Twelve National Guard troops have been removed from security duties at the Capitol after questionable behavior was detected in their past during security screening, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Tuesday.
Two from that group had made inappropriate comments or texts about President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. But not all 12 have ties to extremist groups, he said.
“We’re not taking any chances,” said Hoffman, who characterized the comments made by the two as inappropriate texts.
Of the 12, 10 were identified by the FBI in security screening, Hokanson said. Another was flagged by commanders and the final one was identified by an anonymous tipster.
There are about 25,000 National Guard troops in Washington for Wednesday’s inauguration.
The Associated Press initially reported that an investigation revealed two National Guard members had ties to fringe, right-wing militias, then increased that number to 12. No plot against Biden was found.
The Pentagon has been vetting the National Guard members who have been brought in to provide security for the event. The information on the 12 National Guard members comes the same day the Justice Department reported that arrests stemming from the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol surpassed 100. The riot by supporters of President Donald Trump – who believe his false claims the election was rigged – is blamed for five deaths and prompted the unprecedented security preparations ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration.
News you should know:
- The Transportation Security Administration is adding federal marshals to more flights and security dogs at airports. TSA will also aid in security entrances to the “green zone” in downtown Washington.
- Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to attend the inauguration. President Donald Trump is not.
The FBI has warned authorities that extremists, including QAnon followers, may consider posing as National Guard troops to breach inauguration security, two people familiar with the briefing told USA TODAY.
The Washington Post was the first to disclose the information that the FBI had uncovered online chatter indicating possible infiltration of the Guard.
The Post said the FBI on Monday privately warned law enforcement agencies that some extremists have also reviewed maps of areas of the city that could be considered vulnerable, the intelligence report warns. The Post described the document as a summary of threats that the FBI identified in a Monday intelligence briefing.
“While we have no intelligence indicating an insider threat, we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital,” Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said in a statement.
In a briefing last week with Vice President Mike Pence, FBI Director Christopher Wray referred to “extensive” online chatter about the prospect for armed protests.
“One of the real challenges in this space is trying to determine what’s aspirational versus what’s intentional,” Wray told the vice president.
– Kevin Johnson
A self-professed white supremacist was wearing a GPS-enabled monitoring device under terms of his probation when he joined the crowd of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol, according to a court filing accompanying his arrest. Investigators used the monitoring device to retrace Bryan Betancur’s movements on the day of the deadly insurrection. His probation officer in Maryland called the FBI to report that Betancur had claimed to have been inside the Capitol building with rioters.
Betancur told investigators that he has been a member of several white supremacist groups and has expressed a desire to be a “lone wolf killer,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
A South Carolina man who denied being involved in the Capitol riot is facing charges after a tracking app on his phone placed him at the scene. A witness called the FBI the day of the Jan. 6 riot and said they had knowledge and photos of Andrew Hatley inside the Capitol, the complaint states. The complaint includes a Facebook post, since taken down, in which Hatley says “It has come to my attention that there was someone who looks like me at the Capitol. I’d like to set the record straight. I don’t have that kind of motivation for lost causes.” The FBI says it obtained Hatley’s phone number and verified Hatley’s whereabouts on Jan. 6 through the “Life360” location-tracking app, the complaint says.
Hatley is accused of knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority, knowingly impeding government business, engaging in disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol buildings.
– Daniel J. Gross, Greenville News
Temporary security fences and road closures have forced restaurants from BLT Steak to tourist-favorite Old Ebbitt Grill to stay shuttered during what would ordinarily be a busy week fueled by hundreds of thousands of out-of-town visitors. It’s hard to know which businesses have closed because of security measures and which ones are shut for the pandemic. Hundreds of troops are posted on corners and blocking streets with military vehicles. With so little traffic and people in the area, many of the troops are eating breakfast or smoking as they watch passers-by.
A few blocks from the White House, Tom Lien, 49, is keeping his Capitol Grounds Cafe open as long as he can. His cafe, sandwiched between black security fences and a National Guard checkpoint, is doing a lot of business with police officers and soldiers.
