US Senate meets under tight security after new extremist threat
Armed US National Guard troops patrolled the US Capitol on Thursday after officials warned of a new attack plot by extremists, but the feared show of force by those still angry over Donald Trump’s election defeat did not materialize.
While the House of Representatives opted to cancel its session, the Senate carried on with business as usual, as troops kept watch along the razor-wire perimeter fence encircling the grounds.
Officials had warned that just two months after a deadly storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, militia groups and QAnon followers had discussed a fresh attack on the legislature on or about March 4.
Despite the heightened concerns, a procedural vote on a crucial Covid-19 stimulus bill by the full Senate took place without disturbance, with Vice President Kamala Harris present to cast the tie-breaking vote.
“We’re way ahead of where we were last time because we have fences and we have National Guard and the rest,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, though adding it “made sense” to reduce activities on Capitol Hill.
At the same time, she played down their response, saying the House’s legislative calendar was accelerated Wednesday to accommodate other activities.
“I don’t think anybody should take any encouragement that because some troublemakers might show up that we changed our whole schedule,” she said.
Yet worries persisted and the Capitol Police asked the Pentagon to consider extending the stay of the National Guard protecting Congress through May, an official confirmed.
An FBI-Homeland Security bulletin warned of extremists still motivated by unfounded Republican claims of widespread voter fraud in the November presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden over Trump.
Also driving the possible threat is a belief by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory that Trump could be restored to the White House on March 4, which was the date for US presidential inaugurations before 1933.
In late February, some militant groups “discussed plans to take control of the US Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about March 4,” according to the bulletin.
The Capitol Police issued their own alert.
“We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4,” they said Wednesday.
The warnings said the threats were more “aspirational” than developed.
FBI and Homeland Security officials have admitted that they were not prepared and did not give adequate warning about the violent January 6 attack on the legislature, which top officials have called an unprecedented insurrection and an “attempted coup” to prevent Biden from assuming the presidency.
Hundreds of Trump backers forced their way into the Capitol, shutting down the Congressional process to certify Biden as the election winner.
More than 200 have been arrested and hundreds more are under investigation, including members of extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters who espouse ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazi and white supremacist views.
But security officials also said that the threat is ongoing and could continue through 2022.
The bulletin said that the most violent groups have also spoken of using explosives, with Biden’s yet-to-be scheduled plan to address Congress a possible target.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Congressional hearing that his agents had 2,000 open cases dealing with domestic extremists, double the number from 2017.
While security officials have avoided tying the violence to Trump, who now lives in Florida, they say one driving force remains the unfounded claims that his 2020 election loss was due to widespread voter fraud.
Trump repeated the claim last Sunday in an address to the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
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