By Aara Ramesh
Four months later, America is just starting to grapple with the iceberg that is the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. While the political debate over the nature of the insurrection rages on, federal law enforcement have been working behind the scenes to identify, arrest, charge, and prosecute those involved in the attack.
As of May 6, around 440 people have been arrested for the attack, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). At least 45 of those are either currently serving in the armed forces, or are former members. A further 10 of those arrested are either former or current members of various law enforcement agencies. Despite some rioters claiming that they were not there to harm police and were actually protecting them, the five deaths included one Capitol Police officer and an ex-Air Force veteran; there were also injuries to 140 other officers.
On May 13, 40-year-old Christopher Warnagiris, a Major in the Marine Corps was arrested for participating in the insurrection, becoming the first active-duty service member charged by the government in this riot. Warnagiris, who has been in the military since 2002, faces federal charges that include assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, and obstructing law enforcement during civil disorder. The maximum sentence he might be handed ranges from five years in prison to 20 years. There is no indication of whether the military will take additional action against him, though the Marine Corps said they would cooperate with authorities, as some forms of “protest activity” and “negative behaviors” are strictly prohibited under the Corps’ code.
In February, new Defense Secretary General Lloyd Austin instituted a 60-day, service-wide “stand-down,” to allow top officers to discuss the rising threat of right-wing extremist ideology with their subordinates. In April, General Austin established the “Countering Extremism Working Group” to investigate the scope of the problem, which is complicated by insufficient data. Part of these efforts will involve better training and preparing those leaving active military duty. The goal is to teach them to be on the lookout for possible recruitment efforts by extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers, an extremist anti-government militia with a focus on “recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel.”
On May 14, a federal judge refused to release a Texas man who boasted on a Zoom call of his exploits at the Capitol, and his plans to attack a “prominent” social media company’s facility in Wylie, Texas. Guy Wesley Reffitt has ties to the “Three Percenters,” an anti-government extremist militia whose members consider themselves modern-day Revolutionary War soldiers fighting governmental oppression. Prosecutors allege that Reffitt took an AR-15 rifle and a pistol with him to the riot in January. The judge presiding over the case indicated that she did not believe his threats to be baseless, and that there was a chance his release would endanger public safety. Reffitt is currently jailed in Washington DC.
The scale of the investigation is staggering. According to the FBI, in addition to the 270,000 digital tips submitted to the agency by the public, the government has examined over 15,000 hours of surveillance and body-camera footage and has issued a total of 900+ search warrants. The DOJ said it expects to arrest “at least 100 more” people and added that this is “likely the most complex investigation [it has] ever prosecuted.”
The charges so far range from assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, with some rioters additionally being charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon in relation to this; to entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds and/or entering the Capitol with a dangerous or deadly weapon, as well as destruction of government property. The government is also looking into conspiracy activity before, during, and after the attack.
The Department of Homeland Security launched a new initiative earlier in May, designed to collate and analyze data from social media platforms in an effort to predict security threats in advance. Though the DHS does not intend to identify individuals and is, rather, focused on “potential security threats based on emerging narratives and grievances,” there are some who say that the move is reminiscent of controversial, sweeping legislation implemented in the aftermath of 9/11, including the Patriot Act, which were then labeled as threats to civil liberties and the rights to privacy and free speech.
Last week, the US Attorney General and the Homeland Security Secretary both said that right-wing, white supremacist extremists represent the largest domestic threat facing the country. In March, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that his organization classified the insurrection as an act of domestic terrorism.