FBI Norfolk office report warned of “war” at Capitol.
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 Wednesday’s pro-Trump protest planned to do harm.
A situational information report approved for release the day before the U.S. Capitol 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 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, D.C.,” 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.”
BLM is a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice. Pantifa is a derogatory term for antifa, a far-left anti-fascist movement whose adherents sometimes engage in violent clashes with rightwing extremists.
The warning is the most stark evidence yet of the sizable intelligence failure that preceded the mayhem, during which five people died. One law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid disciplinary action, said the failure was not one of intelligence, but of acting on the intelligence.
An FBI official familiar with the document said that within 45 minutes of learning about the alarming online conversation, the Norfolk office wrote the report and shared it with others in the bureau. It was not immediately clear how many law enforcement agencies outside the FBI were told, but the information was briefed to FBI officials at the bureau’s Washington field office the day before the attack, this official said.
The official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized 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 in public Internet conversations 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.
The document notes that the information is not “finally evaluated intelligence,” and that agencies who receive it “are requested not to take action based on this raw reporting without prior coordination with the FBI.”
“Individuals/Organizations 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.
“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.”
The document notes that one online comment said, “if Antifa or BLM get violent, leave them dead in the street.”
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.” D’Antuono added, “We worked diligently with our partners on this.”
The FBI said in a statement that its “standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products,” but added that FBI field offices “routinely share information with their local law enforcement partners to assist in protecting the communities they serve.”
For weeks leading up to the event, FBI officials discounted any suggestion that the protest of pro-Trump supporters upset about the scheduled certification of Joe Biden’s election could be a security threat on a scale with racial justice protests last summer after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
While the District of Columbia is one of the most heavily guarded cities on the planet, local and federal law enforcement agencies sought to take a low-key approach to last week’s event, publicly and privately expressing concerns that they did not want to repeat the ugly clashes between protesters and police last year.
Some law enforcement officials took the view that pro-Trump protesters are generally known for overthe-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.
Recently departed Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said in an interview Tuesday that he never received nor was he made aware of the FBI’s field bulletin, insisting he and others would have taken the warning seriously had it been shared.
“I did not have that information, nor was that information taken into consideration in our security planning,” Sund said.
After the riot, agents and prosecutors feel a great sense of urgency to track down and arrest the most violent participants in the mob, in part because there is already significant online discussion of new potential clashes Sunday and again on Jan. 20, when Biden will be inaugurated.
The acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, said there would be a strike force of prosecutors looking to file charges of seditious conspiracy where the evidence merited it.