The U.S. Capitol is the target of a potential plot by a militia group to attack Democratic lawmakers on March 4 and remains a target for domestic violent extremists, according to a new intelligence bulletin issued by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security obtained by CBS News.
"As of late February, an unidentified group of militia violent extremists discussed plans to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about 4 March and discussed aspirational plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington, DC, to participate," the bulletin reads.
It also notes that Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said militia groups have expressed a desire to blow up the Capitol when lawmakers are attending the President Biden's first presidential address to a joint session of Congress, which has yet to be scheduled.
The House canceled its Thursday session due to the threat. The Senate is scheduled to be in session Thursday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released an updated schedule showing the House would vote on police reform legislation called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on Wednesday night instead of Thursday, enabling the House to wrap up its workweek Wednesday. The measure passed.
Officials have been watching for signs there may be acts of violence in Washington on Thursday, carried out by extremists who are inspired by QAnon conspiracy theories and believe that March 4 will be the day of the "true" inauguration of Mr. Trump. This is the date when presidents used to be sworn in — before the ceremony was moved to January 20. These groups also think that Mr. Trump could return to power on May 20 with the help of the U.S. military.
A separate FBI message suggests that an anti-government group called the Three Percenters has been discussing some kind of action. They believe they are protecting Americans from government tyranny, according to research by the Anti-Defamation League.
But on Tuesday, acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett suggested in a message to members of Congress that the significance of the March 4 date had "reportedly declined" in recent days, and the U.S. Capitol Police had "no indication that groups will travel to Washington D.C. to protest or commit acts of violence."
Still, he wrote, there would be additional personnel posted on the Capitol grounds in the coming days as well as the National Guard troops that have been posted in Washington to secure the area since the January 6 riots. A National Guard spokesman said there are roughly 5,200 soldiers and airmen assisting law enforcement with security in and around the U.S. Capitol. The Guard members are set to remain in Washington, D.C., until March 12.
The FBI and DHS bulletin was published hours later on Tuesday, prompting a new email from Blodgett to lawmakers Wednesday in which he said the Capitol Police had received "new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th – 6th by a militia group."
In a separate statement, Capitol Police said it had obtained intelligence "that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an unidentified militia group on Thursday, March 4."
Melissa Smislova, acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, confirmed at a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday that her division had issued a joint intelligence report with FBI late Tuesday night around midnight.
Pressed by Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson about whether threats to the U.S. Capitol were "ongoing" in nature, Smislova responded, "Yes."
Pittman told lawmakers Wednesday that Capitol Police are calling on law enforcement partners throughout the nation's capital in preparation for possible unrest on March 4 and March 6.
"We have enhanced our security posture," Pittman said. "We have taken immediate steps to let the National Guard as well as our workforce know what to expect tomorrow and going forward."
In her testimony Wednesday, Pittman referred to ongoing threats posed to the U.S. Capitol as "through the roof," noting the USCP have asked for 111 additional dignitary protection officers in the agency's upcoming FY2022 budget. She testified that there has been a nearly 94%increase in threats against lawmakers in the first two months of 2021, compared to the same period as last year, with many suspects residing outside of Washington.
The acting police chief noted intelligence received on the potential for violence was "sensitive," and said she would brief lawmakers in a classified setting later Wednesday.
The FBI and DHS bulletin said that domestic violent extremists' "perceptions of election fraud and other conspiracy theories associated with the presidential transition" may contribute to violent behavior, and that they might try to attack or disrupt planned or unscheduled public gatherings in the D.C. area.
Last week, Pittman told lawmakers that Capitol Police remain on high alert amid chatter by extremist groups threatening violence against members of Congress at President Biden's first address to Congress.
"We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desires 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 ― which we know that date has not been identified," Pittman said last week, pressed about the heightened security posture and barbed wire fencing surrounding the Capitol complex. These measures will remain in place, she said, until the Capitol Police have "address[ed] those vulnerabilities."
Ohio Representative Tim Ryan, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police funding, called the bomb threats "new information" and "obviously disturbing" and said his committee would follow up on the information.