WASHINGTON – The FBI warns of plans for armed protests in all 50 state capitals and Washington, DC, in the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, stoking fears of further bloodshed after the last week’s murderous siege on the US Capitol. .
An internal FBI bulletin warned as early as Sunday that nationwide protests could begin later this week and last until Biden’s inauguration on Jan.20, two law enforcement officials say. who read the details of the memo to The Associated Press. Investigators believe some people are members of extremist groups, officials said. The newsletter was first reported by ABC.
“Armed demonstrations are planned in all 50 state capitals from at least Jan. 16 to Jan. 20, and at the US Capitol from Jan. 17 to Jan. 20,” the bulletin said, according to an official. The officials were not allowed to speak publicly and spoke to the PA on condition of anonymity.
The FBI issued at least one more bulletin – they’re going to law enforcement across the country on the matter – ahead of the riots last week. On December 29, he warned of the possibility of armed protesters targeting legislatures, the second official said.
“While our standard practice is not to comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI supports our state, local and federal law enforcement partners to maintain public safety in the communities we serve,” the bureau said. in a press release. “Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating and ignoring those individuals who incite violence and engage in criminal activity. ”
The FBI said it was not focused on peaceful protests but “on those who threaten their safety and the safety of other citizens through violence and destruction of property.”
Army General Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard bureau, told reporters on Monday that the Guard is also looking into all issues across the country,
“We are monitoring the whole country to make sure that we are monitoring and that our guards in each state are in close coordination with their local law enforcement to provide any support requested,” he said.
The riots follow weeks of online calls for violence in the nation’s capital in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency. There have been several arrests and at least two Capitol Hill cops, one who took a selfie with rioters and another who donned a Make America Great Again hat, have been hung up. At least a dozen more are under investigation, lawmakers say.
A tweet in which Trump promised that last Wednesday’s event in Washington, DC, “will be savage” fueled a “month-long frenzy of incitement, strategy and adoption of violence against lawmakers,” according to a research group that tracks extremist activity online. In a report released on Saturday, the SITE Intelligence Group also warned that the attack on Capitol Hill emboldened extremists backing Trump.
“No matter how this all turns out, it’s just the beginning,” posted a user on TheDonald forum, according to the report.
Mark Pitcavage, a senior researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said authorities in state capitals and other major cities outside of Washington should prepare for the possibility of violent protests next week.
“A lot of people were energized by what happened over the past week,” he said. “State capitals are a natural place people might want to show up, especially assuming they think there might be a huge police and military presence in Washington because of what happened the week. last. ”
Pitcavage is stalking militias, white supremacists and other far-right extremists, but he said the Capitol headquarters demonstrated the emergence of a new movement of “trumpet extremists, so caught up in the cult of personality around Trump that they might be willing to break the law or engage in violence just to support Trump and whatever he wants. »
Discussions of next week’s armed marches aren’t limited to “radicalized” Trump supporters. The events in the state capital on January 17 appear to be promoted by supporters of the anti-government and pro-gun “boogaloo” movement. The followers of Boogaloo advocate a second civil war or the collapse of society, and they do not adhere to a coherent political philosophy.
Posts on social media sites also promoted a “March of the Million Militia” on the day of Biden’s inauguration. Pitcavage said the event, apparently hosted by a pro-Trump “QAnon” conspiracy theory promoter, appears unlikely to attract a massive crowd.
Javed Ali, a former senior FBI intelligence officer who teaches counterterrorism courses at the University of Michigan, said it can be difficult for law enforcement to identify the line between people exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to bear arms and freedom of expression and those which pose a “real operational threat.” ”
“The FBI just can’t sit passively on websites, forums, and social media platforms, waiting to see who is going to present a direct threat versus someone who is highly radicalized,” he said. -he declares. “There has to be an investigative predicate for the FBI to start even the simplest form of an investigation.” ”
David Deitch, a lawyer who served as a prosecutor in the anti-terrorism section of the Department of Justice from 2003 to 2007, said law enforcement must recognize a “fine balance” between protected freedom of expression and speech that aims to incite violence.
“It’s a very fact-based, case-by-case determination,” he said. “There isn’t one single factor that will determine all of this. It will certainly be a judgment on the part of the police on whether and when to intervene. ”
Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.