ILLINOIS — Federal law enforcement officials are warning authorities in Illinois that “threat actors” may exploit Thursday’s one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection by loyalists to Donald Trump who wanted to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election to the presidency.
The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Capitol Police and other police agencies told state and local officials in an intelligence assessment last week that election fraud conspiracy stories persisting among domestic violent extremists could motivate some to “promote or possibly commit violence.”
Thursday’s bulletin, first reported by CNN, advised state and local government officials to keep their eyes open on the anniversary of the insurrection but did not cite a current specific or credible threat.
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Instead, authorities warned that “lone offenders,” rather than organized groups, are more likely to exploit the insurrection anniversary with actions against lawmakers or state and national capitals.
In Chicago, at least one event is planned, but it’s a “Vigil for Democracy” in opposition to the events of Jan. 6.
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Indivisible Chicago said the “Rise Up, Speak Out: A Vigil for Democracy” is at 5:30 p.m. at Federal Plaza, 219 S. Dearborn.
“A year ago, on January 6th, we witnessed a violent attack and attempted coup against our country, our democracy, and our freedom as voters to choose the leaders that represent us so that we have a government of, by, and for the people,” the group said in the Facebook event post. “Those attacks continue. One year later, the same faction that attacked our country on January 6th is hard at work silencing our voices by restricting our freedom to vote, attacking fair voting districts, and preparing future attempts to sabotage.”
The group added, “We will join many thousands of others in hundreds of cities across the country to hold a vigil for democracy. We will add Chicago’s voice to demand that the Senate and President do whatever is necessary to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in January to protect our country from the anti-democratic and right wing forces that are threatening to destroy our freedom to elect our leader.”
For his part, Trump has canceled a Thursday news conference planned at his Mar-a-Lago golf club in Palm Beach, Florida. He reportedly planned to defend the rioters, whose attack was the largest assault on the Capitol since it was destroyed by the British army in the War of 1812.
Four people died in the attack — a rioter shot by a Capitol police officer as she tried to break through a door to the House chamber, two from natural causes, and a fourth from amphetamine intoxication, according to the Washington, D.C., medical examiner.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump said he was calling off the event “in light of the total bias and dishonesty” of the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol and what role the former president may have played in it. Reiterating the baseless claim of election fraud, Trump said he would address “many of those important topics” at a Jan. 15 rally in Arizona.
The warning from federal law enforcement authorities comes as the United States remains at war with itself, with Americans angrily taking sides on issues from the 2020 election to the response to the coronavirus pandemic to racial justice. America hasn’t been this divided since the politically charged 1960s.
And it comes amid a worrying trend with polls showing Americans’ support for political violence against the government appears to be increasing. A new poll from The Washington Post-University of Maryland published Saturday shows that about 1 in 3 Americans believe violence like that displayed in the insurrection is justified in certain situations.
That’s the highest percentage of American adults saying violence is sometimes necessary to achieve political goals since various polls began asking the question more than a decade ago.
In 2010, only 16 percent of Americans said they thought political violence is sometimes necessary, and 23 percent of Americans supported it in 2015, according to polls by The New York Times and CBS News.
Another poll shows that fewer than half of Republicans think the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was violent or very violent — despite its place in history as one of the worst days for violence against police officers since the 9/11 terror attacks.
One Capitol Police officer who suffered strokes after rioters sprayed him with a chemical substance died of natural causes the next day. About 140 police officers from the Capitol Police and the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department were injured, some beaten with their own weapons in an attack one police officer described as “medieval” and another said was like a “trip to hell.”
Their injuries ranged from minor cuts, scrapes and bruises to concussions, rib fractures and burns. One officer lost the tip of his finger. Another suffered a mild heart attack. In the months following the attacks, four police officers who defended the Capitol have taken their lives, according to news reports.
The 6 in 10 Republicans who doubted the severity of the violence are in a distinct minority, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Tuesday.
Overall, two-thirds of Americans described the Capitol siege as very or extremely violent.
The House Select Committee investigating the insurrection plans to make more of its findings public in the coming months, as the former president’s allies persistently reject the idea that he helped instigate the attack. Recent polls show the difficulty of the Select Committee’s task — to convince the American public of the severity of the attack and that its conclusions are fact-based and credible.
- RELATED: Fewer Than Half Of Republicans Say Jan. 6 Insurrection Was Very Violent: Poll | Jan. 6 Committee Prepares To Go Public As Findings Mount
So far, 725 people have been arrested. Among them:
- More than 225 defendants have been charged with counts of assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, including over 75 individuals who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.
- Ten people have been arrested on a series of charges that relate to assaulting a member of the media, or destroying their equipment, on Jan. 6.
