Newly obtained documents reveal the FBI’s real-time reaction to the intensifying violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, a quick escalation from believing that there were no credible threats of violence to witnessing multiple law enforcement agencies dispatch officers across the city. The FBI released bulleted internal briefs with intel on credible threats, the size of the crowds and the status of other police departments and Secret Service officers across D.C. The FBI’s real-time reports escalated from detailed and unconcerned to urgent and distressed, then may have paused altogether during the most critical hours of the insurrection.

In the FBI’s initial 10 a.m. briefing on January 6, the agency’s intel included that as of 9 a.m, 10,000 people were “trying to go through” the magnetometers for Trump’s rally near the White House. The brief noted that some people in the crowd wore ballistic helmets, body armor, carried radio equipment and military-grade backpacks—and mentioned a redacted, uncorroborated claim—but informed that there were “No credible threats at this time.” By the time of the brief’s release, the Secret Service was aware that the crowds had “approximately doubled since 9am” to approximately 20,000 people by 10 a.m. The brief ended with, “Nothing from legal, Public Affairs; FBI Police.” A prior CREW investigation found the Park Police already being overwhelmed by rioters by 9 a.m.

The agency’s 12 p.m. briefing increased in urgency and detail, including intel on multiple reports of suspicious packages from both the FBI and DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) that people could not take through the magnetometers. The Secret Service was also aware of a large number of abandoned bags. Approximately 25,000 people were reported to be present between the Washington Monument and White House, with 400-600 protestors on the Capitol grounds, according to the Capitol Police.

The MPD at the time was “actively following reports of armed individuals around the city,” and had arrested and dispersed people at the Washington Monument after large groups had breached its bike racks. The Capitol Police, meanwhile, had no issues and had made no arrests. The FBI Police also appeared to have no issues, but the FBI building’s visitor center and 9th Street pedestrian entrance was closed “out of an abundance of caution.”

The FBI’s intel intensified most significantly in the 2 p.m. briefing, timestamped just before the hour. The MPD had declared a riot—which was repeated twice—and was holding all of its officers over until further notice. The intel bullets involved addresses of potential devices and reported “Lots of activity” amid the several thousand people now near the Capitol. The Capitol Police were aware of two devices and noted that the Metro Transit Police, FBI, MPD, and Capitol Police were all working. Public Affairs, which had no updates in the previous briefs, had received several inquiries about devices on Capitol Hill, evacuations, and a request from the media company Hearst about the size of the crowd. The FBI closed its 10th Street vehicle entrance in addition to its pedestrian entrance.

According to the documents, what appears to be the 4 p.m. briefing is marked with a timestamp of 9 p.m.—hours after the peak of the violence at the Capitol, an hour and a half after the Capitol Police had secured the Capitol building and over seven hours since the previous brief was sent. By the time of the brief, the FBI was aware of the MPD and others “assisting” at the Capitol. MPD officers were deployed across D.C. and a redacted agency was facing “no significant issues.” Public Affairs received requests for a comment on the suspicious devices, and the Secret Service had nothing to report.

While it is not clear when the brief was sent, the hours between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. were the height of the chaos and violence at the Capitol. The Secret Service took then-Vice President Mike Pence and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from the Senate and House floors shortly after 2 p.m., and soon after, the protestors breached the Senate chamber and began marching through the Capitol building. By 6 p.m., police began working to clear the Capitol and secure the building. By approximately 9 p.m., Pence had reopened the Senate, and Pelosi was bringing the House back into session.


Capitol photo by Tyler Merbler under a Creative Commons license.

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