Arrest First, Learn about Right Wing Terrorism Later

In his Senate testimony the other day, FBI Director Chris Wray was not particularly cognizant of the granular details of the investigation into January 6. But he said something else, repeatedly, that bears consideration.

In response to a Dick Durbin question about whether he agrees that the Capitol attack involved white supremacists and other violent extremists, Wray responded by explaining that as the FBI arrests more and more people, it is developing a better understanding of the motivations behind those involved in the attack.

We’re seeing quite a number, as we’re building out the cases on the individuals we’ve arrested for the violence, quite a number of what we would call militia violent extremists, so we have a number who self-identify with, you know, the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, things like that. We also have a couple of instances where we’ve already identified individuals involved in the criminal behavior who we would put in the racially motivated extremists who advocate for what you would call sort of white supremacy. Some of those individuals, as well — one of the things that is happening is part of this is that as we build out the cases on the individuals when we arrest them for the violence we’re getting a richer and richer understanding of different people’s motivations.

Then, in response to a Chuck Grassley question about how the FBI will learn more about alleged left wing extremists (which Wray answered for anarchists), Wray said that by arresting these people, the FBI is learning about their tactics and tradecraft.

I think as with any domestic terrorism threat or, frankly, any counterterrorism threat more broadly, we’re also looking to develop more and better sources so we get more visibility and insight into the plans and intentions, tactic, tactics, procedures of any group of violent extremists. Another is to get better at how to navigate around some of the operational trade craft that they use. So, the more times, the more arrests we see and this is relevant both for the anarchist violent extremists and the racially motivated violent extremists, for example, the more arrests you see, that’s obviously good news that we’re arresting people that need to be arrested. There’s a whole ‘nother part of that is really important. The more arrests we make, the more from those cases we learn about who else their contacts are, what their tactics are, what their strategies are, et cetera. And that makes us smarter, better able to get in front of the threat going forward.

Finally, when Amy Klobuchar asked if the attack was planned and coordinated, Wray first responded that there were aspects that had been planned. Then, in response to a specific question about the Proud Boys’ coordination, Wray explained that the FBI is escalating charges after initial arrests based on what they learn subsequent to the initial arrest.

There have been a growing number of charges as we continue to build out the investigation, either individuals who are now starting to get arrested involving charges that involve more things like planning and coordination or in some instances individuals who were charged with more simple offenses, but now we’re superseding as we build out more of an understanding of what people were involved in. And there were clearly some individuals involved, which I would consider the most dangerous, the most serious cases among the group, who did have plans and intentions and some level of coordination.

None of this is surprising. It has been apparent from the court filings in the investigation.

But the significance of it is worth considering. The FBI blew it in advance of the attack for reasons that have yet to be confirmed but at least seem to arise from an unwillingness to see right wing terrorism being planned in plain sight. But, as I’ve repeatedly said, the nature of the attack is such that every single person who entered the Capitol and many of those who remained outside, physically fighting cops, committed a crime. And so, based on those trespass crimes, the FBI is arresting a lot of people. Because that’s the way the investigation has rolled out — and because, for every single trespass defendant, the record of what they said about their actions in advance make the difference between getting charged for obstructing the vote count or not — it means the FBI arrests people before they’ve done a lot of investigation they otherwise might do before an arrest. For better and worse, that means that the FBI is arresting people and then conducting intrusive collection on them, starting with their cell phone, even for people who seem to be just trespass defendants. That further means that the FBI will get access to communications that will support conspiracy charges when they otherwise would have a difficult time making such charges without a domestic terrorism statute.

There are real problems with this approach — Oath Keeper affiliate Jon Ryan Schaffer moved to dismiss the charges against him because DOJ has left him in an Indiana jail for 48 days without obtaining an indictment. For existing networks that aren’t recognizably a militia, I’m fairly certain the FBI is not seeing associations until after initial detention bids have been lost. Prosecutors have had to backtrack on claims with some notable defendants (such as Ethan Nordean, who got sent released to home confinement as a result).

But it means the FBI will obtain a far more detailed understanding of some of these people than they otherwise would have been able to get. And as it does so, it is seeing the networks of conspiracy that they otherwise might not have.

46 replies
  1. Mitch Neher says:

    “. . . an unwillingness to see right wing terrorism being planned in plain sight . . .”

    And that’s the value of the farcical behavior that the right-wing terrorists put on public display before they decide to “make it real” one day. It’s extremely difficult to take those nut-jobs seriously until . . .

