FBI Thought Threats to Capitol Before 1/6 Were 'First Amendment-Protected'

A major Senate report regarding the January 6 attack on the Capitol has found that neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gave sufficient warning of any potential violence that day, having dismissed online threats as "First Amendment-protected speech."

The bipartisan report revealed there had been a number of failures from law enforcement and government agencies in the run-up to the insurrection, which saw hundreds of Donald Trump supporters and far-right extremists storm the building in Washington, D.C. Five people died during the violence.

One of the main criticisms in the report was that neither the FBI nor the DHS deemed posts on social media and message board sites calling for violence at the Capitol as credible.

Representatives from both agencies testified that they believed much of the rhetoric expressed online prior to January 6 was "First Amendment-protected speech" of limited credibility.

Neither the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) nor the FBI issued intelligence specific to January 6, despite being aware of the threat of extremist violence emanating from social media and online posts.

Late on January 5, the FBI's Norfolk Field Office did circulate a Situational Information Report that warned people were traveling to Washington, D.C. for "war" at the Capitol the following day, but did not provide any formal intelligence assessment.

"When asked how I&A did not identify any of the social media posts calling for attacking the Capitol prior to January 6, one DHS I&A official cautioned that social media is 'nuanced' and that it can be difficult to distinguish between mere rhetoric and overt threats," the report states.

During previous testimony, Jill Sanborn, then-assistant director of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division, said she did not believe that the FBI was aware of specific conversations on social media calling for violence in the lead-up to January 6.

"Under our authorities, because being mindful of the First Amendment and our dual-headed mission to uphold the Constitution, we cannot collect First Amendment-protected activities without sort of the next step, which is the intent," Sanborn said.

The report is also critical of the United States Capitol Police department (USCP) for not fully conveying the potential scope of the violence being planned that day, despite its Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD) being aware of calls for violence at the Capitol on January 6.

These threats included a "plot to breach the Capitol, the online sharing of maps of the Capitol Complex's tunnel systems, and other specific threats of violence," the report states.

"Yet, IICD did not convey the full scope of known information to USCP leadership, rank-and-file officers, or law enforcement partners."

Officers on the day were also let down by poor management and planning, including USCP's Incident Command System breaking during the attack, leaving frontline officers "without key information or instructions as events unfolded."

Some senior officers were also found engaging and fighting with those trying to storm the Capitol instead of giving orders.

"USCP leadership never took control of the radio system to communicate orders to frontline officers," the report found.

The report was initiated by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Rules and Administration.

"The events of January 6 were horrific, and our bipartisan investigation identified many unacceptable, widespread breakdowns in security preparations and emergency response related to this attack," Peters said in a statement.

"Our report offers critical recommendations to address these failures and strengthen security for the Capitol to prevent an attack of this nature from ever happening again."

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Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Samuel Corum/Getty Images