“I feel like I’m in a movie with all the military guys,” he said. “I’m sad we can’t celebrate the inauguration normally but it’s something to be able to say I was here where it all happened.”
– Trevor Hughes
The National Mall, a dazzling two-mile stretch of monuments in Washington, will remain closed through Sunday. The National Park Service said it will open areas to the public as soon as possible after Secret Service has removed the security barricades,” Stephanie Roulett, a Park Service spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email Tuesday. The Park Service said on its website that it “anticipates it may take several days” for those barricades to come down.
Bridges into Washington that had closed Tuesday morning were set to reopen 6 a.m. Thursday, according the Secret Service. More than a dozen commuter train stations will remain closed through Thursday.
John Falcicchio, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s chief of staff, said that, in years past, the extent of the beefed-up security in downtown D.C. would typically occur on only Inauguration Day. With so many fences, barricades and road closures, “that will take a little bit of time for it to actually scale down,” Falcicchio told USA TODAY. The exact timing was still being determined.
However, while Falcicchio said he expects to see a more “normal” downtown D.C. in the coming days, the District has to remain vigilant. “We are now in a post-Jan. 6 America and the threat we are facing is from within,” from far-right extremist groups, he said.
“Obviously we don’t want fences and armed troops in our city any longer than they need to be,” Bowser said. But she noted the need for a continued security presence in the District.
– Ryan Miller
Ashley Biden, the daughter of President Elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, said Tuesday that she will not be working in her father’s administration. Biden, speaking on NBC News’ TODAY show, said she hopes to “use this platform to advocate for social justice, for mental health, to be involved in community development and revitalization.” Biden, a social worker and activist who formerly served as director of the Delaware Center for Justice, said she does not expect that her mother will be having tea with first lady Melania Trump anytime soon.
“I don’t think they’re doing the traditional protocol, which is unfortunate, but I think we’re all OK with it,” she said.
A woman accused of stealing Nancy Pelosi’s laptop during the Capitol riot has turned herself into authorities in Pennsylvania. Riley Williams is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds. An informant told the FBI that Williams “intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.” The informant, who claims to be a former romantic partner of Williams, told the FBI the deal fell through. The FBI says Williams either still has the laptop or destroyed it.
The Justice Department has received nearly 200,000 digital tips from the public and brought charges against more than 100 people stemming from Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said Tuesday. Investigations of other suspects are ongoing, Rosen said in a statement. Rosen also pledged “no tolerance for anyone who attempts to mar” Inauguration Day.
“The American people have demonstrated that they will not allow mob violence to go unanswered,” Rosen said. “As Americans, we all should seek to have a safe and peaceful Inauguration Day, and if we hold fast to our country’s Constitution and traditions, we will.”
A Texas man who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 is accused of threatening to kill his two minor children if they told authorities of his involvement, according to federal court documents released Monday. The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington charges Guy Reffitt with obstruction of justice and knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority.
Reffitt is described as an apparent militia member who traveled to Washington with guns to “protect his country.” The affidavit states that Reffitt told his son that “if he crossed the line and reported Reffitt to police, putting the family in jeopardy,” then Reffitt would “do what he had to do.” The son understood the statement as a threat to his life. Reffitt’s wife also told the FBI Reffitt has threatened the family. Reffitt’s daughter told the FBI that Reffitt threatened to shoot her phone if she posted damaging photos on social media.
Most Americans believe the police response to the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol would have been harsher if the rioters had been mostly Black rather than mostly white, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds. A 55% majority says law enforcement would have employed harsher tactics against the melee than they did, almost double the 28% who say the response would have been the same. Just 9% say the response would have been less harsh to a largely Black mob.
“It kind of just showed the whole world about how there’s white privilege and how the justice system really fears on color,” says Jonathan Muteba, 28, an African-American engineer from Somerville, Massachusetts, who was among those polled.
– Susan Page and Sarah Elbeshbishi
Contributing: The Associated Press