In the last few days of 2022, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol released its final report, the culmination of nearly 18 months of investigative work aimed at analyzing the facts, circumstances, and causes of the events of Jan. 6, 2021. While the inherent value of this 845-page report to the public record is unquestionable, significant questions remain largely unanswered around two interrelated components of the committee’s investigation: the scope of law enforcement and intelligence failures preceding the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and what concrete steps should be taken to combat both those failures and the rising threat of domestic violent extremism in the aftermath of January 6th.
One of the committee’s three enumerated purposes was the examination and evaluation of evidence developed by government agencies “regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol and targeted violence and domestic terrorism relevant to such terrorist attack.” The report did so in the executive summary, finding that “the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies did successfully detect the planning for potential violence on January 6th, including planning specifically by the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys militia groups who ultimately led the attack on the Capitol. As January 6th approached, the intelligence specifically identified the potential for violence at the U.S. Capitol.”
The report’s chapter on violent extremism, “Be There, Will Be Wild!” lays out a clear and robust summation of the facts known surrounding the violent extremist mobilization that ended in the attack on the Capitol. This chapter provides a clear chronological overview of the role of the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Groypers and other extremists in the events of Jan. 6, including the extensive operational planning by Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio. Rhodes was recently convicted on seditious conspiracy charges related to this conduct, while Tarrio and his Proud Boys co-defendants are set to face their own seditious conspiracy charges at trial in the coming weeks.
Despite this detailed information about the premeditation on the part of violent extremists organizations, the report’s finding that intelligence indicated that groups were planning to “occupy the [Capitol] to halt the vote” was caveated in a subsequent footnote that, given the timing of receipt of much of this intelligence “immediately in advance of January 6th, it is unclear that any comprehensive intelligence community analytical product could have been reasonably expected.” While, to be sure, some information was received by law enforcement up to the eve of Jan. 6, to suggest it was brought to the attention of officials too late to respond is a fundamental mischaracterization of the evidence at hand.
One such instance was detailed in recent testimony in the Rhodes trial, involving a recording of a Nov. 9, 2020 video call held by the Oath Keepers – in which Rhodes warned of a “bloody, bloody civil war” – the details of which were provided to the FBI on Nov. 25, 2020. According to testimony, the tip was not followed up on by law enforcement until the tipster, who surreptitiously recorded the meeting due to his concern regarding the rhetoric being espoused and the clear escalation toward real-world violence by the Oath Keepers, re-submitted the tip in March 2021. And that is just one of very many pieces of information that the FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies received in the months and weeks preceding Jan. 6.
While sidestepping the question of law enforcement and intelligence failures – even after the exposition of preplanning by organized domestic violent extremist groups in the leadup to Jan. 6 – the report stops well short of detailing exactly what should have been done once this detection took place. Indeed, a specific blow-by-blow accounting of the exact steps taken by state and federal law enforcement or intelligence agencies in the days and weeks leading to January 6 was relegated to one of the four appendices, with an absence of substantive analysis surrounding how to mitigate such failures in the future.
The absence of recommendations concerning violent extremism and law enforcement represent two of the most glaring omissions in the report. The intelligence failures that led to Jan. 6 have been meticulously catalogued by outside experts and by the U.S. Government Accountability Organization (GAO). The mobilization by both organized domestic violent extremist groups and the broader “Stop the Steal” coalition was plotted largely in plain sight: on social media platforms, in public statements and calls to action, including by public figures and right-wing actors with substantial followings. Despite this feature of the attack, outside of a vague call for “continued and rigorous oversight” of the Capitol Police and a recommendation to designate the Jan. 6 session of Congress a National Special Security Event, the report shies away from addressing the underlying intelligence and law enforcement failures.
If the work of the committee was intended to represent a bipartisan attempt to understand and address the causes of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, analyze the key actors, and recommend corrective measures – including recommendations that could be taken to “prevent future acts of violence, domestic terrorism, and domestic violent extremism, including acts targeted at American democratic institutions” – it is both perplexing and disappointing that the sole recommendation provided in response to violent extremism is a general call for federal agencies to “move forward on whole-of-government strategies to combat the threat of violent activity posed by all extremist groups” and “review their intelligence sharing protocols.” Against the backdrop of broader federal inaction in the face of a resurgent domestic violent extremist threat, the committee’s failure to provide substantive, actionable, or relevant policy recommendations on this subject represents more than just a missed opportunity. It is an unfortunate abrogation of responsibility.