Federal prosecutors have been forced to walk back their claim that there is “strong evidence” Trump supporters who stormed the US Capitol in shocking scenes that made international headlines planned to “capture and assassinate elected officials”.
But the FBI is investigating if there had been a plot to kidnap members of Congress and hold them hostage as fears emerge many of the rioters were ex-military or police.
The allegations come as prosecutors filed a motion on Thursday (local time) in Phoenix against Jacob Chansley, who was involved in the insurrection on January 6 with paint smeared across his face, a furry hat with horns and no shirt.
“Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States Government,” prosecutors wrote in their memo, according to The Associated Press.
Prosecutors also urged the judge to keep Chansley behind bars in the memo.
However, Michael Sherwin, acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, backed down from those claims on Friday, saying they have “no direct evidence at this point of kill, capture teams”.
Sherwin said there appears to have been confusion among some prosecutors in part because of the complexity of the investigation and number of people involved.
Prosecutors raised a similar prospect on Thursday in the case of Larry Rendall Brock Jr, a former Air Force officer who they alleged carried plastic zip-tie handcuffs because he intended “to take hostages”.
Chansley is one of the many rioters who have been publicly identified, calls himself the “QAnon Shaman” and has long been a fixture at Trump rallies.
He surrendered to the FBI field office in Phoenix on Saturday.
The prosecutor in the case against Chansley said he left a threatening note to Mike Pence when he climbed on to the dais where the Vice President had been presiding just moment before.
“It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming,” Chansley’s note reportedly said.
Just before the rioters stormed the chamber, Pence and other elected officials were ushered out of the chamber by the Secret Service and US Capitol Police.
Multiple cities and jurisdictions are involved in the investigation due to many of the rioters departing Washington DC and going home.
Only 13 people were arrested in the moments after the Capitol building was cleared.
The FBI is investigating whether any of the rioters had planned on kidnapping members of Congress and holding them hostage.
Authorities have had a particular focus on the men seen with plastic zip-tie handcuffs and pepper spray.
Vice President’s close call during US Capitol riot
Pence was just seconds away from coming face-to-face with the rioters on the day of the siege, inside sources have revealed to The Washington Post.
Lawmakers who were at the Capitol were working on certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
There was a delay in evacuating Pence from the chamber when the rioters stormed the Capitol, the publication reported.
Pence remained at the dais, presiding over Congress for over an hour after the Capitol Police chief alerted superiors officers were at risk of being overrun by the violent mob who had surrounded the building.
Pence was rushed out of the chamber just one minute before a group of rioters made their way to the second floor landing and chased police officer Eugene Goodman who led them away from the Senate, according to The Washington Post.
At the time, Pence was with his wife and daughter, the three of them were in a hideaway, roughly 30 metres away from the landing.
If the mob had arrived just seconds before, they reportedly would have been able to see the vice president.
A noose hung outside the Capitol as the pro-Trump mob descended on the Capitol, some were heard chanting “Hang Mike Pence” after he defied the president and certified the Electoral College’s count.
Ex-military and cops among the rioters
As Trump’s supporters massed outside the Capitol last week and sang the national anthem, a line of men wearing olive-drab helmets and body armour trudged purposefully up the marble stairs in a single-file line, each man holding the jacket collar of the one ahead.
The formation, known as “Ranger File”, is standard operating procedure for a combat team that is “stacking up” to breach a building — instantly recognisable to any US soldier or Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was a chilling sign that many at the vanguard of the mob who stormed the seat of American democracy either had military training or were trained by those who did.
The Associated Press reviewed public records, social media posts and videos, and found at least 22 current or formers members of the US military of law enforcement were at or near the Capitol riot.
In many cases, those who stormed the Capitol appeared to employ tactics, body armour and technology such as two-way radio headsets that were similar to those of the police they were confronting.
Experts in homegrown extremism have warned for years about efforts by far-right militants and white-supremacist groups to radicalise and recruit people with military and law enforcement training.
Those experts say the January 6 insurrection that left five people dead saw some of their worst fears realised.
“ISIS and al-Qaeda would drool over having someone with the training and experience of a US military officer,” Michael German, a former FBI agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said.
“These people have training and capabilities that far exceed what any foreign terrorist group can do. Foreign terrorist groups don’t have any members who have badges.”
With the Associated Press
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