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FBI said to warn of attacks on state capitols, lawmakers’ homes during inaugural

Over 70 arrests made of rioters who participated in assault on Capitol, as Washington DC shuts down to combat threat posed by extremist Trump backers a week before Biden sworn in

The dome of the US Capitol building is visible as riot gear is laid out on a field on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The dome of the US Capitol building is visible as riot gear is laid out on a field on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The FBI has warned police forces across the United States to be on high alert and share intelligence on threats ahead of next week’s presidential inauguration of Joe Biden, a report said Wednesday.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned of “potential attacks on state capitols, federal buildings, the homes of congressional members and businesses,” the New York Times reported, citing one of the police chiefs on the call.

“They don’t want to be dismissive of anything,” the report cited Chief Jorge Colina of the Miami Police Department. “So even if it sounds aspirational, even if it’s just like, ‘Yeah, it’d be great if the whole place is burned down,’ they don’t want us to think, ‘Ah, that’s just some knucklehead, pinhead,’ and be dismissive.”

A separate bulletin published Wednesday by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Justice and Homeland Security Departments warned that extremists could view the death of protester and QAnon supporter Ashli Babbit during the Capitol riots as an “act of martyrdom,” according to the NYT.

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, Oct. 7, 2020. (Jim Watson via AP)

The officials warned that “the shared false narrative of a ‘stolen’ election’ may lead some individuals to adopt the belief that there is no political solution to address their grievances and violent action is necessary.”

The FBI has previously warned that armed protests by violent supporters of outgoing US President Donald Trump were being planned in all 50 state capitals as well as in Washington for the days leading up to the inauguration of Biden.

According to NYT, more than 70 people have been arrested over participation in the breach of the Capitol, including at least three police officers who were off-duty — two from Rocky Mount Police Department in Virginia who face charges of disorderly conduct and entering a restricted space, and one from Houston police who hasn’t yet been charged.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including an Arizona man wearing a fur hat with horns, are confronted by US Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Apart from an Olympic gold medalist, a rioter who wore a shirt saying “Camp Auschwitz” and a son of a Jewish judge who breached the Capitol in fur pelt, those arrested also include a firefighter from Sanford, near Orlando, who is charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct, the report said.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that evidence points to the raid of the Capitol being planned ahead of time rather than a spontaneous decision or a rally that spiraled out of control.

Authorities suspect that some participants left the rally early and went to get weapons and other items used in the Capitol assault, the report said.

Downtown Washington was fenced off and boarded up Wednesday, with concrete barriers blocking avenues, police at street corners, and armed National Guard soldiers patrolling Capitol Hill.

The city at the heart of US democracy has been a shadow of itself during pandemic shutdowns, but now it is also under heavy guard after the January 6 deadly attack by Trump supporters on the Congress building.

National Guard soldiers in body armor and camouflage spent the night inside the Capitol, their black rifles leaning against the polished stone walls of the building’s halls.

“Clearly we are in uncharted waters,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Hundreds of US National Guard troops hold inside the Capitol Visitor’s Center to reinforce security at the Capitol in Washington, January 13, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Last week’s “violent insurrection” at the Capitol by supporters of Trump has “impacted the way we are approaching working with our federal partners in planning for the 59th inauguration,” Bowser said Wednesday.

Between the pandemic and the security threat, Bowser is flat-out asking people not to come to the District of Columbia for the inauguration. And at Bowser’s request, a National Special Security Event declaration was moved up to January 13, a distinction which she said “puts in place an entirely different command and control structure” for security.

The NSSE status is normal for a presidential inauguration and other major events like an international summit or the Super Bowl. But it’s rare to start the lockdown so far in advance of the event.

Police vehicles sealed off a huge swath of downtown DC Wednesday, causing immediate traffic snarls. Starting Wednesday, Bowser said, anyone inside the inauguration perimeter might be stopped and questioned. Starting Friday, all parking garages in the downtown restricted zone will be sealed through the inauguration.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference in Washington, December 17, 2020. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)

Bowser is also being pushed to deny lodging options to potentially violent protesters. The local Black Lives Matter affiliate and Shutdown DC issued a joint statement Wednesday urging all downtown hotels to voluntarily close and pay their staffs. In addition to the threat of violence, the activist groups say Trump supporters are a threat to the health of hotel staff for their general refusal to wear facemasks amid the pandemic. Several downtown hotels, including one which had become a favorite hangout of the militant Proud Boy faction, chose to avoid trouble by closing last week.

“Closing hotels completely for these six nights is the only way to guarantee the safety of hotel workers, neighbors, vulnerable and unhoused residents, incoming administration officials, members of Congress, and our democracy,” the statement said. “If hotels do not willingly close, we ask Mayor Bowser to extend today’s emergency order and close all hotels in the city.”

On Wednesday, Airbnb announced it was canceling all reservations in the Washington metro area. Bowser said she had been in regular contact with Airbnb officials since last week, but did not specifically request this step.

“We are aware of reports emerging yesterday afternoon regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the Inauguration,” a company statement said. “We are continuing our work to ensure hate group members are not part of the Airbnb community.”

The dome of the US Capitol building is visible as members of the National Guard stand in front of riot gear laid out on a field on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

On the ground, much of the most visible security will come in the form of more than 15,000 National Guardsmen from multiple states, some of them armed.

According to officials, the number of Guardsmen who will actually be carrying guns will be limited. Some Guard members nearer the Capitol will have long guns, and others will have their sidearms.

It is likely that those closer to the crowds or on fence lines won’t be armed, but those up closer to the building may be. National Guard members operate under strict rules of engagement on the use of force. But generally speaking, troops can use lethal force to protect the lives of others and themselves.

Officials also said that while 15,000 Guard members have been activated, more may be called. DC Police Chief Robert Contee estimated Wednesday that more than 20,000 National Guardsmen would be active in the District of Columbia on Inauguration Day.

Officials are continuing to review requests from law enforcement, and some believe several thousand more could be brought in. Defense and military officials have been calling governors and adjutants general to ask if they might have people they could send, if requested.

So far, officials said state leaders have said that protecting their own capitols will be their top priority, but they still have some Guard members they will be able to send, if needed.

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