The day before the insurrection, the Department of Homeland Security Federal Protective Service (FPS) prepared statements downplaying the threat on January 6th, before sending officers to help dispel rioters who FPS noted had been encouraged by former President Trump to march to the Capitol, according to internal emails obtained by CREW. The emails show FPS’s realtime reaction to the riot.
FPS highlighted restaurant and store closures in the downtown DC area and noted the fact that multiple hotels had sold out in advance of the rallies. The agency also identified dozens of different protests and rallies planned for January 6th and the number of attendees committed on Facebook.
One rally was called “Election Fraud and Electoral College Protest (Eat Pray Kill).” Other rallies explicitly referenced plans to “March on Congress” to “stop the steal,” and had around 1,000 committed attendees.
On January 5th, after apparently referencing three public news reports about the Proud Boys and street closures in DC, FPS prepared a statement downplaying the threat to federal buildings and saying that their “first goal is always to protect the first amendment rights of demonstrators so that they remain safe and federal operations can continue unfettered.”
On the same day FPS prepared that statement, they also circulated a list of federal buildings as “projected locations for First Amendment Activities” that did not include the US Capitol.
While FPS publicly downplayed risks, it issued an internal Information Bulletin on January 5 noting that “domestic extremists…will likely participate in First Amendment protected activities and use the activities as an opportunity to…motivate followers to promote violence”
The dissemination list for FPS’s January 5 bulletin only included federal agencies. Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police were not included, and the media was specifically excluded.
At 9:45 AM on January 6th, FPS’s Capitol Police Liaison noted the permit for the protest at the Freedom Plaza had been changed from 5,000 to 30,000 participants, and the Ellipse was permitted for 30,000 but was expecting much more, a sign that the crowd was growing.
The emails reveal how FPS saw the attack on the Capitol in real time, starting with a 12:21 PM email stating “POTUS is encouraging protesters to march to capital [sic] grounds and continue protesting there.”
Around an hour later, an email went out reporting “Multiple Capital [sic] Police and MPD officers reporting injuries on the west front of capital [sic].”
Twenty minutes after that, “Protestors are attempting to breach the East Front of USCP” followed by “The protestors are breaching the upper east terrace.”
At 2:14 PM, a chilling, all-caps email went out: “CAPITOL HAS BEEN BREACHED PROTESTORS ARE NOW INSIDE THE CAPITOL,” which was followed in quick succession by “Capitol is locking down Chambers” and “OFFICERS ARE GETTING SPRAYED WITH OC.”
This marks a radically different course of events than they were predicting the day before. In drafted statements to respond to press inquiries, FPS officials wrote “There is no intelligence/information that indicates that FPS-protected federal facilities will be targeted” and “For the previous two rallies/protests, held on November 14 and December 12, 2020, the events were conducted throughout and in the streets of the downtown DC area with little to no impact on federal facility operations.”
While the Capitol is protected primarily by Capitol Police, it is hard to imagine FPS would be so glib as to downplay the threat to federal buildings if the agency had reason to believe a federal building could be attacked. As they provide a second line of protection for the Capitol, and did that day, one has to imagine they did not see a serious threat brewing.
There is still much we do not know about the federal response to the violent insurrection on January 6th. This was just the first production as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by CREW. While we will publish all information as it comes to light, to truly get to the bottom of the attack on the Capitol and the government’s response, a January 6th Commission with a broad scope and investigatory powers is needed.
Header photo by Tyler Merbler, available under a Creative Commons license.