    . . . oops, actually, Rittenhouse did kill two out of the three people he shot in Kenosha. Never mind.

  2. joel fisher says:

    I see a direct line of evil between 2016 SDNY leaking HRC BS in advance of the election and the indifference of the FBI to what apparently was obvious to everybody but them: for decades there has been a large group of right wing scum composed of mad bombers and the insurrectionist scum of 1/6, scum who want to facilitate, but at a certain remove, scum who don’t want to get their hands dirty or get too close, but love to inspire. Also, tour guide scum, can’t forget them. If you claim ignorance, you are part of the problem. I wish someone at the hearing had asked, “Are you really saying you had no idea?” There’s a perjury trap for you.

    • bob atkinson says:

      I don’t believe it was the Fed prosecutors in the SDNY office that was feeding Giuliani but rather rogue FBI agents active and retired who had Giuliani’s ear. The “hotbed of anti-Hillary hatred” was in the New York FBI field office.

      • P J Evans says:

        That’s what I recall – and that’s why Comey made that statement. Makes me wonder who was feeding *him* information, and why.

  3. Xboxershorts says:

    One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that Partisan Outrage Media is designed to make as many people as possible mad as hell at all the wrong people for all the wrong things.

  4. PeterS says:

    I might never understand why LE were so unprepared on 6 January, but it’s not as if the FBI was ignoring all terrorism on the right (I’m not suggesting ew said that).

    Last year Wray testified that:

    “Of the domestic terrorism threats, we last year (2019) elevated racially-motivated violent extremism to be a national threat priority commensurate with a homegrown violent extremists. That’s the jihadist-inspired people here and with ISIS.”

    I’m not qualified to say to what extent all right wing terrorism is racially motivated, but there’s a big overlap.

    In the recent hearing Wray seemed to be saying, as we learn more we know more. Well yes.

    • subtropolis says:

      In the wake of the Whitmer kidnap plot arrests (fortuitously, prompted by someone reporting them) the FBI rolled up a bunch of other militia types in the weeks leading up to the election. (Two of them were killed because they’d decided not to go down without a gunfight.) And there were several arrests last year involving The Base and other accelerationists.

      The FBI hadn’t been sitting on its laurels, exactly. But, all the same, one cannot help but wonder whether they are really on top of this. Not that the situation is all that clear, of course, as there are multiple overlapping “factions” at play.

      But, so were there back in the 90s. The difference being that now, they’ve got the internet, encrypted comms, Russian shit disturbers, and seemingly a whole lot better weaponry.

      It’s a bloody mess, iow.

  5. Neil Covey says:

    This way of approaching the insurrection has issues as you point out; however, it should give the lie to the particular seed Grassley and others in the GQP are trying to plant, which is to say Wray has already confirmed that work done after the arrests of some insurrectionists reveals ties to right-wing groups. He hasn’t said that about any so-called antifa “terrorists.”


    • Charles R. Conway says:

      The anarchists for whom Grassley is looking (“what about..?”) are by nature, anarchists, without much of conspiracy, organization, or planning. “Antifa” activists may certainly be communicating to some extent, but there is no evidence of even any individual Antifa involvement on 6Jan2021. So, Republicans will always accuse the FBI (or IRS, or any US agency) of selective prosecution. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

      • Norskeflamthrower says:

        I am increasingly angry about the use of the term “anarchist” to apply to left wing or right wing politics. Anarchism does NOT appear on the two dimensional line segment of “left” or “right” and anarchism is NOT a brand of democracy. Like the brand “Libertarian”, anarchy does not recognize the rule of the majority and is therefore undemocratic. Note that I did not say is ANTI-democratic

        • dude says:

          In the same vein, is it really necessary to talk about terrorism as though it must have a left or right persuasion? I can see a useful distinction for foreign vs domestic if only because our intelligence and defense agencies have to deal with those divisions. Seems less useful as a matter of left or right. The graduation of protest, resistance, violent resistance (or violent protest) to unending violent resistance and terrorism seem to me to be the key distinctions.

        • PeterS says:

          A common definition of terrorism is the calculated use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.

          I don’t quite see your point, sorry.

        • dude says:

          If you think whole populations have a predominately left or right political persuasion in order to react in fear, I might see where you are coming from. But I don’t think that is the case.

        • PeterS says:

          I don’t understand what that means, but if I can talk about a rightwing thug then presumably I can talk about a rightwing terrorist.

  6. BobCon says:

    One of the encouraging signs politically is the willingness of the Democratic leadership to learn the lessons of 2009 as far as economic policy and the pointlessness of accommodating GOP bad faith.

