Officials Investigating if There Was an Organized 'Mission' Inside the Capitol During Riot

Amid continuing arrests of individuals charged with participating in the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, federal law enforcement officials are also working to identify how organized the mob was on January 6.

More than 98 arrests have so far been made, most of which involve federal charges, and over 275 suspects have been identified. While the focus has been on "quick hit cases," officials are also looking at the bigger picture to identify if the riot was a coordinated effort between those inside and outside of the Capitol.

"That is a tier 1, top priority for the U.S. attorney and federal law enforcement—to see if there was an overarching command and control and organized teams to breach the Capitol and accomplished some type of mission inside the Capitol," Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told reporters Friday.

There are "breadcrumbs" of organization, according to Sherwin, but an exhaustive investigation hasn't been conducted because the initial focus was on "reactive" types of cases. Those "quick hit" cases include people charged with destruction of property, trespassing and violence against police officers.

Legislators have pressured federal law enforcement to hold the people responsible for the riot accountable. Senator Lindsey Graham said at a press conference that money would not be an object in pursuing charges against the "domestic terrorists" who unlawfully entered the Capitol. Other legislators, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are pushing for the FBI to put rioters on the no-fly list.

"We are concerned about these people getting back on airplanes and doing more violence," Schumer said Tuesday. "Ahead of the concern for possible future attacks and with the law on our side, we are to say that these insurrectionists, many of whom are known to be at large, should not be able to hop on a flight."

Sherwin said he expected the over 275 suspects to turn into 300 by the end of the day and "exponentially increase" over the weekend and into next week. Officials attributed the success of the investigation partially to the American public's help. Steven D'Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said the bureau has received more than 145,000 photos and videos in the past week.

"Every FBI field office in the country is looking for you," D'Antuono said in a message to those involved in the riot. "As a matter of fact, even your friends and family are tipping us off."

capitol riot mission officials arrest
Protesters supporting President Donald Trump enter the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Law enforcement officials are looking at whether there was an organized mission during the riot. Win McNamee/Getty

If the investigation was a football game, D'Antuono said, it would still be in the first quarter, but he committed to leaving "no stone unturned." Asked repeatedly about the possibility of lawmakers being investigated for playing a potential role, he said, "This is a large puzzle, and we're looking at every piece of the puzzle that we can put on the table to put the picture together."

Democratic lawmakers in Arizona are calling for a joint investigation from the Department of Justice and the FBI into U.S. Representatives Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, state Representative Mark Finchem and former Representative Anthony Kern for their alleged involvement in the riot.

"It is vital to any current or future federal investigations, and ultimately to the Arizona public they represent, that we learn what these elected officials knew about this planned insurrection and when they knew it," the Arizona lawmakers' letter stated.

At the federal level, more than 30 Democratic members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the "extremely high" number of outside groups that were in the Capitol complex on January 6. They called it a "noticeable and concerning departure" from the procedures that have been in place since the pandemic began and said it was reported to the sergeant at arms.

"The fact remains that there were unusually large groups of people throughout the Capitol who could only have gained access to the Capitol Complex from a Member of Congress or a member of their staff," the congressional letter states. "Given the events of January 6, the ties between these groups inside the Capitol Complex and the attacks on the Capitol need to be investigated."

Federal prosecutors said there was evidence rioters intended to "capture and assassinate elected officials," but Sherwin walked that back on Friday, saying there was "no direct evidence of kill/capture teams." He acknowledged the cases are "unprecedented" and "extremely complex," given that thousands of people returned to their home districts, and said there may have been a disconnect with the evidence prosecutors added to the story.

Calling the cases involving former or current law enforcement officers the "height of hypocrisy," Sherwin offered a message to anyone who was involved in the riot: "We don't care what your profession is, who you are, who you're affiliated with. If you were engaged in criminal activity we will charge you and you will be arrested."