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As Inauguration Nears, Concern Of More Violence Grows

At a bus stop on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest in Washington, D.C., a notice from the FBI seeks information about people pictured during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Al Drago
Getty Images
At a bus stop on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest in Washington, D.C., a notice from the FBI seeks information about people pictured during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The violence at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was unprecedented in modern U.S. history — but some pro-Trump extremists are promising it was just a taste of things to come.

"Many of Us will return on January 19, 2021, carrying Our weapons, in support of Our nation's resolve, towhich [sic] the world will never forget!!!" one person wrote on Parler, a site friendly to right-wing extremists. "We will come in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match."

That post was one of dozens spotted by the Alethea Group, which tracks online threats and disinformation. Various virtual fliers circulating on social media promise an "armed march" on Capitol Hill and in every state capital a few days before the inauguration. Other posts promise violence on Inauguration Day itself. One post encourages supporters to meet in D.C. specifically to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from entering the White House.

It's unclear how serious the threats of more violence are, but the continued determination of the president's most die-hard supporters to fight what they incorrectly perceive as an unfair election has some members of Congress wondering: Will the insurrection continue? And how can they stop it?

"What happened on Jan. 6, this past Wednesday, might not be the end of the insurrection, but the beginning," Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois toldNPR's Weekend Edition.

"We need to be concerned," said Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence committee. Krishnamoorthi says he didn't anticipate how large the crowd outside the Capitol would become or that "the president would incite this mob to march on the Capitol to 'go wild' and instigate the insurrection."

"But we, at this point, have to be wiser to what's possible — and we have to prepare accordingly," he said. "Our democracy will be OK; we just have to defend the Constitution and our country at all costs, at this point."

The Washington Post reportsthat FBI agents are investigating whether some of the Capitol rioters intended not just to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College votes, but also to capture or kill lawmakers. "Tell Pelosi we're coming for that [expletive]!" one rioter screamedat law enforcement. Others chanted, "Hang Mike Pence!"

Five people died in Wednesday's violence, including a Capitol police officer. And Krishnamoorthi is just one of several lawmakers who worry about what might be coming next.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, warned Saturday that he was notified of a "disturbing report of a death threat" received Friday by the Iowa Democratic Party. "Threats like this & violence are UNACCEPTABLE," he tweeted.

The likelihood of more violence is one of the reasons Twitter permanently suspended President Trump's account. "Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021," Twitter wrote.

Twitter was particularly concerned by a Trump tweet indicating he wouldn't attend the inauguration. That message "may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a 'safe' target."

Although plans for more armed demonstrations are generally in their early stages, the potential for violence is very real, Alethea Group says. "We're in a tinderbox situation right now," Alethea Group's vice president of analysis, Cindy Otis, told NPR. "Communities online that either participated in Wednesday's violence or supported it are threatening that it was only the beginning of what they have long claimed is an inevitable civil war or revolution."

Otis, a former CIA analyst, says that extremist groups were likely encouraged by seeing how relatively easy it seemed to be to overtake the Capitol building — and how close participants were able to get to political officials whom they see as enemies.

"One would hope that a siege on the Capitol building planned and organized in public view would inspire more preparation by the relevant agencies," she added.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told CNN that the group was seeing online "chatter" from white supremacists online who feel "emboldened" by the current moment. "We fully expect that this violence could actually get worse before it gets better," he said.

Some state legislatures are also concerned about the potential for violence. In the wake of the Capitol insurrection, Florida lawmakers have proposed a measure that would increase penalties for people arrested during a violent protest.

"If you injure a police officer during that period of time, you will go to jail for at least six months," Florida House of Representatives Speaker Chris Sprowls told Fox News. "If you are arrested during an aggravated riot situation, you will spend the night in jail."

Despite heightened security concerns, Biden still plans to be inaugurated on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 20. "We are confident in our security partners who have spent months planning and preparing for the inauguration, and we are continuing to work with them to ensure the utmost safety and security of the president-elect," a senior Biden inauguration official told The Washington Post.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").