    In 2009 the Democrats gave into Rahm Emmanuel style thinking and caved on confronting white supremacy too.

    I think they have learned a lesson from 2009 here, although the problem has gotten even worse and it remains to be seen if the Democratic response meets the scale of the problem. But at least they don’t have Rahm as COS wringing his hands over a Politico article that he probably planted.

  7. harpie says:

    This article might be of interest, on the nexus between Big Tech/Social Media, American Law, and American Politics in regard to the response to domestic extremism
    [I know I’m not explaining it very well….]:

    Tech spent years fighting foreign terrorists. Then came the Capitol riot.
    “Nobody’s going to have a hearing if a platform takes down 1,000 ISIS accounts. But they might have a hearing if you take down 1,000 QAnon accounts.”
    Issie Lapowsky March 8, 2021

    • harpie says:

      The part where that sub-head comes in:

      The same can’t be said for domestic extremists. In the United States, there’s not an analogous list of domestic terrorist organizations for companies to work from. That doesn’t mean acts of domestic terrorism go unpunished. It just means that people are prosecuted for the underlying crimes they commit, not for being part of a domestic terrorist organization. That also means that individual extremists who commit the crimes are the ones who face the punishment, not the groups they represent. “You have to have a violent crime committed in pursuit of an ideology,” former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe said in a recent podcast. “We hesitate to call domestic terrorists ‘terrorists’ until after something has happened.”

      This gap in the legal system means tech companies write their own rules around what sorts of objectionable ideologies and groups ought to be forbidden on their platforms and often only take action once the risk of violence is imminent. “If something was illegal it was going to be handled. If something was not, then it became a political conversation,” Eisenstat said of her time at Facebook.

      Even in the best of times, it’s an uncomfortable balancing act for companies that purport to prioritize free speech above all else. But it’s particularly fraught when the person condoning or even espousing extremist views is the president of the United States. “Nobody’s going to have a hearing if a platform takes down 1,000 ISIS accounts. But they might have a hearing if you take down 1,000 QAnon accounts,” said [Nu] Wexler, who worked in policy communications for Facebook, Google and Twitter during the Trump administration. […]

      • PeterS says:

        I recall someone (I think Wray) saying at one of the hearings that there wasn’t a list of domestic terrorist organizations; I thought he must have meant List, because it seemed impossible not to have collected together various names somewhere (I mean, I have a list in my head right now). So that’s what a List would imply is it? That people could be arrested for being members of an organization on the List???

        (Not necessarily a question for you, harpie!)

      • skua says:

        off topic: When FB next claims to prioritise free speech above all else, remember that they blocked news and social services from their platform for a whole country as a bargaining tactic.

      • FL Resister says:

        Those three main points above adequately sum up our present situation.
        Who wrote or said that?
        We need a definition for domestic terrorism. And laws to root out and stop it.

        The refusal to acknowledge white supremacists as a loose-knit network of terrorist organizations and lone actors enabled January 6th to unfold the way it did. For the white guys, there is heavy institutional bias in the FBI. The cops didn’t identify these guys as potentially violent as they became. And don’t forget ROGER STONE, by gosh, was in the middle of all of this, using the goons as body guards. Giving a leader access to one of his on line accounts.

        The original sin of not acknowledging institutional and cultural racism got us these broken toys that Donald Trump uses and abandons.
        Do they think the arrested and jailed are just casualties for the cause or something?

    • BobCon says:

      “Nobody’s going to have a hearing if a platform takes down 1,000 ISIS accounts. But they might have a hearing if you take down 1,000 QAnon accounts.”

      I think that’s the message internally, but what is missing is the reality that if they leave all of those accounts up the GOP will still be after them.

      I think we are past the point where anyone can say Zuckerberg doesn’t know that the GOP is dealing in bad faith, or claim that Facebook is trying to walk a tightrope between two equally unfair extremes. I think it’s clear that he has signed on to the worldview of Joel Kaplan, and at best Zuckerberg is playing for time with minor sacrifices until he can swing back.

  8. Spencer Dawkins says:

    This is an amazingly fair post. Thank you for that.

    One point worth mentioning …

    “But it means the FBI will obtain a far more detailed understanding of some of these people than they otherwise would have been able to get. And as it does so, it is seeing the networks of conspiracy that they otherwise might not have.”

