Federal law enforcement tracked the potential for election-related violence as far back as August 2020, which is earlier than previously known, according to a government report released Monday.
The Government Accountability Office said in its report that federal agencies had tracked the potential violence on social media and other websites. Furthermore, the agencies produced dozens of internal reports prior to the January 6, 2021, insurrection warning that protesters may seek to attack the US Capitol, use improvised weapons and potentially be armed.
The GAO report and its accompanying timeline compare, for the first time, how law enforcement obtained and assessed a flood of social media posts detailing plans for violence, and they offer insight into how that information was shared among 10 federal and multiple state and local agencies.
“All 10 selected agencies — including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis who have lead roles in countering domestic terrorism and violent extremism — were aware of open-source data about planned events on January 6, and seven were aware of potential violence planned for that day,” the report said.
Specific calls for violence
The interactive timeline in the Monday report indicates that data was passed to the FBI from social media platform Parler that showed a user had posted, “We need to mass an armed force of American Patriots…to react to the congressional events of January 6th and follow what the Declaration of Independence has dictated us to do.”
Parler also alerted officials to another post on December 24, 2020, that said, “I’m trying to find [people who want to commit violence] on the 6th not just a peaceful [march]…is this where I should be looking?”
According to the report, US Park Police obtained alarming information from a website from a far-right group called Patriot Action for America that showed organization members were “encouraged to amass ‘a large enough force of American citizen patriots to, at all costs, prevent … the inaugurat[ion]…’ ” The website also appeared to encourage members to detain Democratic politicians for “trial by military tribunal for high treason,” the report said.
The US Park Police developed a brief on December 28, 2020, identifying the “StopTheSteal” and other events planned for January 6, and noted that people had “concrete” plans to travel to DC to protest the counting of electoral votes, which could lead to violence.
Other examples of information obtained by the GAO include the Architect of the Capitol’s identification of a Twitter post that indicated the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys planned to disable fire extinguishing systems in federal buildings, including the Capitol.
Several Proud Boys have been charged with conspiracy, including Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio. One Proud Boys leader, Charles Donohoe, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting an officer and could provide vital information to prosecutors about what the top members of the organization had planned for the attack.
The report noted the Senate sergeant-at-arms had received open-source data on December 29, 2020, from a local partner agency that highlighted a social media post encouraging Donald Trump supporters to march on the Capitol and intimidate members of Congress on January 6.
The report notes the FBI reviewed social media posts from November 3, 2020, through January 5, 2021, but officials told the GAO the review of these posts “did not reveal information specifically citing” the Capitol. However, the review did show there was one post related to the potential for violence in Washington on January 6.
More reports in the works
Federal officials from the FBI and DHS testified in 2021 that the agencies had never produced a formal threat warning to be shared among law enforcement partners for the joint session of Congress on January 6 – decisions that were highlighted in a report last year from two Senate committees about the security failures.
The GAO report points out that several agencies, including the FBI and DHS, produced more than two dozen smaller reports known as “threat products” that focused on planned events for January 6, when the counting of the electoral votes took place.
One widely reported example is a January 5 FBI bulletin composed of raw intelligence and warning of discussions about a “war” on the Capitol.
Monday’s report marked the fifth in a series from the GAO examining the Capitol attack. The next report will examine how agencies used threat-related information to prepare for the events of January 6.