Richmond Times-Dispatch

Riot intel

FBI Norfolk office report warned of “war” at Capitol.

- BY DEVLIN BARRETT ANDMATT ZAPOTOSKY

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.

 ?? MATT MCCLAIN/THEWASHING­TON POST ?? An internal document fromthe FBI’s Norfolk office revealed calls for violence in Washington last week.
MATT MCCLAIN/THEWASHING­TON POST An internal document fromthe FBI’s Norfolk office revealed calls for violence in Washington last week.

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