DHS Memo: Capitol Attackers Plotted in Advance

·5 min read
Samuel Corum/Getty
Samuel Corum/Getty

An internal Department of Homeland Security document reviewed by The Daily Beast describes “advanced preparations'' by Capitol rioters ahead of the Jan. 6 attack—and appears to go further than recent descriptions of the FBI’s characterization of the Capitol riot.

“The tactics used by domestic violent extremists (DVEs) to assault law enforcement and security personnel and ultimately breach the US Capitol suggests that some of the participants engaged in pre-operational coordination and planning activities,” reads the April 8 DHS document, entitled “Tactics Used to Breach the US Capitol Building on 6 January 2021

Highlight Advanced Preparations.” The internal document was obtained by the transparency group Property of the People and shared with The Daily Beast.

The document’s focus on alleged pre-planning adopts stronger language than recent descriptions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s characterization of pre-planned violence. In a Friday report, Reuters cited four current and former law enforcement officials, who said the FBI had found scant evidence of a pre-arranged Capitol attack plan.

“Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told Reuters. "Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”

The FBI declined to comment.

“We have no comment on the Reuters report and note that the January 6 investigation is ongoing,” an FBI spokesperson told The Daily Beast.

The DHS document, which was shared internally and to other law enforcement agencies by FBI agents in April, according to emails reviewed by The Daily Beast, does not allege a specific plot to unseat the government. It also does not name Stone or Jones, and neither man is facing criminal charges for his involvement in the events of Jan. 6. Instead, the DHS document emphasizes alleged actions of organized groups that helped accelerate the day’s violence.

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The report highlights the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, two organized groups involved in the attack. The Oath Keepers, the report notes, allegedly planned armed “quick response forces” based in off-site locations.

“DVEs [domestic violent extremists] used tactical radios, mobile devices, and encrypted applications to communicate securely during the breach, according to media reporting and a federal indictment,” the report continues. “Four alleged leaders of the Proud Boys solicited donations for electronic equipment, purchased radios, and established an encrypted channel used by dozens of associates. The four individuals are awaiting trial on a variety of charges, including conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding.”

As law enforcement sources noted to Reuters, most defendants in Capitol riot cases do not appear to have been members of organized groups. A George Washington University analysis of arrests in March found that just 33 of the then-257 defendants were members of militant networks. Another 82 were connected with those networks, but not formal members. The remaining were unaffiliated, the report found. Since that report, the number of defendants has more than doubled. An August CBS report characterized at least 83 of the current defendants as linked to “extremist groups.”

However, members of organized groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers are accused in court documents of amplifying the day’s violence, being among the first to breach the Capitol.

The DHS report notes the role of apparently pre-planned tactical gear in the building’s breach.

“Rioters were seen using a variety of chemical irritants against law enforcement, including pepper spray and bear spray,” the report notes. It also highlights the role of “hand tools such as crow bars and hammers, and other items such as baseball bats and ladders” in storming the Capitol,” and hand signals and covert communications allegedly employed by groups like the Oath Keepers in the moments before the breach.

“Ropes and climbing gear were pre-positioned and used to breach upper levels of the facility and to bypass security,” the report notes.

“Flex cuffs and other restraints were observed during the event, suggesting preparation for detaining government personnel or perceived enemies,” the report continues, also pointing to guns and tasers observed before or during the attack.

The spontaneous—or pre-planned—nature of the Capitol riot rests at the heart of many defendants’ criminal cases. Those defendants claim to have been swept up in the day’s activities, entering the Capitol without plans to do violence.

But according to Reuters, the FBI has found some basis for those defendants’ claims, finding that, although groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers hoped to enter the Capitol, they did not have firm plans about what to do once they breached the building. The Reuters report notes that prosecutors have so far avoided the most politically loaded charges, like seditious conspiracy, which some observers have argued would be appropriate for a pre-planned attack to unseat the government or overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

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Ryan Shapiro, executive director of Property of the People, pointed to the DHS document as further evidence of a concerted Jan. 6 attack on American democracy.

“Heeding Trump’s call, fascist street gangs and allied militias coordinated extensively in advance of their January 6 attempted coup,” Shapiro told The Daily Beast. “And these same violent, far-right forces continue their crusade to destabilize American democracy even as we speak.”

Claims of spontaneity are also central to attempts by Donald Trump and the organizers of the pre-rally riot to distance themselves from the day’s violence.

The DHS document also advises law enforcement to familiarize itself with the tactics employed in the Capitol attack, in case they arise in future incidents.

“An increase in security at government facilities in Washington, DC probably has largely dissuaded further targeting of the US Capitol,” the April document reads, “but conspiracy theories and perceptions of voter fraud and government overreach could inspire individuals to engage in violence at government facilities across the United States.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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