WASHINGTON – Capitol Police are preparing for another attack on the Capitol Thursday after a militia group learned of a possible conspiracy just two months after a crowd of Trump loyalists and extremists attacked the building, leaving five dead and hundreds injured had left behind.
According to a senior Democratic adjutant familiar with the planning, leaders abruptly held a vote on police legislation on Wednesday to allow lawmakers to leave the city.
The “possible” conspiracy, as described by the Capitol Police, appeared to be inspired by the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon, according to a senior civil servant who reviewed the intelligence agency’s warning. Intelligence analysts had spent weeks following online chatters from some QAnon supporters who had set themselves March 4th – the original inauguration date in the Constitution – as the day Donald J. Trump returned to the presidency and would renew his crusade against America’s enemies.
Some federal officials described the threats as “ambitious” rather than operational. The militia group has not been named, and even many influential QAnon supporters who believe the United States is dominated by a cabal of satan-worshiping pedophiles have marked March 4th as a “Deep State” hearing to stimulate supporters of the movement to provoke a nationwide crackdown.
After being flatfooted by rioters on January 6, the Capitol Police and members of Congress appeared to be taking no chances. Texas Representative Michael McCaul, a senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN on Wednesday: “President Trump has a responsibility to tell you to resign. This threat is believable. It is real. It’s a right-wing militia group. “
The perimeter of the Capitol was already fitted with new fences covered with barbed wire. Capitol Police said the agency is now reaching out to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to further prepare.
“We have received information showing that an identified militia group may break through the Capitol on Thursday, March 4th,” the force said in a statement. “We take intelligence seriously.”
Skittish lawmakers, many of whom were still shaken by the January attack that led them to flee, received ample warnings this time around. Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency received “information about possible threats to the Capitol” on March 4, adding that threats against lawmakers were “through the roof” went. The Capitol Police later issued a warning to lawmakers warning that the force was “monitoring various reports referring to potential First Amendment activity from March 4-6.”
Melissa Smislova, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s Intelligence Department, told senators on Wednesday that the Department and the F.B.I. had published an intelligence bulletin the night before about “Extremists Discussing March 4th and 6th”.
While the warning did not definitively state that militia groups were coming to Washington, analysts said continued false statements about election fraud and narratives gathered by QAnon could help extremists turn to violence. These extremists were inspired by QAnon March 4 conspirators who said Mr. Trump would be inaugurated that day and eventually “return to power,” according to an official who asked anonymity to discuss the warning.
Two federal law enforcement officers said that given the online chatter about the QAnon conspiracy and talk of an attack, there were widespread concerns about possible violence. But they said they had not seen or been informed of a specific, credible threat from an attack on politicians, the Capitol, or other government symbols.
Although they believed it unlikely that an organized militia group would be able to carry out the type of attack on the Capitol described in the Capitol Police bulletin, especially given the fortifications around Washington, they concluded the possibility of attackers with ” solitary wolves’ could not try to wreak havoc.
Intelligence officials are trying to determine whether suspicious online chatter should trigger public warnings of an attack that may not come to fruition. The problem is delicate because much of this type of chatter is protected by the first change.
Federal officials this time opted for a “forward-looking” approach to information sharing after federal authorities faced widespread backlash to the failed security response on Jan. 6, the official said.
The warning shared with Capitol Police highlighted what senior law enforcement officials have said repeatedly since Jan. 6: The United States in general faces an increased threat from domestic extremists, emboldened by the attack on Congress.
Ms. Pittman said threats to lawmakers rose nearly 94 percent in the first two months of the year compared to the first two months of 2020. She assured members of Congress that the police would be ready for possible violence on March 4th.
Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. The director told senators Tuesday that the January 6 attack was domestic terrorism and that such a threat is “metastasizing” across the country. In a rare terrorism bulletin in January, the Homeland Security Department warned that the attack would not be an isolated episode and that extremists by “the passing of the president as well as other perceived grievances sparked by false narratives” are a clear indication of the allegations made by Mr. Trump.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, his first public appearance since leaving office, Mr Trump reiterated his false claim that he won the November election.
Officials did not reveal which militia group they think was planning an attack on the Capitol on Thursday. Capitol Police are calling for nearly $ 620 million for the agency’s budget, an increase of nearly 21 percent from current levels, to pay for new equipment, training, and an additional 212 officers for duties like a permanent replacement force to respond to events like that to respond January 6 uprising. Ms. Pittman told lawmakers that she will be working with the Capitol architect to design a “more physical hardening” of the building after it was overrun by the rioters.
“The U.S.C.P. is firmly committed to ensuring that an incident of this nature never occurs again,” she said, adding that “a similar incident in the current environment poses a very real and present danger.”
QAnon’s central tenet is that Mr. Trump was elected to take over a cabal of Democrats, international financiers, and deep state bureaucrats who worship Satan, abuse children, and try to dominate the world. When this did not happen while Mr. Trump was in office, some QAnon supporters began to propose elaborate conspiracy theories around March 4th.
The theory, how much related to QAnon, is muddled, and takes various forms, including secret pardons issued by President Barack Obama, the Banking Act of 1871, the Emergency Broadcast System, and Mr Trump taking the helm of a newly restored republic were. And those aren’t even the most fancy elements.
The theory is far from generally accepted among QAnon supporters. Some of the movement’s most influential voices have viewed the March 4th theory as a conspiracy within a conspiracy and insisted that it was a trap set by the movement’s enemies.
“March 4th is the baby of the media. Nothing will happen,” wrote a QAnon influencer on Tuesday in the messaging app Telegram.
Other QAnon followers encouraged their compatriots to be patient. “In time you will feel and see the riots around you. You will know when it is safe,” one wrote on Telegram. “March 4th in DC is not safe.”
A meme that made the rounds on social media claimed that the Chinese Communist Party – a popular QAnon target – and other “bad guys” were spreading the March 4th rumors to stimulate QAnon supporters. “Don’t fall for it. You will make sure that any peaceful protest is turned into a riot,” it says.
The meme also plays with the thoroughly debunked notion that anti-Trump forces orchestrated the January 6 attack. “Don’t let them fabricate another Capitol Riot,” says the meme. “Alert others.”
But to the sign that at least some people believe there is a reason to be in Washington on Thursday, prices at the Trump International Hotel rose to three or four times their usual rates for March 3rd and 4th, similar to before January. 6th
The coverage was contributed by Adam Goldman, Luke Broadwater, Katie Benner, Carl Hulse, Nicholas Fandos and Ben Decker.