U.S. Capitol Police have ramped up security after officials said they discovered a “possible plot” by a militia group to break into the Capitol on Thursday, nearly two months after a riot inside the building left five people dead.
“We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4,” Capitol Police said Wednesday in a written statement. “We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers.”
Officials said they increased police personnel to supplement the hundreds of armed National Guard troops who have been patrolling Capitol grounds behind a razor wire-topped fence erected after the Jan. 6 attack.
The militia group was not identified, but some say the threat stems from supporters of the far-right conspiracy theory group QAnon. Members reportedly believe that former President Donald Trump will be sworn in again on March 4, which had been designated as Inauguration Day until 1933 when it was switched to Jan. 20.
QAnon members believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Mr. Trump, who has raised unfounded allegations of election fraud.
Leaders of the House of Representatives announced Wednesday evening that votes scheduled for Thursday will be canceled due to the security threat.
Acting Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told a House panel earlier Wednesday that “some concerning intelligence” about a possible plot was uncovered but any further details are “sensitive.”
Chief Pittman is one of several law enforcement officials Congress is scrutinizing for their response to the Capitol riot that erupted after a pro-Trump rally. Lawmakers say they want to understand why it took hours to quell the mob that toppled bicycle-rack barriers, broke windows and stormed the building in an effort to stop the certification of the election.
The commanding general of the D.C. National Guard said Wednesday that top defense officials waited more than three hours to approve his urgent request to deploy troops for reinforcement.
Maj. Gen. William Walker described the unusual delay in his opening statement during a joint Senate committee hearing.
Gen. Walker said he sent the request for troops after a “frantic call” for assistance from then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, whose voice was “cracking with emotion.”
“Immediately after the 1:49 p.m. call with Chief Sund, I alerted the Army senior leadership of the request,” Gen. Walker said. “The approval for Chief Sund’s request would eventually come from the Acting Secretary of Defense and be relayed to me by Army senior leaders at 5:08 p.m. — 3 hours and 19 minutes later.”
At least 155 Guard troops could have been sent to the Capitol hours earlier if the request had been approved, he said.
“I believe that number could’ve made a difference,” Gen. Walker said. “We could’ve helped extend the perimeter and helped push back the crowd.”
In response to a question from Sen. Gary Peters, Michigan Democrat, the general said he was able to obtain immediate authorization for troop deployment from top officials during racial justice protests last year.
Asked why approval stalled on Jan. 6, the general said senior Army leaders were concerned about “optics” and whether it could further “incite the crowd.”
“[Lt.] Gen. [Charles] Flynn and Gen. [Walter] Piatt were talking about optics and they both said that it wouldn’t be in our best interest to have uniformed Guards members at the Capitol during the election confirmation,” Gen. Walker explained.
Asked if the “issue of optics” came up when Guard members were sent to the Capitol grounds and surrounding areas last year, Gen. Walker said it “was never discussed,” which also was “unusual.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, asked Robert Salesses, an official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense, homeland defense and global security, to explain why optics were a problem.
Mr. Salesses said Gen. Piatt denies having said “anything about optics” and the general was not a “decision maker” that day, rather, approval came from then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and then-acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
With regard to whether Gen. Piatt had discussed optics, Gen. Walker said “there were people in the room with me, on that call, that heard what they heard.”
Gen. Walker also said that he found it “unusual” that the officials mandated that he obtain permission from the Army secretary for Guardsmen to move from one traffic control point to another on Jan. 6.
“[In] 19 years, I never had that [happen] before,” Gen. Walker said.
Mr. Salesses said due to criticism over a “number of things that happened” during protests last year, Mr. Miller “wanted to make the decisions of how the National Guard was going to be employed on that day.”
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.