    Also September 11. Also Pearl Harbor. Also Fort Sumter.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  9. Jenny says:

    Thank you Dr. Marcy. Good post.
    Hate and extremist groups have been around for years. The FBI cannot be in the dark about domestic terrorists; the KKK, Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma bombing 1995 and white supremacists and far-right extremists gathered in Charlottesville, August 2017, to name a few.
    Charlottesville was “previews to coming attractions.”
    More awareness after the insurrection about these militant groups embedded everywhere with access to social media to connect near and far. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking hate groups for years. Just in my state, 33 hate groups.

    • TooLoose LeTruck says:

      Seems like an appropriate moment to point out this again…

      “In April 2009, Daryl Johnson was caught in a firestorm because of a report he wrote at the Department of Homeland Security.

      It warned of a surge in activity by right-wing groups, including militias, white supremacists, anti-government activists and others motivated by racial grievances toward the nation’s first black president and the consequences of a faltering economy.

      Republicans in Congress called the report an attack on conservatives. Janet Napolitano, then the secretary of homeland security, apologized for the report and it was withdrawn. Johnson’s unit was disbanded.”

      Anyone remember Alan Berg?

      “Even after a quarter century, the violent murder of Denver talk-radio icon Alan Berg at the hands of a white supremacist group reverberates amid fresh reminders of hate crimes.”

      The beast has been there all along, kind of hiding in plain sight and biding its time… I would have to say that it clearly thinks now is its time…

      Question… why do Republicans immediately start complaining about being ‘singled out’whenever someone starts talking about right-wing extremists?

    • Thomas says:

      SPLC has a very loose definition of hate groups. Its primary mission is fund-raising. I read their stuff, but with a very skeptical eye.

      • Norskeflamthrower says:

        “…I read their stuff, but with a very skeptical eye.”

        This meme of SPLC being a grift was planted a long time ago and gained traction with a number of left leaning folks who were frustrated by our inability to deal with the intractable structural fascism primarily in the South, I was among them. The SPLC provides the information people need to even begin to look for solutions that can NOT happen until we know who the enemy is. My Grampa Ole used to say “don’t piss on your own shoes.”

  10. Martin from Canada says:

    Jon Ryan Schaffer, that’s the guitarist, lyricist and basically the only original band member in Iced Earth (Also, most of the current lineup quit the band after Schaffer was arrested). If you follow the band, or read the lyrics of their songs, it’s not surprising he was involved with the Oath Keepers.

    • gulageten says:

      Recent output seems to reflect that way more than when I followed them in the 90s. The lyrics and imagery then were very typical / ordinary heavy metal fare. But even then, the frequent line-up changes within the band definitely suggested that the core was more stubborn than stable.

  11. CD54 says:

    Any chance DC District is slow walking many of the less obviously violent offenders due to resource and capacity limitations within the courts and jails?

    Would also allow further investigation of lower level offenders and prevent overlooking someone substantial.

    • Dizz says:

      Capitol riot cases strain court system. The Justice Department and the courts are going to extraordinary lengths to prosecute and process hundreds of people who allegedly breached the Capitol on Jan. 6.
      03/10/2021 12:57 PM EST

      A POLITICO review of the more than 250 (and climbing) cases related to the Capitol breach shows that federal prosecutors from Fort Lauderdale to Wichita to San Francisco have heeded that call. So far, over 30 cases are assigned to attorneys who appear to be outside the staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington as it tackles what may be the most sprawling prosecution in U.S. history related to a single event.

      The court has scrambled to respond to the onslaught. During the early weeks following the riot, when the daily court docket grew too long to process the incoming arrestees, one of the court’s three permanent magistrate judges was assigned to back up the magistrate on criminal duty for the month.
      Behind the scenes, the third magistrate judge has been working on the hundreds of search warrants, and similar Capitol riot prosecutors have requested social media and cell phone data.
      And as the ensuing criminal cases are being parceled out to the court’s Senate-confirmed judges, the court’s six active senior judges (who can limit their caseloads) have agreed to help manage the surge by taking a full share of criminal cases doled out by the clerk’s office, a court spokesperson confirmed.
      For the moment, though, the criminal cases related to the storming of the Capitol are piling up.

      • bmaz says:

        What a bunch of garbage. Does it infuse a bunch of cases suddenly? Sure. But this is not new for courts. They can deal. It very much may be harder because of the pandemic concerns, but the courts can consolidate cases, at least pre-trial, and deal. Let’s not get hyperbolic.

        • CD54 says:

          Really? What’s the DC District Federal PD load both pre- and post-riot? Aren’t they traditionally under resourced — or is there built in overcapacity for something like this?

