WASHINGTON (AP) -- Law enforcement was on high alert Thursday around the U.S. Capitol after authorities said intelligence had uncovered a "possible plot” by a militia group to storm the iconic building again. The alert came two months after Donald Trump supporters smashed through windows and doors to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden’s victory.
The threat appeared to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that former President Trump would rise again to power on March 4 and that thousands would come to Washington to try to remove Democrats from office. March 4 was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.
Online chatter identified by authorities included discussions among members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group, concerning possible plots against the Capitol on Thursday, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The threat came as the Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies were taking criticism from Congress in contentious hearings this week on their handling of the Jan. 6 riot. Police were ill-prepared for the mass of Trump supporters, some in tactical gear and armed, and it took hours for National Guard reinforcements to come. By then, rioters had broken into the building and they roamed the halls for hours, stalling Congress’ certification effort temporarily and sending lawmakers into hiding.
Lawmakers, congressional staffers and law enforcement officials are still on edge after the attack on Jan. 6, even as security around the Capitol remains at an unprecedented level.
The U.S. House wrapped up its work for the week Wednesday night, but the U.S. Senate still had
a busy day scheduled for Thursday with votes into the evening. Police beefed up their presence in and around the Capitol. About 5,200 National Guard members remain in D.C., the remainder of the roughly 26,000 who were brought in for President Biden’s inauguration in January, which went off with no problems.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and among those briefed about the new threat, said lawmakers were braced. "I think we’ll see some violence here,” he said in an interview.
But unlike on Jan. 6, the Capitol is now fortified against intrusions. "We have the razor wire, we have the National Guard. We didn’t have that January 6. So I feel very confident in the security,” he said.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said during House testimony Wednesday that her investigators had collected "some concerning intelligence,” but declined to provide any details publicly, saying that it was "law enforcement sensitive” and that she would provide a private briefing for the subcommittee members.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also sent a joint intelligence bulletin to local law enforcement officials Tuesday that said a group of militia extremists had discussed trying to take control of the Capitol on March 4 and encouraging thousands of people to come to D.C. to try to remove Democrats from power.
So far, about 300 people have been charged with federal crimes for their roles in the riot. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died.