Two days before a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, the Secret Service prepared a briefing on the so-called “Wild Protest” set to happen in Washington, DC. It reported that groups that caused violence when they demonstrated in the nation’s capital the previous November were set to come back to protest the 2020 election results, and that the president had invited them. An unknown group was going to host a demonstration called “Occupy the Capitol.” People were organizing caravans to bring attendees in from out of state. In all, the Secret Service was tracking around 82 separate events all aiming to support Trump and contest the election. The Secret Service’s overwhelming response: “There is no indication of civil disobedience.”
The briefing is just one example of the Secret Service’s response to the threats of violence posed by groups hoping to overturn the 2020 election. Documents obtained by CREW offer insight into what was happening in the Secret Service before and during the insurrection.
In the days leading up to January 6th, the Secret Service noticed a number of troubling developments. The Presidential Protection Division was monitoring a “possible ellipse event” as early as December 31st, telling staff that “much of the event is in flux and nothing has been approved by the White House.” As a protest against the certification of election results gained traction on social media, the Secret Service took note of approximately 59 groups that could be involved in the demonstrations. Some of these groups had participated in a pro-Trump demonstration in November in Washington, DC that resulted in 21 arrests for assault, assault on a police officer, possession of a weapon, disorderly conduct and inciting violence. The Metropolitan Police Department also recovered seven firearms at that demonstration.
One event the Secret Service took special note of amongst the deluge was a proposed movement to occupy Capitol Hill. In the January 4th briefing, the agency highlighted a tweet advertising “Operation Occupy the Capitol: Taking Back our Country from Corrupt Politicians.” The agency noted that “Individuals who cannot come to Washington, DC, are encouraged to occupy their local capitols [sic].” At least 1,200 people had liked a tweet promoting the event.
On January 5, Secret Service staff was warned that the Million MAGA March’s website increased from 1,522 individuals planning to attend to 30,894 planning to attend.
Despite ample warning that violent groups were planning to bring thousands more people than anticipated to DC, the Secret Service largely reported that there was “no indication of civil disobedience” based on the social media events scheduled to take place. One such example was a demonstration called “Fight for Trump Washington, D.C.” The Secret Service noted that the purpose of the demonstration was listed as “President Trump invites you to Washington DC for a Wild Time (aka) Fight for your country,” and in the next sentence concluded that “there is no indication of civil disobedience.” In an itinerary for Trump’s speech at the ellipse, the Secret Service reported that “Currently, no negative intelligence has been received.”
Yet on January 6, the Secret Service was quickly embroiled in the response to the attacks. Records show that Secret Service agents provided mutual aid to other law enforcement at the Capitol as they received reports that the outer fence at the Capitol had been breached, that shots had been fired in the Capitol, that someone had heard the sound of an explosion in the rotunda and the Senate chamber had been breached.
There is still much we don’t know. Given all the intelligence that the Secret Service had collected in the days before January 6th, how could the Secret Service repeatedly conclude that there weren’t indications of civil disobedience? Did they miss the evidence or just misjudge the threat in front of them? One explanation could be that there are documents they did not yet turnover. But the documents they did give CREW leave us with more questions than answers.