January 14, 2022
IntelBrief: The Unresolved Case of the January 6th Pipe Bomber
As awful as the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection was for the health of American politics, society, and democracy, it could have been dramatically worse if one or both of the two pipe bombs planted in the early hours before the riot had exploded. One pipe bomb was discovered near the Democratic National Committee (DNC) building, and another was found near the Republican National Committee (RNC) building. Both pipe bombs were functioning explosive devices, capable of injuring and/or killing anyone close by if they had gone off. Those in this vicinity included then Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, who was reportedly evacuated from the DNC when the bomb was discovered outside near a park bench. The reality that someone manufactured and planted two viable pipe bombs just before the criminal events of January 6 is troubling in and of itself; that the perpetrator is still unknown and at large a year later is of great concern.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is leading the investigation, and while there has been a great deal of information shared with law enforcement over the course of the past year, authorities are still asking for the public’s help in identifying and locating the person or persons responsible. In a September 8, 2021 press release, the FBI stated: “Since January, the FBI has conducted more than 800 interviews, collected more than 23,000 video files, and assessed more than 300 tips related to this investigation. Those tips have helped us uncover new information, which we are releasing today and asking the public to view it and call us with any information you think may be relevant.” Unfortunately, a year since the event, law enforcement agencies appear no closer to solving the case. Finding the person or persons responsible is a priority for all law enforcement, from local to federal; prosecuting those responsible in open court is similarly urgent for countering the growing tide of violent extremism, tacitly and even explicitly encouraged by some politicians, that has wrapped itself in false patriotism and poisoned the American body politic.
This is certainly not a “cold case,” in that it is still being worked with significant resources devoted to identifying the culprit, but nonetheless, the case is getting colder. A year without significant progress from the existing evidence puts investigators in a position of relying more and more on a “lucky break.” The available information suggests that the forensic evidence gathered from the two devices (8-inch pipe bombs filled with gunpowder and set with egg timers) has been inconclusive, with not enough information to significantly narrow the search in a meaningful way. To date, the $100,000 reward has not led to a suspect, though it will remain in place until the suspect is identified and caught. The publicly available video evidence clearly shows the crime but not the criminal, another tantalizing but, thus far, frustrating piece of evidence.
The more than 800 interviews conducted is a staggering scale for subsequent assessment; these interviews likely range from very brief (e.g. people living in the neighborhood who have been asked what they might have seen in the days leading up to the crime) to the very in-depth (e.g. individuals identified as possible suspects but subsequently ruled out after more detailed investigation). Showing the videos of the bomber walking in the area to the public is an effective tactic, in which investigators hope a friend or family remember recognizes the suspect’s gait, body shape, clothing (including black and light grey Nike Air Max speed turf sneakers with a yellow logo), or mannerisms, but it also leads to a huge number of false leads and dead ends. All of this is standard in major case investigations, but the attention devoted to this case and the need to arrest the person responsible is far from standard. While it is possible that this was a one-time crime, it is more likely than not that this will not be the last criminal act by this suspect. Getting away with such a high-profile crime might embolden this suspect or inspire other lone wolves to follow suit. There is nothing spontaneous or random about building two pipe bombs and then targeting the DNC and RNC headquarters on the eve of certifying the 2020 electoral votes.