The greatest domestic terrorism threats facing the United States in 2021 come from racially motivated or antigovernment violent extremists, a senior FBI counterterrorism official told Congressional committees looking into the Jan. 6 Capitol breach on Wednesday.
“Looking forward, the FBI assesses there is an elevated threat of violence from domestic violent extremists, and some of these actors have been emboldened in the aftermath of the breach of the U.S. Capitol,” Jill Sanborn, Assistant Director in charge of the counterterrorism division of the FBI, told the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Committee on Rules and Administration (pdf).
“We expect racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, antigovernment or anti-authority violent extremists, and other domestic violent extremists citing partisan political grievances will very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021 and likely into 2022,” Sanborn said.
She added that known driving factors of domestic violence extremism include “racism, anti-Semitism, perceived government or law enforcement overreach, socio-political conditions, and personal grievances.”
Sanborn’s official warning came right after she said she didn’t know of any firearms being recovered from the breach of the U.S. Capitol, after reports of “armed groups” being involved.
When asked by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) about whether firearms were recovered or if any suspect was charged with firearms offenses, FBI counterterrorism chief Jill Sanborn responded: “To my knowledge, none.”
But in the hearing, Sanborn said that before the Jan. 6 incident, “We knew they would be armed, we had intelligence that they would be coming to D.C., but we did not have intelligence that they would be breaching the Capitol.”
The armed individuals related to Jan. 6 appear to have been arrested by law enforcement outside the Capitol building, including 33-year-old Christopher Alberts, who officers pushed back from the Capitol after suspecting he had a firearm in his possession. They were right.
Another armed individual arrived in D.C. on Jan. 7, a day after the breach, and threatened to proceed to kill the Speaker of the House. A third man, retired veteran Lonnie Coffman from Alabama, was arrested at his vehicle as he returned from the Capitol. Police found nearly a dozen Molotov cocktail explosive devices in his pickup truck, as well as a number of guns, ammunition, and concerning handwritten notes. All men faced firearms charges, among other charges.
Johnson previously told news outlets that the term “armed insurrection” used by some Democratic officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and mainstream news outlets is incorrect as no guns were recovered. The only shooting involved an officer-involved shooting that left one protester, Ashli Babbitt, dead. The officer’s identity has yet to be disclosed.
“I would say, if it’s properly termed an ‘armed insurrection,’ it was a pretty ragtag one,” Johnson said in an interview with The New York Times last week. “This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me. When you hear the word ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask: How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired?” he also said.
Johnson added: “If that was a planned armed insurrection, you really have a bunch of idiots.”
The senator’s comments drew a rebuke from media pundits and congressional Democrats, who attempted to characterize him as someone who is sympathetic to the rioters.
Jack Phillips and Melanie Sun contributed to the report.