Online threats, armed protestors and other red flags law enforcement ignored before Jan. 6

A new three-part investigation by The Washington Post into the forces that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 reveals how advance warnings of violence were ignored, and how unprepared the Capitol Police force was. The Post's senior Washington correspondent, Philip Rucker, joins Judy Woodruff with more details.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Advance warnings of violence ignored, an unprepared Capitol Police force, a president who for three hours refused to tell the mob to disperse, and hundreds of personal threats against election officials across the country over the past nine months.

    These are just some of the findings in a new three-part investigation by The Washington Post into the forces that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

    Here to walk us through it is one of the more than two dozen reporters who worked on the project, The Post's senior Washington correspondent, Philip Rucker.

    Phil Rucker, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you so much for being here.

    So, there has already been, as you know, so much reporting on January 6. There have been investigations. Why did The Post decide to do an additional deep accounting?

  • Philip Rucker, The Washington Post,:

    A couple of reasons, Judy. And thanks for having me here.

    First, there was more information to learn. We talked to more than 230 sources in the government, other key officials and figures who were involved in the run-up to January 6, the event itself, the aftermath. We reviewed thousands of pages of court documents and other internal records at the FBI and Justice Department and found out scores of new details about what led to the attack, the aftermath of it and, most importantly, I think, some of the red flags that were ignored by the FBI, the DOJ and the other agencies in those days before January 6.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's start with the red flags, because the report says red flags were everywhere beforehand, that this was carefully planned from one end of the country to the other.

    What's an example of one of those?

  • Philip Rucker:

    For example, on December 20, the FBI got a tip that there had been a threat made against lawmakers, and specifically Senator Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican who was sort of enemy numero uno for President Trump at the time, that people were planning online to wage violence against these lawmakers.

    The FBI closed the case within 48 hours. They deemed it not a significant enough case to warrant further investigation or action. There was a thought within the FBI and within other law enforcement agencies that the people coming to Washington January 6 would not actually be as violent as they turned out to be. Those red flags were ignored.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This was the plan they saw to sneak guns into Washington. There was conversation online about that.

  • Philip Rucker:

    There was.

    And even the morning of January 6, we learned through our review of police chatter at the U.S. Park Police that hundreds of demonstrators, pro-Trump supporters were gathered at the Washington Monument, at the Lincoln Memorial, and they weren't just gathered for a peaceful protest.

    A man was seen with a pitchfork. There were others carrying gas masks and other sort of battle gear. There were backpacks that were left unattended. All these are red flags for law enforcement. And yet they decided not to act in those hours before what we all saw happening at the Capitol.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And another disturbing finding, senior — you mentioned law enforcement — that senior leaders in law enforcement were taking care not to do or say anything that might aggravate the president.

    And this ended up in some instances of creating a bigger problem.

  • Philip Rucker:

    It's exactly right. They didn't want to get on the president's bad side politically. They were wary, of course, of what had happened six months prior at Lafayette Square in the Black Lives Matter protests, where there was a sense that the military had become this political prop for President Trump.

    So they were very sensitive to any suggestion that a decision by law enforcement or the Pentagon could be seen as political in nature.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hence the delay in getting the National Guard.

  • Philip Rucker:

    Exactly…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … to the Capitol.

    And you had then immediately — or, rather, in the aftermath, you describe how unsubstantiated claims of fraud are now not only believed by so many Americans. They are being actively promulgated and promoted by some in the media.

    And one example of that — and we have a clip of it — is — this is FOX News, today is starting to stream a new series of reports by its anchor Tucker Carlson, arguing that January 6 was actually an act of patriotism.

  • Man:

    We are dealing with an insurgency in the United States.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland.

  • Man:

    I have been told that I'm a white nationalist, me.

  • Man:

    FBI! Put your hands up!

  • Tucker Carlson, Fox News:

    They have begun to fight a new enemy in a new war on terror.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Not al-Qaida, white supremacy.

  • Woman:

    False flags have happened in this country, one of which may have been January 6.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They're saying that there's just been way too much focus on an attack on the Capitol; what they were really trying to do was save the country.

  • Philip Rucker:

    Yes, it's really a ridiculous argument, Judy, because we all witnessed what happened on January 6. It played out on live television for us to see.

    And through our reporting in this investigation, we learned even more harrowing details about the violence that happened inside the Capitol. That's the truth. Those are the facts. And it's so important, I think, for every American to understand exactly what happened on January 6, so that we can try to preserve and save our democracy going forward, preventing an attack like that in the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as we mentioned Phil Rucker, so many Americans, though, still are saying when they're asked about this in polls, in surveys that they're either not sure what to believe or they just can't believe that it's what many in the press have said that it is.

  • Philip Rucker:

    Yes. And that's a shame.

    But the reason for that doubt, I think, is because former President Trump in the 10 months since January 6 has tried to sow doubt about what really happened. He's tried to promulgate the big lie that he had won the election, when, in fact, he lost the election. And this continues to be a fantasy for many of his supporters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a growing belief, even one that is false.

  • Philip Rucker:

    That's right. That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Phil Rucker, reporting — part of this reporting team at The Washington Post, thank you very much.

  • Philip Rucker:

    Thank you so much.

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