A threat against the Capitol that prompted House of Representatives leadership to cancel Thursday’s session thankfully amounted to nothing.
Capitol Police warned on Wednesday that they “obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an unidentified militia group on Thursday, March 4.” That finding was echoed by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the leading Republican on the homeland security committee, who said on CNN on Wednesday that “President Trump has a responsibility to tell them to stand down. This threat is credible. It’s real. It’s a right-wing militia group.”
Rep. Michael McCaul says fmr. Pres. Trump has a responsibility to tell extremists, who believe Trump will be inaugurated on March 4, and who the FBI say are plotting a possible attack on the US Capitol, to stand down. “This threat is credible. It's real." https://t.co/txZq2tbwMH pic.twitter.com/n4X4WbwTIo— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) March 3, 2021
Trump did not tell anybody to stand down, but thankfully all was quiet anyway around the Capitol on Thursday, where the Senate began debate on the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill despite the House’s decision to shut down for the day.
March 4 is a significant date in QAnon — a cultish, deranged conspiracy theory whose adherents believe Donald Trump is secretly fighting a global child sex trafficking cabal led by prominent Democrats. Vox’s Nicole Narea explains the theory’s fixation with March 4 in all its convoluted detail, but in brief: Some believers held that March 4, which was the date presidents were inaugurated until the 20th Amendment was adopted in 1933, would be when Trump would be inaugurated for another term of office. The Trump International Hotel located just blocks away from the White House even tried to capitalize on the conspiracy theory by raising room rates for the date.
But Jared Holt told Vox that he “did not find any of the usual tells we tend to see when online extremism is about to translate into real-world mobilization prior to March 4.” Holt is a resident fellow at DFRLab focused on domestic extremism; he correctly warned in the days leading up to the January 6 insurrection about internet chatter indicating pro-Trump demonstrations that day could spiral out of control.
“In recent days, even, many extremist influencers and communities actively discouraged participation in any would-be action on that date,” continued Holt in a Twitter direct message. “Although large mobilization was incredibly unlikely by standard measures, there continued to exist an ever-present risk posed by small groups or individuals who may feel compelled to act on their extremist beliefs.”
Holt noted that while the House’s decision to shut down for the day and all the security precautions around the Capitol “may seem like overkill,” the January 6 insurrection that left five dead “is still incredibly fresh on the minds of law enforcement and I’m not surprised that officials are acting with an abundance of caution.”
Indeed, law enforcement officials seemed to be trying to avoid a repeat of what happened on January 6, when numerous intelligence memos warning about the threat of violence from Trump supporters who gathered in Washington, DC, to protest the election on the day weren’t sufficient to prevent law enforcement from being overwhelmed by the MAGA mob.
While law enforcement officials are being extra careful these days, Republicans who egged on the insurrection by spreading lies about the 2020 election are not. On Thursday, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) — both of whom supported Trump’s efforts to overthrow the election — went on Fox & Friends and argued that despite the active threat at the Capitol, they saw no need for the National Guard’s continued presence.
“I think the idea of keeping [the National Guard] there indefinitely, and keeping a barbed wire fence around the Capitol indefinitely is crazy,” Hawley said.
On the day that the House is shut down because of a threat of violence, pro-insurrection Sen. Josh Hawley rails against National Guard troops being stationed at the Capitol pic.twitter.com/LIjTKmzbFU— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 4, 2021
But if Trump-supporting Republicans really wanted to reopen the Capitol, the best thing they could do is denounce the lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election that continue to inspire deranged Trump supporters to try and take matters into their own hands. Instead of doing that, however, the Republican Party remains largely unified behind the false notion that Joe Biden’s victory was tainted.
While Republicans like Hawley and Waltz see no need for the continued National Guard presence at the Capitol, Capitol Police disagree. On Thursday, the force reportedly requested that the National Guard stay at the Capitol for at least two more months, citing ongoing security concerns. That request came a day after a House hearing where Capitol Police acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers that threats against lawmakers have increased nearly 100 percent year over year.