Defense Department Anticipated Election-Related Unrest Before Capitol Riot

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who believed that the presidential election had been stolen, the Pentagon was quick to distance itself from the security failure, saying that it was not privy to any intelligence indicating that National Guard support would be needed. But the U.S. military had its own intelligence that anticipated election-related unrest from individuals who viewed the presidential election as fraudulent — the same individuals who stormed the Capitol — according to an internal Defense Department intelligence assessment obtained exclusively by The Intercept.

“While the [presidential] election is finished, a large segment of the population views the results as invalid or fraudulent,” a section of the assessment titled “Election Related Unrest” states. “Conspiracy theories, amplified by social media echo chambers, are likely to both increase the potential for civil disturbance activity and intensify the level of civil disturbance activity as well.” It also makes specific mention of “QAnon,” the pro-Trump conspiracy theory whose adherents made up a large part of the Capitol mob.

While the report does not specifically mention Congress’s certification of the election results, which served as a catalyst for the Capitol attack, it does mention the inauguration. “As the results of the election were announced via several media outlets various protest groups around the country began protesting the media and their perceived role in the election. It is very likely that these protests will appear again as results of the election are cemented and inauguration day approaches,” the report states.

The intelligence report, an all-hazards threat assessment produced by the U.S. Navy, is dated December 21, 2020, and marked “Controlled Unclassified Information.” It is designated “FEDCON,” meaning that it is authorized for distribution to federal officials. While the document addresses threats relevant to a Navy installation in the Bethesda, Maryland, area, it makes frequent reference to the Capitol specifically as well as the National Capital Region, which encompasses Washington, D.C. “The NCR will likely continue to be a location for all major protest activity, and consequently a hotbed of civil disturbance activity,” the assessment states.

The day after the Capitol unrest, the Defense Department insisted: “We don’t do domestic [intelligence] collection … we rely on Capitol Police and federal law enforcement to provide an assessment of the situation. And based on that assessment that they had, they believed they had sufficient personnel and did not make a request.” Kenneth Rapuano, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, likewise told reporters that law enforcement did not provide them with any intelligence warning of “significant violent protests.”

But the document obtained by The Intercept suggests that the Pentagon did have relevant intelligence and was not entirely dependent on law enforcement intelligence.

The Defense Department has been criticized for not sending in the National Guard in time to prevent the attack. Then-U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund has said that he requested assistance six times from the National Guard, but each request was delayed or denied. Though Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had requested and received 340 National Guard members, the troops were unarmed and tasked with managing traffic rather than conducting law enforcement functions. By contrast, as many as 15,000 National Guard members will be deployed to the inauguration. Sund, who has since resigned, has said that Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, Army staff director, told him, “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background.” Piatt denies this.

The intelligence report, which totals more than 400 pages, addresses a host of other threats. It contains probability ratings to assess the likelihood of an attack from each threat, assigning “HIGH” probability to “domestic terrorists/homegrown violent extremists.” (Of the 14 threats included, domestic terrorists ranks fourth highest, below only threats posed by cyberattacks, foreign intelligence entities, and active shooters.)

“The resulting aftermath of the recent presidential election has contributed to an environment where civil disturbance activity is almost certain to continue to persist,” the assessment notes. “There are multiple ways that protest activity could play out such as large-scale protests that escalate to riots, looting, or criminal activity.”

QAnon is mentioned under a section titled “Domestic Extremist Groups: Spectrum of Activity from Peaceful Protest to Terrorism” and is characterized as one of several “Groups Motivated by Conpiracy Theories/Misinformation/Disinformation” — alongside “Anti-5G” and “Pizzagate” adherents. Other domestic extremist groups listed that were present among the Capitol rioters include “White Nationalist/Separatist Groups” and “Anti-Government/Militia/Patriot/Boogaloo Groups.”

The “alt-right” is also mentioned, albeit under a section titled “Social Justice Movements,” which includes groups like Black Lives Matter and the Occupy movement. “Many of the protests in the unrest that began in May 2020 have proclaimed support for or are active members of the BLM movement,” the document says, claiming that the movement has “16 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.” (“The group’s decentralized structure also leads to confusion among law enforcement,” the report also notes.)

While the intelligence report now seems prescient, federal agencies have issued previous warnings about threats of violence related to the November election. In September, the FBI identified “the presidential elections acting as a potential flashpoint” for far-right extremists — including “the January 2021 inauguration” — according to an intelligence assessment obtained by The Nation. And a Department of Homeland Security intelligence report formally assessed in August that “ideologically-motivated violent extremists and other violent actors could quickly mobilize to threaten or engage in violence against election or campaign related targets in response to perceived partisan and policy-based grievances.”

Moreover, both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have identified white supremacists — who appeared to have a significant presence among the Capitol rioters — as the top domestic terror threat currently. In September, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified as much before the House Committee on Homeland Security, and draft reports obtained by Politico show that the Department of Homeland Security considers white supremacists the deadliest domestic terror threat.

Federal agencies in addition to the Defense Department have similarly sought to distance themselves from the failure to prevent the Capitol unrest. For example, the FBI’s Washington field office chief, Steven D’Antuono, said that “there was no indication” that any violence would take place. But the Post subsequently reported that a day prior to the Capitol unrest, an FBI office in Virginia issued a situation report warning of extremists planning to travel to the Capitol in order to commit violent acts.

Responding to a request for comment, the Navy referred us to the National Guard. The National Guard did not immediately respond.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.