FBI warns racist extremists, militias emboldened by Capitol siege may target Biden inauguration

Many groups, some of which have vowed to bring guns, are planning protests ahead of swearing-in, officials say

By Igor Derysh

Published January 14, 2021 12:10PM (EST)

Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol earlier, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol earlier, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The FBI and other federal agencies have warned law enforcement to be on high alert against potential violent actions targeting next week's presidential inauguration, amid concerns that racist extremists and anti-government militias were emboldened by last week's deadly Capitol siege.

FBI Director Christopher Wray and acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli pressed police chiefs across the U.S. on Wednesday to share any intelligence of extremist plots, warning of potential threats beyond the Capitol, including the homes of members of Congress and other elected officials, state capitols and other federal buildings, according to The New York Times. The FBI previously warned about "armed protests" targeting all 50 state capitals ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration and "various threats to harm" Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The National Counterterrorism Center, the Justice Department and DHS also released a bulletin Wednesday warning that last week's Capitol riot could be a "significant driver of violence" for extremist and militia groups targeting next week's swearing-in.

The bulletin, which was published by Yahoo News, warns that anti-government militias and "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists … citing partisan political grievances will very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021." The Capitol breach, which these groups view "as a success," along with the death of a protester shot by police, will likely "increase collaboration" between racist extremists and militia groups as well as followers of "QAnon conspiracy theories," the agencies said. Supporters of the "false narrative of a 'stolen election,'" a conspiracy theory pushed by President Trump and his Republican backers, are likely to continue to pursue violence to "attack and undermine a government they view as illegitimate."

The federal agencies predicted an increase in plots against "officials at all levels of government, law enforcement, journalists, and infrastructure." They also warned that groups exploiting conspiracy theories like QAnon are likely to inspire "lone actor" threats against "racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and institutions, law enforcement, and government officials."

The bulletin also cited a potential threat from the "boogaloo" movement, whose followers support a "second civil war or insurgency against the US Government," against Biden's inauguration. Though this movement "may not necessarily share" the views of the Capitol rioters, followers "who seek a race war may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climactic conflict in the United States."

A separate bulletin from the Secret Service obtained by The Daily Beast also warned of a planned boogaloo demonstration ahead of the inauguration, whose "organizers have encouraged attendees to bring weapons."

The Tree of Liberty, a group affiliated with the boogaloo movement, is also planning an "armed" protest before the inauguration, according to the bulletin.

Multiple suspects linked to the boogaloo movement have been charged with plots that sought to exploit last summer's Black Lives Matter protests to commit violence.

Capitol Police also warned lawmakers in a briefing of three separate potentially violent threats, including a demonstration promoted as the "largest armed protest ever to take place on American soil" and a protest to honor Ashli Babbitt, the protester killed by police while trying to breach the House chamber. Officials also warned of a plot to surround the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court, with the potential goal of harming or assassinating members of Congress or other officials.

Officials have greatly ramped up security around Washington since the rioters were able to easily overrun an overwhelmed Capitol Police force on Jan. 6. D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee said that 20,000 members of the National Guard are expected to be on hand for the inauguration, prepared to combat a "major threat" to the ceremony.

Defense Department officials told the Times on Tuesday that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy has decided to arm troops around the Capitol amid concerns that as many as 16 groups, some of which have vowed to bring firearms, plan to hold protests in the city. Pentagon officials are also worried about potential improvised explosive devices, such as the pipe bombs found at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee headquarters on the day of the riot, according to Politico. (The devices did not detonate, although authorities have not explained why.)

"They're very, very worried about these, what they referred to as domestic violent extremists, embedding themselves in other protests," Tucson, Arizona, Police Chief Chris Magnus told the Times. "Christopher Wray seemed particularly concerned about what was sort of the disregard these folks have for democratic government."

"It kind of shook everyone up, you know, seeing what happened at the Capitol. It gives you a terrible feeling of uneasiness, and so, they're concerned with that," added Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina. "They're concerned with the mindset of, 'Are we safe here in this country?'"


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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