How the hell was this allowed to happen?
Trump and the greater MAGA community for weeks promoted a massive January 6th rally in Washington, D.C. The president promised the gathering of thousands who felt the election had been stolen from them would be “wild.” The internet was lighting up with talk of occupying the Capitol. And yet, when Trump and his followers followed through on their promises, they were met by a woefully inadequate police presence — and the halls of Congress were quickly handed over to a mob.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. It lies with the Capitol Police, who were woefully unprepared and whose chief, Steven Sund, resigned last week. It lies with President Trump, who — along with inciting the riot to begin with — reportedly refused to send National Guard units to support the police as the mob breached the building. It seems to also lie in the intelligence community for failing to anticipate the degree to which the rally would turn violent despite weeks of people laying out their plans online.
Where exactly that breakdown in intelligence took place, however, is unclear. Steven D’Antuono, who heads the FBI’s Washington field office, said Friday there was “no indication” anyone attending the rally planned to do anything other than exercise their First Amendment rights. But according to The Washington Post, an FBI office in Virginia did pass around a report Tuesday, one day before the attack, that warned of the following:
“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. 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.”
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much exactly what happened a day later at the Capitol.
A week later, authorities seem to be taking their intelligence seriously. On Monday, the FBI warned of the possibility of armed protests at all 50 state Capitols ahead of Biden’s inauguration next week, and the National Guard plans to send 10,000 additional troops to Washington, D.C., by Saturday. On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced it was forming a strike force to “build seditious and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol.”
‘You will be charged and you will be found’ — U.S. attorney for D.C. has ordered a strike force to ‘build seditious and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol’ that could come with 20-year prison sentences pic.twitter.com/p3qpsHIfwn
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) January 12, 2021
But this is after five people died at the Capitol despite ample warning. It’s unclear why the field office warning didn’t translate into adequate action from the Capitol Police, or the many, many other law enforcement agencies operating in Washington.
It’s also unclear to what extent these warnings were circulated to the Capitol Police and other agencies who could have helped, and why an FBI official on Friday claimed the violence was unforeseeable when it had been decidedly foreseen — by FBI personnel.
At the core of all of this could be the fact that the Justice Department simply doesn’t take right-wing extremism as seriously as it should. If the past year is any indication, authorities were far more concerned about the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter movement. In a statement given to the Post, the FBI said it “respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.” But when will this kind of discretion be applied to racial justice protesters, including who were gassed and beaten in June while standing behind a fence a block away from the White House?
The government’s ability to handle right-wing extremists will undoubtedly get better next week, when the right-wing extremist who currently leads the federal government is slated to leave office. But these failures predate Trump, and they won’t go away without a serious effort. Such an effort needs to begin immediately, as right-wing extremists have already promised more violence. This time, the government should believe them — and be ready.