In her first official act as Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines issued a flashing red alert to the country. Jihadi-like Americans, especially those on the political Right, lurk among us and are plotting to commit vicious crimes such as kidnapping and assasinations.
These “US-based actors” allegedly will be moved to violence based on “narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories,” the March 1, 2021 document claims.
Haines divides “domestic violent extremists,” or DVEs, into three categories; a graphic of the U.S. Capitol building sits atop the category entitled “anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists.” That particular brand of terrorist, according to the report, is driven by their “opposition to perceived economic, social, or racial hierarchies or perceived government overreach, negligence, or illegitimacy.” (Perceived?)
The thin, three-page paper does little to substantiate her alarming assessment; it is short on proof but long on political usefulness for Democrats and the media, who continue to stoke fears about so-called domestic terrorists loyal to Donald Trump who orchestrated a “deadly insurrection” on January 6. (The word “unclassified” appeared on each page, as if to give the impression that a thick trove of “classified” material somewhere exists.)
A Politicized Intelligence Community
Haines, of course, takes her cues from the best in the business. As John Brennan’s top deputy at the CIA during the Obama Administration, Haines learned intelligence can be weaponized to work against political enemies, Donald Trump in particular, with impunity. In fact, Haines’ document conjures memories of Brennan’s 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, issued just two weeks before Donald Trump was sworn-in as president, concluding Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win the White House, a claim that remains without evidence to this day.
But the DNI report is just the latest chapter in the narrative-building surrounding the events of January 6. From false accounts about the death of a Capitol Police officer and tales of an “armed insurrection” to the fortification of Washington, D.C., political protest is being criminalized in a way that sets an extremely dangerous precedent for the future.
Biden’s top officials are fully on board, too. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, now responsible for a massive crisis at the border, insists violent domestic extremists are the country’s “most lethal and persistent terrorism-related threat” and describes the Capitol attack as a “searing example.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland compared January 6 to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; the investigation into what happened on January 6 is his top priority. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is rooting out “extremists” in the military.
But despite the incessant scaremongering, little evidence exists to make the case that armed groups of organized, violent domestic extremists attacked the Capitol.
One group often mentioned by the media and government officials as an insidious domestic threat is the Oath Keepers. An influential D.C.-based intelligence group recently identified Oath Keepers as one of the violent domestic “militia” groups involved in the Capitol melee.
In a “60 Minutes” interview, Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney who led the first two months of the Capitol probe, referred to the Oath Keepers as a “militia group.” Sherwin claimed Oath Keepers had a plan to “come to D.C., organize, and breach the Capitol in some manner.”
The FBI and local law enforcement agencies began arresting Oath Keepers shortly after the January 6 fracas. (Sherwin bragged he authorized the arrest of more than 100 people before January 20 in a display of “shock and awe” meant to stop people from coming to D.C. to protest Biden’s inauguration for fear of getting arrested.)
A D.C. grand jury indicted nine Oath Keepers last month. According to the indictment, “some members of the Oath Keepers believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” (If this is crime, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Americans are guilty of it.)
Many Oath Keepers, the government wrote, are former members of the military and law enforcement faithful to their oaths to defend the Constitution.
Their grand conspiracy is based on text messages and travel arrangements made before January 6. Prosecutors claim the group, dressed in military garb, “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown, to commit an offense against the United States, namely, to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College.” (As I explained here last week, the “obstruction of an official proceeding” is a vague provision in a 2002 law aimed at white collar criminals, not Americans engaging in political protest. More than 80 people now face that charge, which is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail.)
In addition to the conspiracy and obstruction count, each Oath Keeper is charged with entering “restricted grounds.” Hundreds of Americans should not have been near or inside the People’s House because the “Vice President was temporarily visiting and where a special event of national significance was in progress,” prosecutors alleged.
Two Oath Keepers face an extra charge of tampering with documents for deleting photos and videos off their own social media accounts.
Yet only one charge—destruction of government property and the aiding and abetting of it—remotely could be considered an act of violence and the government’s evidence of that flimsy charge is absurd. No Oath Keeper is accused of smashing a window or stealing government property or leaving a mark anywhere inside the Capitol.
The mere act of entering the building, according to federal prosecutors, somehow propelled others to enter the building and therefore caused “depredation against property of the United States.” Even though the government does not cite any specific damages caused by the Oath Keepers, nonetheless, they “together and with others known and unknown, forcibly entered the Capitol and thereby caused damage to the building in an amount more than $1,000.”
Further, one of the purported leaders of the Oath Keepers who participated in this supposed grand conspiracy to take over the Capitol never entered the building. Why? Thomas Caldwell, 66, is a disabled veteran.
The Virginia farmer, with no criminal history, is a retired Naval lieutenant commander who earned several military awards and worked for the FBI as recently as 2010. (A surprising number of veterans were involved in the Capitol chaos, follow-up article to come.)
Caldwell’s lawyer told the court his client suffers from a number of service-connected ailments. “Moving, sitting for extended periods of time, lifting, carrying, and other physical activities are extremely painful and Caldwell is limited in his ability to engage in them.” Last summer, Calwell endured another surgery to fix his deteriorating spine.
He was arrested at his home on January 19; prosecutors successfully argued Caldwell should remain behind bars until his trial because he believes the 2020 election was stolen, a position frequently cited by the Justice Department as a reason to deny bail for many defendants. “Those factors still exist for them, that the current political order is something that is problematic and should not be followed,” one assistant U.S. Attorney, fighting Caldwell’s release, told a district court judge during a hearing earlier this month.
But the judge finally agreed to let Caldwell go home based on the government’s lack of evidence against him and his poor health. Prosecutors might appeal.
Caldwell also denies being a member, let alone a leader, of Oath Keepers.
So, to summarize: One of the “domestic violent extremist” groups responsible for the “attack” on the Capitol did not commit any violence. They had no weapons, they did not lay a finger on anyone, they did not vandalize or steal anything. They did not threaten political leaders or American citizens.
Further, the group’s supposed leader is a disabled veteran who never went inside the building and obviously poses no lethal threat to anyone. He can barely move. And the government cannot prove he’s a leader or major player in the Oath Keepers’ alleged conspiracy to take down the U.S. government, which involved temporarily interrupting Congress’ certification of the Electoral College.
Who’s Watching the Real Terrorists?
There’s no question some people acted violently on January 6. Windows were smashed, police officers were attacked, and people entered areas and offices they shouldn’t have.
But the idea that Jihadi-like cells of domestic terrorists attempted a violent overthrow of the government January 6 and continue to plot deadly attacks against our institutions and/or political leaders to this day is unproven propaganda. If anything, at least as it pertains to the Oath Keepers, they are former soldiers justifiably disillusioned with the direction of government they promised to defend; they deserve compassion more than contempt.
Republican lawmakers should not let Haines or any top Biden official get away with politicizing intelligence and law enforcement to advance the Democrats’ dangerous agenda. This is exactly what we saw for four years as they tried to sabotage Donald Trump.
Further, telling the world America’s biggest menace exists within our own borders is an invitation to our foreign enemies to act badly. Who, by the way, is watching the real terrorists?
Meanwhile, an immigration, national security, and public health crisis rapidly is unfolding. Why is the Justice Department, Defense Department, and Department of Homeland Security fixated on mostly nonviolent “violent domestic extremists” who breached the Capitol rather than the smugglers and criminals breaching our country’s southern border?
These agencies are making America less safe and if something tragic happens unrelated to the events of January 6, people like Avril Haines and Merrick Garland will be most to blame.