges against suspects. And he suggested that the public “will be shocked” when a full accounting of the siege emerges in the next few months.
Among the most prominent cases being pursued is the investigation into the murder of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
“It cuts to the core that one of our law enforcement brethren has passed away,” D’Antuono said.