        • CD54 says:

          Apologies for double-dipping. I defer to bmaz experience, but would any US Attorney ever consolidate a suspect/defendant without knowing with pure, complete, total confidence that said defendant was NOT a larger player in a more severe crime, or are Federal prosecutions normally so soft and baggy such that super-ceding indictments are routine and unremarkable.

        • bmaz says:

          Consolidating for court efficiency by relating them and dealing with them en masse happens all the time. This happens every day of every week in state level trial courts. Fed District courts are less used to it but they will be okay.

          And not all defendants will have FPDs. We also have a little system in place for overflow called the CJA Panel program that brings in qualified private attorneys to act as quasi-PDs. Also, many will have privately retained counsel. As the call comes, there will be sufficient representation.

          So, will this “strain” the system? Okay maybe, but it is completely doable, don’t fret over it. We are only two months into this thing, it will be okay. And with Garland getting up to speed and DOJ settling on which big players they really want, they will start pleading out or dismissing on many of the smaller ones. It is a process, but not an unknown or impossible one in the least.

  12. Chetnolian says:

    I think this post is a little too kind.

    When Wray says “we’ve already identified individuals involved in the criminal behavior who we would put in the racially motivated extremists who advocate for what you would call sort of white supremacy” the proper question is “Why did you not know about them already?”

    There might be an interesting exercise to be done to find out how many of the “racially motivated activists” who invaded the Capitol were also at 2018.

  13. harpie says:

    W O W !!!
    Look at THIS!
    3:32 PM · Mar 10, 2021

    MAJOR new investigative resource: @jan6evidence is a brand new visual investigations platform built for the #Capitol siege. case

    Footage organized and tagged by people, location, time etc.
    Check it out now: 1/ [THREAD]

    Ryan Reilly:

    Some of the citizen sleuths behind the open-source effort to identify the hundreds of Donald Trump-loving rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol have launched an impressive new website that organizes the stunning amount of digital evidence collected about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

    The website,, was built by a small team of volunteer software developers, using the work of open-source investigators looking into the deadly Capitol attack. The site features a color-coded timeline that reflects the time of day, and allows users to click around on a map of the Capitol and pull up any video evidence from a particular location and time frame. Users can even track an individual suspect’s movements over the course of Jan. 6. […]

  14. harpie says:

    7:57 AM · Mar 11, 2021

    [From the screenshot] Citing private [underlined], off-color jokes where Caldwell discussed “hanging the traitors” and going after politicians, the Government attempts to characterize the defendant as a danger to the community. Caldwell’s “locker room” talk and male bravado, however, was not intended for public consumption, was likely done under the influence of prescription painkillers 7, and didn’t result in him committing one act of violence – – on January 6th or before. […] In reality, Caldwell is a beaten down-man who is suffering in pain and agony […]

    • harpie says:

      Part 2:
      8:56 AM · Mar 11, 2021

      The Court, respectfully, was misinformed about the purpose of the “cell phone” gun. This gun is a legal firearm under the Gun Control Act, and can be bought like any other firearm. It is a surprisingly popular gun among individuals, like Caldwell, who have concealed carry permits. 14 It is colloquially known as the anti-“Karen” gun, a reference to citizens with a predisposition to quickly dial 911 at the drop of a hat. In other words, the purpose of the gun is to avoid having police unnecessarily called by concerned citizens who are unaccustomed to concealed permit holders (lawfully) carrying a firearm, which is quite common in rural areas like Caldwell’s area of residence. In fact, the inventor of this particular gun has publicly stated that his motivation for creating this firearm stemmed from an incident were hypersensitive citizens freaked out upon]

      • bmaz says:

        So what? Almost all of these mopes should be given modified release. This is all a monumental waste of time, resources and energy. Order separation from any and all weapons, order them into strict home confinement with the highest level of electronic monitoring and be done with it. All this micromanaging and demand for detention is not just counter to presumptive release but is asinine by DOJ.

        • harpie says:

          Yes. Let the Judge figure it out.

          What I find interesting, is which words and “excuses” are put forward.
          What I wonder is how the Judge will judge those words and “excuses”.

        • harpie says:

          I agree with you about whether DOJ should be expending so much effort on this. Do they think the kind of release you contemplate is not enough for particular people? And if so, why? [But I guess they might not answer that!]

        • bmaz says:

          I can’t speak for what they think, but I think it’s ludicrous. And courts ought not be buying into all of it. Start issuing the release orders and let DOJ know they should knock this crap off.

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