Prosecutors believe some of the protesters were planning to kidnap U.S. lawmakers
U.S. prosecutors specializing in counterterrorism are investigating a case involving two suspects who were pictured with plastic ties, tools often used in kidnappings.
The Department of Justice’s Homeland Security Terrorism Unit has taken part in an investigation involving Larry Brock of Texas and Eric Munchel of Tennessee. They face charges of trespassing, forcible entry and disorderly conduct after they were photographed at the Capitol wearing tactical suits. This is according to court documents released Sunday and Monday. Who is representing the suspects is not yet known.
Counterterrorism officials have joined the investigation as there is mounting evidence that some of the rioters openly plotted to kidnap or harm lawmakers to prevent them from certifying the results of the electoral college vote confirming Joe Biden’s victory.
Charges include trespassing, misdemeanor firearms offenses, assault on police and others. Federal prosecutors have said they are considering other charges ranging from conspiracy to sedition to murder after Capitol Police Officer Brian Siknick died.
Based on intelligence reports by independent groups that have monitored social media, it is suspected that some of the protesters conspired in advance to commit violence at the Capitol.
Democratic Congressman Jason Crow said Sunday, citing information from U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, that there are at least 25 domestic terrorism investigations into the incident.
A Justice Department spokesman did not respond to questions about how many of the investigations had a counterterrorism focus.
There has been considerable debate in recent years about whether the Justice Department has sufficient legal tools to combat domestic terrorism, which is defined by law as “acts dangerous to human life,” threatening civilians, influencing government policy through intimidation, or influencing government decisions through mass murder or kidnapping.
Tom O’Connor, a retired FBI agent who worked on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, told Reuters that a separate law with more severe penalties for those found guilty of committing terrorist acts within the United States is needed.
“Congress needs to change the penalties for domestic terrorism,” he said.
Michael Herman, a former FBI agent who now works for the Brennan Center for Justice, disagreed, saying there are already 51 crimes that count as domestic terrorism, in addition to a host of other laws that can be used to prosecute violent acts by right-wing extremists.
He believes that the FBI had not previously put enough effort into dealing with right-wing extremists, and that some of the rioters were probably repeat offenders who felt encouraged because they got away with it.
“I’m sure that when they investigate, they will find that this is not the first time that these people have committed acts of violence, and some of the accused have a criminal record,” he said.