January 19, 2021

IntelBrief: The Enduring Implications of the Capitol Insurrection

Members of the National Guard stand inside the security fencing at the Capitol, Jan. 17, 2021 in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Bottom Line Up Front

  • Following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, domestic terrorism and violent extremism may be coming into its own here in the United States.
  • The Capitol siege included random actors and mobs and more formal organizations such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and the ‘Three Percenters.’
  • Accelerationists believe that extreme violence will catalyze the collapse of modern society, much like al-Qaeda’s Management of Savagery.
  • Federal law enforcement warned about potential attacks on state capitols, federal buildings, and lawmakers themselves in the coming weeks.

In the aftermath of the 6 January 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, it is believed that a wide range of domestic violent extremists – including white supremacists or racially and ethnically motivated groups, anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists and militias - pose the greatest domestic terrorism threat in the United States. In online forums and chatrooms, individuals have widely circulated images and propaganda related to the Capitol siege, celebrating what they believe was a major victory and creating common cause with domestic violent extremists. They are capitalizing on last Wednesday’s events to further their violent ideology, recruit, and plan future attacks. In the lead up to the Biden-Harris Inauguration, tensions in Washington D.C. remain high, as 25,000 National Guard troops have been deployed to enhance security. Still, there are now reports that fears of a potential insider attack have prompted the FBI to vet all troops involved in the event, a Herculean task.

White supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations have proactively leveraged their participation in the Capitol attack, sharing images in online forums and openly working to appeal to their followers as well as recruit new members through portraying a proactive and action-oriented mentality. The day following the violent attack on the Capitol, threatening lawmakers, staff, and the democratic process itself, the self-styled ‘chairman’ of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, shared a post on Parler praising the Capitol attackers as ‘revolutionaries.’ While Tarrio was arrested the day before the attack, his organization has been alleged to have led the charge to breach the Capitol, alongside random actors and mobs and more formal organizations such as the the Oath Keepers, the ‘Three Percenters,’ and various self-styled militias.

Supporters of President Trump fled more traditional social media sites like Twitter and migrated to more obscure channels and platforms. Sensing a potential opportunity, anti-government, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups believe that now is an opportune moment to recruit the most hardcore MAGA zealots, many of whom have expressed feelings of abandonment by Trump. In addition, similar to how Salafi-jihadists venerate martyrs, domestic violent extremists are glorifying Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot and killed by security forces at the Capitol, and celebrating her as a martyr. Followers are urged to avenge her memory and are instructed ‘they can’t kill us all.’ Martyrs can serve as powerful figures in extremist movements and help motivate and inspire the next generation. Accelerationists, those who believe that a race war is both the inevitable and desirable outcome of violence directed against the government, see the Capitol insurrection as proof of concept. Adherents of this concept believe that only through acts of violence and terrorism will they be able to bring about the collapse of modern society—a strategy eerily reminiscent of al-Qaeda’s Management of Savagery, which also underpinned much of ISIS’ brutality. Domestic violent groups have long emulated jihadists and borrowed from al-Qaeda’s repertoire, even lionizing Osama bin Laden and referencing ‘white jihad.’ Like al-Qaeda and ISIS, some even seek to explain and justify their actions using the language of purging corrupt leaders, referencing religious narratives and recruiting those who can contribute non-combat assistance, including propaganda and medical care. Social media users have taken to online channels to share manuals to enhance followers’ operational capabilities ahead of next week. For example, PDFs of guerilla warfare manuals, such as War of the Flea, as well as bomb making manuals are readily shared in chats. This echoes earlier UN reports that highlighted transnational racially and ethnically motivated terrorists were utilizing al-Qaeda and ISIS training materials, for example. In addition, instructions of how to 3D print guns and ammunition, as well as how to successfully smuggle guns into Washington D.C. are among some of the tactical guidance circulating online. News is being shared about security enhancement specifics for Washington D.C. and videos show security enhancement structures are being installed at various locations. Indeed, online white supremacist chatter suggests extremist actors may be more focused on conducting violent attacks in states across the country than the capital. Posts across several forums have called for attacks on lawmakers’ homes, state capitols, federal buildings, the homes of congressional members and businesses because the U.S. security apparatus will be focused on Washington, D.C. On January 14, FBI Director Wray said that law enforcement is monitoring ‘an extensive amount of concerning online chatter’ regarding events surrounding the inauguration. Reports of foreign governments exploiting these dynamics raise questions about the actions of malign state and non-state actors in fueling disinformation and violence. For the FBI, establishing what chatter constitutes credible threats is an extremely difficult challenge, especially given the current signal to noise ratio. Whether the violence materializes on Inauguration Day or not, it is clear that the threat from such groups is likely to continue well into the future and should be regarded as a priority domestic terrorist threat.