On Tuesday, new details emerged regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) knowledge of the attack on the Capitol prior to January 6 — and they show that the agency knew how fair dangerous extremists might take things. According to a report from the FBI, the day before the rioters stormed Congress, their office issued an internal warning that extremists were traveling to Washington to commit violence and “war."
The report, which was written up by the FBI Norfolk office, warned of a dire scene that was threatened to unfold last Wednesday. “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 report outlines. “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 Antifa 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.’”
But this is a pretty significant departure to how the FBI originally downplayed their knowledge of the attack. In fact, it directly contradicts a previous statement from a senior official that said the bureau had no information that indicated anyone at the riot planned to do actual harm. Last Friday, the head of the FBI’S Washington Field Office, Steven D’Antuono, said there had been “no indication” of anything planned for January 6 “other than First Amendment-protected activity.” Similarly, the author of the internal report expressed that putting a stop to the event that the extremists had planned might encroach on the their free speech rights.
Many have pointed out, though, that the same concern was not granted to organizers who conducted anti-racism protests in June. "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 report stated. By contrast, the National Guard was repeatedly employed at Black Lives Matter protests and the FBI frequently arrested protesters in 2020 for exercising their free speech to criticize the government and attend demonstrations.
At least five people died during Wednesday's insurrection, which could have amounted into livestreamed assassinations if it went on any further. And yet this warning, which the FBI had clear knowledge of, is the most damning piece of evidence yet that the event could have been stopped in its tracks by the government. Clearly, the failure was not about lack of intelligence but failure to act on the information. Still, an FBI official who spoke with The Washington Post explained that while they knew of the threats, they did not know the identities of the online users who were making the statements about the coming “war.”
Agencies that received the internal report from the FBI were also “requested not to take action” based on the reporting “without prior coordination with the FBI.” And for many weeks leading up to January 6, the FBI waived away concerns about Trump voters being upset enough about the election to pose a serious enough security threat.
Now, the FBI continues to face many questions about why it didn’t do more, and why they were so unprepared to handle the mass violence. Going forward, it’s likely that the Bureau will once again be much more widely scrutinized for who it targets and who it chooses to let proceed with true threats. It's also likely, given the evidence, that the bureau will have to more intensely reexamine what's considered "free speech" — and what's actually violence.