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FBI Predicted Extremists Would Take Action Over 2020 Election Dispute

One week before Election Day 2020 and just over two months before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, an internal FBI analysis concluded that domestic violent extremists were “very willing to take action” in response to a disputed election but that "law enforcement preemption" and the "disorganization" of extremist groups "likely would hinder widespread violence." The so-called red cell report was the type of exercise that became widespread after the federal government's Sept. 11 intelligence failures and are meant to challenge conventional wisdom and encourage outside-the-box thinking. The 2020 one was titled “Alternative Analysis: Potential Scenarios for Reactions of Domestic Violent Extremists to a Disputed 2020 US Presidential Election.” NBC News obtained a redacted copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request. The redacted summary of the analysis, which makes no reference to then-President Trump, was finished a few weeks after Trump told the far-right Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” at a presidential debate with Joe Biden. Several Proud Boys members have since been convicted of seditious conspiracy for their role in organizing and urging on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The House Jan. 6 committee and Senate Democrats have been critical of the FBI's lack of foresight and planning ahead of the Capitol attack. Trump’s infamous “will be wild” tweet on Dec. 19, 2020, inviting his supporters to Washington, both the committee and federal prosecutors say, was the call to action that caused disorganized extremists to zero in on a date and time: Jan. 6, in the nation’s capital. The day Trump sent that tweet, a confidential human source told the FBI that the far right saw the tweet as a “call to arms” and that there was a “big” threat of violence on Jan. 6. A critique of the FBI's Oct. 27, 2020, "red cell" report was prepared by the Jan. 6 committee but never published. It found that the FBI never considered that a broader right-wing movement could come together and that a mob itself could be a threat. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that agencies "either didn't follow their established policies or procedures for reviewing the threats, or didn't share critical information with partners responsible for planning security measures." Senate Homeland Security Committee Democrats concluded that federal law enforcement agencies "failed" at "a fundamental level" to "fulfill their mission and connect the public and nonpublic information they received."

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