The FBI is keeping close watch on domestic violent extremists who might pose a threat to the U.S. Capitol when President Joe Biden delivers a speech before a joint session of Congress next month, a senior FBI official said Friday.
“We have been worried that domestic violent extremists would react not only to the results of an election that they might not see as favorable, but the transition of a government that they may question,” the senior official told reporters on a press call.
“And so I think for the near future as we continue to go through that process — and I would view the first address [to] the nation part of that process — that we are watching very closely for any reaction from individuals that would show either an intent to commit an attack or somebody that has already committed one,” the official said. The official asked not to be named.
The comments came a day after the acting head of the U.S. Capitol Police warned that militia groups involved in the January 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump want to “blow up” the building during Biden’s speech.
“We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desire that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible, with a direct nexus to the State of the Union,” Yogananda Pittman, the acting police chief, told lawmakers.
In response, Pittman said, the Capitol Police force has kept in place security barriers and other enhanced measures implemented after the January 6 attack, measures that she said would likely be removed as the threat dissipated.
A date for Biden’s speech has not been announced. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to delay the address until after Congress completes work on Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday referred a reporter’s question about the threat to the Secret Service.
Threats of right-wing violence ahead of Biden’s inauguration on January 20 led to the unprecedented deployment of more than 25,000 National Guard members to Washington, but the ceremony on the steps of the Capitol passed without incident. Nevertheless, security around the Capitol remains tight, with tall fences around the complex still in place.
The attack on the Capitol left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and at least 140 other officers injured. It has also triggered a wide-ranging FBI investigation of an estimated 800 Trump supporters who stormed the building and others responsible for the attack.
Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin said more than 300 people have been charged and more than 280 arrested in connection with the assault on the Capitol.
“The investigation into those responsible is moving at a speed and scale that's unprecedented, and rightly so,” Carlin told reporters during the press call. “Those responsible must be held to account, and they will be.”
Of those arrested to date, more than two dozen are alleged members of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government group, and the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump right wing organization. But the vast majority of those arrested and charged so far have no known ties to any domestic extremist groups.
The FBI views anti-government violent extremism and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism as “as our top domestic violent extremist threat,” the senior FBI official said.
Last year the FBI arrested about 180 individuals involved in connection with acts of domestic terrorism, the official said.
“We are increasingly arresting more domestic terrorists each year, and … we've arrested more this year than previous years,” the official said.