New Warnings of Capitol Attack Raise Tensions in Washington
The U.S. Capitol building and American flag flying at half mast. (Photographer: Shawn Thew/Bloomberg)

New Warnings of Capitol Attack Raise Tensions in Washington

Law enforcement warnings that a militia group may be plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol on Thursday raised tensions again in Washington and helped prompt the House to cancel plans to meet for votes.

“We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4,” the U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement Wednesday. “We are taking the intelligence seriously.”

That alert followed a joint intelligence bulletin late Tuesday from the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation about extremists discussing carrying out attacks at the Capitol from March 4 to March 6. Melissa Smislova, a senior Homeland Security official, told two Senate committees about the threat on Wednesday.

The police warning didn’t give specifics, citing the “sensitive nature of this information” that comes about two months after a Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by extremist supporters of then-President Donald Trump. That attack led to at least five fatalities.

Two congressional aides said the House canceled plans to vote on Thursday and is scaling back other events at least in part because of the threat. The Senate still plans to meet.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House Democratic leadership said it was “not my understanding” that there was a link between the threat warnings and the decision to cancel Thursday’s session.

‘True Inauguration Day’

Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, told CNN on Wednesday that Trump “has a responsibility” to defuse the threat by telling his supporters to “stand down.”

“This threat is credible,” McCaul said. “It’s real.”

The March 4 timing coincides with the date linked to conspiracy theories about it being the “true inauguration day.” Presidents were sworn in on that date until the 20th Amendment to the Constitution shifted the ceremony to Jan. 20, in 1933.

The warnings also come after Capitol Police and federal law enforcement came under severe criticism for not acting faster on intelligence that the Jan. 6 protests could turn violent.

The latest warnings caught many in Washington by surprise because they came a day after acting Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett told lawmakers that Capitol Police had no indication groups would travel to Washington to protest or commit acts of violence.

However, Blodgett sent an updated alert to members of Congress Wednesday after Capitol Police “received new and concerning information and intelligence” about a broader threat.

It advised lawmakers and staff that additional security personnel will be on the Capitol grounds and that there will be more stringent credential checks. It said that House members should use underground passages between office buildings and the Capitol. Blodgett also included information about security precautions that should be taken at district offices and said Capitol Police were coordinating with regional law enforcement agency on additional security if needed.

Alaina Gertz, a spokeswoman for Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, said that “MPD does not discuss operational tactics. However, we will continue to monitor and assess information in collaboration with our local and federal partners to ensure the public’s safety.”

In a sign of lingering tensions in the U.S. capital, about 5,000 National Guard troops remain deployed following the Jan. 6 riot. Pentagon officials say they are scheduled to depart late next week unless requested to stay on. In addition, the Capitol grounds remain ringed by tall, razor wire-topped fencing with limited access points, a perimeter that was established after the Jan. 6 attack.

The latest alerts follow warnings by U.S. national security officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, that domestic extremists pose the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. and are intent on carrying out attacks, especially after the riot, which sought to disrupt the ratification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

‘Metastasizing’ Threat

“The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray said during a Senate hearing Tuesday.

The FBI declined to comment specifically on the new threat warning. “While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI is constantly gathering and sharing intelligence with our law enforcement partners,” the FBI said in a statement. “We are always on alert for any potential threats.”

The Capitol Police “is aware of and prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress or towards the Capitol complex,” the department said in a statement. “We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers.”

Lawmakers and congressional staffers are being asked to carry identification, report any threats or suspicious activity and keep emergency numbers on hand.

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