GOVERNMENT

Law enforcement on alert after plot warning at US Capitol

Mar 4, 2021, 7:42 AM
bomb threat...
National Guard troops keep watch at the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Thursday, March 4, 2021, amid intelligence warnings that there is a "possible plot" by a group of militia extremists to take control of the Capitol on March 4 to remove Democrats from power. The threat comes nearly two months after thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in a violent insurrection as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden's electoral win. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Law enforcement was on high alert Thursday around the U.S. Capitol after intelligence uncovered a “possible plot” by a militia group to storm the iconic building yet again, two months after a mob of Donald Trump supporters smashed through windows and doors to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden’s victory.

The threat appears to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that former President Trump will rise again to power on March 4 and that thousands will come to Washington, D.C., to try to remove Democrats from office. March 4 was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.

Online chatter identified by authorities included discussions among members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group, concerning possible plots against the Capitol on Thursday, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The threat came as the Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies were taking heat from Congress in contentious hearings this week on their poor handling of the Jan. 6 riot. Police were ill-prepared for the mass of Trump supporters in tactical gear, some armed, and it took hours for National Guard reinforcements to come. By then, rioters had broken and smashed their way into the building and roamed the halls for hours, stalling Congress’ certification effort temporarily and sending lawmakers into hiding.

“The United States Capitol Police Department is aware of and prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress or towards the Capitol complex,” Capitol Police said in a statement.

Lawmakers, congressional staffers and law enforcement officials are still on edge after the attack on Jan. 6, even as the security posture around the Capitol remains at an unprecedented level.

The U.S. House wrapped up its work for the week Wednesday night, but the U.S. Senate still had a busy day scheduled for Thursday with votes going well into the evening. Police beefed up their presence in and around the Capitol. About 5,200 National Guard members remain in D.C., the remainder of the roughly 26,000 that were brought in for President Biden’s inauguration that went off with no problems.

There’s also a very large fence around the U.S. Capitol perimeter that walls off all avenues of entry including on the streets around the building, put in place after Jan. 6.

Initially it seemed as though the online chatter did not rise to the level of serious concern; an advisory sent earlier this week to members of Congress by Timothy Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, said that the Capitol Police had “no indication that groups will travel to Washington D.C. to protest or commit acts of violence.”

But that advisory was updated in a note to lawmakers Wednesday morning. Blodgett wrote that the Capitol Police had received “new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th – 6th by a militia group.”

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said during House testimony Wednesday that her investigators had collected “some concerning intelligence,” but declined to provide any details publicly, saying that it was “law enforcement sensitive” and that she would provide a private briefing for the subcommittee members.

Meanwhile, federal agents were looking for any increases in the number of hotel rooms being rented in Washington, as well as monitoring flights to the area, car rental reservations and any buses being chartered to bring groups into the capital, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The person could not publicly discuss details of the security planning and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also sent a joint intelligence bulletin to local law enforcement officials Tuesday warning that a group of militia extremists had discussed trying to take control of the Capitol on March 4 and encouraging thousands of people to come to D.C. to try to remove Democrats from power.

But there has been a noticeable decline in online activity on some social media platforms surrounding efforts on March 4, and there was already considerably less online chatter than during the lead-up to Jan. 6, a day that Trump repeatedly had promoted for a his rally and encouraged thousands to come to the nation’s capital.

Several QAnon groups still operating on the social media messaging platform Telegram warned followers to stay away from any events on March 4, claiming it was a setup for Trump supporters.

“If there are groups out there planning and advertising events on or around March 4 anywhere in the country (DC included) we strongly urge everyone to avoid them entirely,” one Telegram user wrote late last month in a QAnon group that has more than 65,000 followers.

Also, thousands of accounts that promoted the Jan. 6 event that led to a violent storming of the U.S. Capitol have since been suspended by major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, making it far more difficult for QAnon and far-right groups to organize a repeat of the mass gathering on Thursday.

Twitter banned more than 70,000 accounts after the riots, while Facebook and Instagram removed posts mentioning “stop the steal,” a pro-Trump rallying cry used to mobilize his supporters in January. And the conservative social media platform Parler, which many of Trump’s supporters joined to promote false election fraud conspiracy theories and encourage friends to “storm” the Capitol on Jan. 6, was booted off the internet following the siege.

Capitol Police say that they have stepped up security around the Capitol complex since January’s insurrection, adding physical security measures such as the fencing topped with razor wire around the Capitol and members of the National Guard who remain at the complex.

“I think they are definitely prepared for any threats that may come our way in the next couple days,” said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., who was one of several lawmakers briefed privately by the police. Wexton added that she still questioned the long-term security plan for the Capitol and said Pittman, the acting chief, “has not come up with proactive ways to fix the issues that they had.”

So far, about 300 people have been charged with federal crimes for their roles in the riot. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died.

Since his defeat, Trump has been promoting lies that the election was stolen from him through mass voter fraud, even though such claims have been rejected by judges, Republican state officials and Trump’s own administration. He was impeached by the House after the Jan. 6 riot on a c harge of incitement of insurrection but was acquitted by the Senate.

___

Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Houston; Colleen Long, Alan Fram, and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington; and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.

Today’s Top Stories

Government

Gov. Spencer Cox announced Utah Court of Appeals Judge Jill M. Pohlman is his nominee to serve on t...
Mark Jones

Gov. Cox announces Utah Supreme Court nominee

Utah Court of Appeals Judge Jill M. Pohlman is Gov. Spencer Cox's Utah Supreme Court nominee as announced Tuesday.
1 day ago
A crowd gathers in front of the Utah State Capitol on Friday, June 24, 2022, to protest the U.S. Su...
Becky Bruce

Different abortion law now in effect in Utah

A different abortion law is now in effect in Utah, and it bans abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. However, there are several exceptions to this law.
1 day ago
A ballot drop box is pictured. Those wanting to vote in the utah primary election can still vote in...
Amie Schaeffer

Utah primary election: Acceptable ID to bring for in-person voting

Utah's Primary Election is today. Voters need to be sure they have the right identification to cast their ballot.
1 day ago
Photo: Utah Department of Transportation...
Mark Jones

UDOT seeks public feedback on future of Bangerter Highway

UDOT is hosting scoping open houses on Tuesday and Wednesday at Granger High School to get feedback on the future of Bangerter Highway between 4100 South and California Avenue.
2 days ago
A voter drops a ballot into a box at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Mo...
Becky Bruce

The Utah primary election is expected to be ‘pretty normal’

Tuesday's primary election in Utah is expected to be about average for a midterm election.
2 days ago
A voter fills in the ballot on the voting machine during the Election Day voting at Vivint Smart Ho...
Lindsay Aerts

State elections leaders dismiss state lawmakers claims of vote switching

WASATCH COUNTY, Utah — The State Elections Office says all of the state’s voting machines are working correctly ahead of Primary Election Day Tuesday. This comes after Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, made claims on social media, that some of the machines were changing people’s votes. Screenshot of Lyman’s social media post. Lyman posted on Facebook […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Law enforcement on alert after plot warning at US Capitol