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It was easy in the immediate aftermath of last week’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol to dismiss the rioters as a misguided mob more intent on getting attention than overthrowing our government. Early photos and videos of smiling MAGA-hat wearing vandals and face-painted attention-seekers lent an air of unseriousness to the affair.
Each day, as new information comes to light, it is becoming clearer that this was a deadly serious attempt to topple our government that likely involved weeks of planning and preparation. It is also becoming clear that it was fueled by the false narrative — spread by the president and his backers — that the Nov. 3 election was riddled with fraud and that President Donald Trump had actually won.
That is not true. States, especially the five battleground states that were won by Democrat Joe Biden, have conducted recounts, investigations and audits. Nearly 90 j udges, including Supreme Court justices have rejected claims from Trump and his allies, mostly for a lack of any evidence that votes were not properly cast and counted.
This didn’t matter to Trump, who hours before the carnage of Jan. 6, repeated his claims about a stolen election and urged his supporters to go to the Capitol.
The fuse was lit well before that fateful day and plotting for the violent attack that resulted in five deaths and a shaken country began well before January.
Tragically, like many other attacks on America, there were warnings about what was planned on Jan. 6.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have been warning for years that the biggest terrorist threat faced by America comes from far-right extremists and white supremacists. Despite a significant rise in hate crimes during his presidency, these warnings have been downplayed by Republican leaders, mostly notably including Trump.
More recently and specifically, the day before the Capitol siege, the FBI’s Norfolk office received information about violence that was planned for Washington. D.C. on Jan. 6, the Washington Post reported. “An online thread discussed specific calls for violence to include stating ‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled,’” the FBI report said, according to the Post. Pantifa is a derogatory term for antifa, a left-wing opposition to the far right. “Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”
Although the information in the bulletin was shared with other law enforcement entities, security around the Capitol was woefully inadequate on the day it was stormed by Trump supporters, some of whom beat police officers, with flags and fire extinguishers, while Blue Lives Matter flags flew among the angry crowd. One police officer, Brian Sicknick, died of his injuries.
Glass was broken, doors were smashed and blood was spilled on Jan. 6.
There are troubling reports that what was planned was much worse. Masked men dressed in paramilitary gear breached the Senate chambers. Some carried law enforcement-style plastic flex cuffs, presumably to be used to hold hostages. Some inside the Capitol building were heard yelling that they wanted to find Vice President Mike Pence and hang him from a tree. Trump had criticized his vice president for not stopping the certification of November’s election results, which Pence did not have the power to do. Others targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
New reporting finds that some rioters came perilously close to Pence and his family. A lone Capitol Police officer, Eugene Goodman, lured a charging crowd away from an entrance to the Senate, where Pence had been and where senators remained sheltered.
One man arrested after the attack on the capitol had an AR-15, a handgun, a shotgun, a cross bow and 11 molotov cocktails in his truck. He also had a list of “good guys” and “bad guys” in Washington.
It is clear that we are far from fully knowing — let alone understanding — what happened at the U.S. Capitol last week. But what we already know is horrifying, and it is clear that it was a much more serious event than it first appeared.
Even while we learn more, lessons for Jan. 6 need to be learned quickly as a new administration starts and threats remain.