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FBI warns of planned armed protests next week in all 50 US state capitals and DC

After deadly Capitol assault, bulletin warns of extremists gathering ahead of Biden’s inauguration, cites a call to ‘storm’ buildings, reports ‘threats’ to Biden, Harris, Pelosi

Armed civilians stand on the steps of the Michigan state capitol building after a rally in support of US President Donald Trump in Lansing, Michigan, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Armed civilians stand on the steps of the Michigan state capitol building after a rally in support of US President Donald Trump in Lansing, Michigan, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

AP — The FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, DC, in the days leading up to US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, stoking fears of more bloodshed after last week’s deadly siege at the US Capitol.

An internal FBI bulletin warned, as of Sunday, that the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through Biden’s January 20 inauguration, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to The Associated Press.

Investigators believe some of the people are members of extremist groups, the officials said. The bulletin was first reported by ABC.

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the US Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The bulletin warns of plans for the “storming” of government buildings, and “threats of ‘uprising’ if President Trump is removed before inauguration,” CNN reported.

It also cites “threats against President-elect Biden, VP-elect Harris and House Speaker Pelosi.”

The FBI issued at least one other bulletin — they go out to law enforcement nationwide on the topic — before the riots last week. On December 29, it warned of the potential for armed demonstrators targeting legislatures, the second official said.

Army General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Monday that the Guard is also looking at any issues across the country.

“We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our Guards in every state are in close coordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested,” he said.

US Capitol Police push back demonstrators who were trying to enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

US President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Washington, DC, on Monday. The order allows the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate with local authorities as needed.

The emergency declaration is in effect from Monday through January 24.

The Capitol riots followed weeks of online calls for violence in the nation’s capital in the waning days of Trump’s presidency.

A tweet in which Trump promised that last Wednesday’s event in Washington, DC, “will be wild” fueled a “month-long frenzy of incitements, strategizing, and embrace of violence against lawmakers,” according to a research group that tracks online extremism activity.

In a report issued Saturday, the SITE Intelligence Group also warned that the Capitol attack has emboldened Trump-supporting extremists.

“No matter how all this plays out, its only the beginning,” posted a user on TheDonald online message board, according to the report.

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said authorities in state capitals and other major cities besides Washington should prepare for the possibility of violent protests next week.

“A lot of people were energized by what happened last week,” he said. “State capitals are a natural place where people might want to show up, especially assuming that they think there might be a huge presence of police and military in DC because of what happened last week.”

Pitcavage tracks militia, white supremacists and other far-right extremists, but he said the Capitol siege demonstrated the emergence of a new movement of “Trumpist extremists, so caught up in the cult of personality around Trump that they may be willing to break the law or engage in violence purely in support of Trump and whatever he wants.”

Trump supporters at a rally before an assault on the US Capitol, Washington, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The talk of armed marches next week isn’t limited to “radicalized” Trump supporters. State capital events on January 17 appear to be promoted by supporters of the anti-government, pro-gun “boogaloo” movement. Boogaloo followers advocate for a second civil war or the collapse of society and don’t adhere to a coherent political philosophy.

Posts on social media sites also have promoted a “Million Militia March” on the day of Biden’s inauguration. Pitcavage said the event, apparently organized by a promoter of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, appears unlikely to draw a massive crowd.

Javed Ali, a former FBI senior intelligence officer who teaches courses in counterterrorism at the University of Michigan, said it can be challenging for law enforcement to identify the line between people exercising their constitutionally protected rights to bear arms and free speech and those who pose “a real operational threat.”

“The FBI just can’t passively sit in websites and forums and social media platforms, waiting to see who’s going to present a direct threat versus just someone who is being highly radicalized,” he said. “There has to be an investigative predicate for the FBI to then start even the lowest form of an investigation.”

David Deitch, an attorney who was a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s counterterrorism section from 2003 to 2007, said law enforcement must recognize a “tenuous balance” between protected free speech and speech that intends to incites violence.

“It’s a very fact-based, case-by-case determination,” he said. “There’s no one factor that’s going to determine all of it. It’s certainly going to be a judgment call on the part of law enforcement about whether and when to intervene.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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