- Approximately 640 defendants have been charged with entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds, including:
- More than 75 people charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
- More than 45 people charged with destruction of government property, and over 30 defendants charged with theft of government property.
- Some 275 people have been charged with corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so.
- Approximately 40 defendants have been charged with conspiracy, either to obstruct a congressional proceeding, obstruct law enforcement during a civil disorder, conspiracy to injure an officer, or some combination of the three.
At least 165 people have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges — 145 of them to misdemeanor offenses, and 20 to felonies, including six people who assaulted police officers.
Seventy-one people have been sentenced — 31 to jail time, 18 to a period of home detention and others to probation without jail time.
The FBI is still seeking the public’s help to identify 350 people believed to have committed violence on the Capitol grounds, including 250 who are believed to have assaulted police officers.
The FBI also said it has 16 videos of suspects who are wanted in connection with violent assaults on federal officers, and one video of two suspects who are wanted regarding assaults on the media on Jan. 6. Anyone with tips about the identity of those people is asked to call 800-225-5324 or visit tips.fbi.gov.
In Illinois, around 19 people have been charged in connection the Jan. 6 riot, not including at least two men charged with curfew violations that night in Washington, D.C., but not accused of being inside the Capitol.
Yet to be tried are members of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys and the militia group the Oath Keepers who are accused of plotting to interfere with the election certification.
Sixteen members of the Oath Keepers faced conspiracy charges after federal prosecutors said they coordinated and recruited participants on websites and social media sites in advance of the election certification, then traveled to Washington, D.C., with paramilitary gear including firearms, tactical vests with plates, helmets and radio equipment.
Four members of the Proud Boys have been similarly charged. A federal court judge ruled their conduct on Jan. 6 was not constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, and ordered the trial against them to move forward.
In Illinois, an Aurora man reportedly linked to the Proud Boys was arrested last month, accused of assaulting law enforcement officers with a flagpole while illegally on Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 riot.
In November, the House Select Committee subpoenaed Oath Keepers and Proud Boys members, as well as members of the obscure far-right paramilitary group known as the 1st Amendment Praetorian, or 1AP, to determine if pro-Trump groups planned for violence that day.
None of the members of the group, largely made up of Special Forces veterans and former intelligence officials, has been arrested, but 1AP members were among those outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, The New York Times reported.
Wider Damage To Democracy
This week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Pritzker denounced the attack, calling it “a vicious attack on American democracy.
“Even after these insurrectionists were removed, most Republican lawmakers voted to thwart the will of the majority of voters,” Pritzker said in a statement. “As Americans, we have a sacred responsibility to stand up for democracy and hold accountable those who incited and carried out this attempted coup. We must not allow the Republican Party to rewrite history and sweep the events of January 6 under the rug.”
The insurgency attempt failed in the sense that Joe Biden was inaugurated as the nation’s 46th president on Jan. 20. Still, concerns about the future of democracy persist as states pass laws ostensibly aimed at reducing voter fraud — something credible, nonpartisan organizations say without exception simply doesn’t exist on a substantive level — but in practice making it more difficult for people who have always faced barriers at the polls to vote.
In Illinois, election officials worked to make it easier for residents to vote by mail in light of the pandemic, sending out more than 6 million vote-by-mail applications to registered voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Nearly 2 million voters sent back their applications and received vote by mail applications.
Voters were able to mail back their ballots, or, if they had concerns about shipping their ballot via the U.S. Postal Service, they could leave them in drop boxes in their voting jurisdiction.
Domestically, Trump’s run-up to and tenure in the White House, and the “big lie” about his claim to have won the 2020 election, have spilled into unrelated areas, eroding Americans’ trust in institutions such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration, vanguards in the fight against COVID-19.
Abroad, faith in America lags under the burden of the Jan. 6 insurrection, both in reputation among allies and the potential for exploitation by adversaries.
“Jan. 6 has had a material impact on the view of the United States from the rest of the world, I believe from allies and adversaries alike,” Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told The Associated Press. “Allies look at it with concern and worry about the future of American democracy. Adversaries look at it, you know, more sort of rubbing their hands together and thinking, ‘How do we take advantage of this in one way or another?'”
Former Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Brian Harrell told CNN it’s “not surprising that domestic extremists are still fixated on January 6th events,” but “what should give us pause is how nation-state adversaries will use these types of events to create anxiety and fear amongst the American public.”
“Misinformation continues to be a ‘go-to’ tactic to rile up society,” he said, noting that some news outlets in Russia are promoting content about Trump and the anniversary of the insurrection.
DHS counterterrorism chief John Cohen said at an event last month at George Washington University that the agency is “more focused” in its analysis of various actor-related platforms.
“We are incorporating that understanding into security and law enforcement planning,” he said.
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