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The FBI abandoned us when it ignored Capitol rioters’ threats on social media

A damning report says the FBI knew about far-right threats targeting lawmakers and the Capitol, but dismissed them as “aspirational.”

To me, the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January have always been quite ironic. 

From Jan. 6, when we witnessed several of them taking selfies with Capitol police, to today, as many of them evade serious charges for their involvement in the attack, it’s been clear these rioters were and are being treated with favor by some law enforcement officials.

But to hear the rioters tell it, this group — largely consisting of white men — attacked the Capitol because they are aggrieved. The way they’ve been handled with kid gloves proves their claims are nonsense. 

An eye-opening report published by The Washington Post on Monday is chock-full of details about the planning of, response to and fallout from the Jan. 6 attack. Yet again, I’m most fascinated by the ways law enforcement — namely, the FBI — ignored the serious threat posed by the pro-Donald Trump extremists. 

“While the public may have been surprised by what happened on Jan. 6, the makings of the insurrection had been spotted at every level, from one side of the country to the other,” the Post reported.

A pro-Donald Trump mob breaches the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Michael Nigro / Sipa USA via AP file

According to the Post, the FBI downplayed the seriousness of social media posts discussing plans for the violent riot:

The FBI, the nation’s primary domestic intelligence agency, received numerous alerts of people vowing to violently confront Congress, but largely regarded social media posts about planning for Jan. 6 — even those discussing bringing firearms, arresting lawmakers and shooting police — as protected First Amendment speech.

One social media user specifically mentioned Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, as a target for the attack, according to the Post, but the FBI determined, “The individual or group identified during the Assessment does not warrant further FBI investigation at this time.”

The report does a great job of inserting direct quotes from social media users stoking violence throughout the piece. The effect for readers is that we see some of the death and destruction threats sent before Jan. 6 right as we read the FBI’s excuse for not following them. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are FBI officials who still defend the agency’s judgment, even with the benefit of hindsight. 

Senior FBI officials insisted that “much of the alarming online chatter agents saw was largely ‘aspirational’ and therefore protected First Amendment free speech — not the detailed evidence of planning needed to launch an investigation or foresee a mass attack on the Capitol,” the Post reported.

That admission speaks directly to the frustrations Black and brown activists and their allies have expressed since Jan. 6. Civil rights protesters of color are thoroughly investigated and likely to be met with tremendous force. White would-be insurrectionists don’t face that scrutiny, and the Post’s new report shows many authorities still don’t think they should.

Related posts:

These Republicans are literally talking about setting off explosives in the Capitol

Arizonans really want this policy, but Kyrsten Sinema won’t let them have it

Rep. Mo Brooks’s latest Jan. 6 remarks are just icing on the disgraceful cake

Head over to The ReidOut Blog for more.