The deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 marked a shocking milestone in the evolution of right-wing extremism when, for the first time, a diverse mix of organizations converged for a major assault, said current and former federal law enforcement officials.
Photos and video of the Capitol assault showed rioters with clothing, emblems and flags identifying themselves as members of the conspiracy group QAnon, the loosely allied alt-right America First group, and militias such as Three Percenters, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
A left-wing activist linked to Black Lives Matter also was hit with criminal charges for participating in the siege.
John Sullivan, 26, who leads the liberal activist group Insurgence USA, was charged with civil disorder, violent entry or disorderly conduct, and entering a restricted building or grounds.
He admitted to media outlets that he entered the Capitol after a pro-Trump mob stormed the building. He maintains he was there to document the mayhem, not to riot.
Prosecutors tell a different story. They say a video Mr. Sullivan shared with the FBI shows him encouraging protesters to cause property damage.
Mr. Sullivan was charged with rioting and criminal mischief in connection with a June 30 anti-police brutality riot in Provo, Utah. A truck driver was shot at that protest. Police say Mr. Sullivan organized the event and, after the shooting, spoke with one of the men who allegedly fired the gun.
On Friday, a federal judge in Utah released Mr. Sullivan from jail and placed him under house arrest while awaiting trial on charges from the Capitol attack.
He was the first left-leaning activist charged in connection with the riot, which left five people dead, including a police officer.
The overwhelming majority of those arrested so far are supporters of President Trump.
“If you look at social media, you can see a lot of affiliation with some of the protest activity, and it runs the whole gamut from soup to nuts,” Michael Sherwin, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told reporters Friday.
He refused to name specific groups but called out two defendants, saying the “evidence speaks for itself.”
Those defendants were Robert Keith Packer, 56, who was photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt at the riot, and Kevin Seefried, who carried a Confederate flag inside the Capitol.
“These guys have labeled themselves,” he said. “All these extremist groups are being looked at in terms of their participation at the Capitol.”
Prosecutors filed charges against more than 100 people over the Jan. 6 mayhem. Court documents, however, don’t link the suspects to extremist groups.
Mr. Sherwin declined to say whether prosecutors had uncovered any evidence of coordination between the groups ahead of the deadly siege.
He walked back claims made by the Justice Department in the first court filings: that the attackers were organized to assassinate or kidnap lawmakers.
“We don’t have any direct evidence of kill/capture teams,” Mr. Sherwin said.
Past domestic-terrorism attacks from the political right have largely been carried out by lone-wolf extremists or, at most, a couple of people.
The 2019 mass shooting in a Walmart parking lot in El Paso, Texas, was carried out by a single white supremacist, who killed 23 people.
In 2018, authorities linked a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that resulted in 11 deaths to a single actor, who posted anti-Semitic views online.
Even the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, widely seen as the deadliest anti-government terrorist attack in U.S. history, was believed to be carried out by just four people.
In the past few months, the pattern of lone wolf attackers has begun to shift, analysts say.
In October, prosecutors brought charges against members of the far-right Boogaloo Bois, saying a Texas man coordinated with other extremists to “incite a riot” in Minneapolis this summer by clashing with demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd.
That same month, the FBI broke up a purported plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The 13 people charged were tied to a paramilitary organization calling itself the Wolverine Watchmen.
The traditional lack of coordination by right-wing groups is one of the reasons law enforcement was unprepared to deal with chaos at the Capitol, said Clint VanZandt, an ex-FBI profiler.
Officers were overwhelmed when thousands of pro-Trump supporters stormed the building.
“You’ve had massive rallies in support of President Trump, and no one has taken any violent action whatsoever, so you can see why the Capitol Police never expected anything like this,” Mr. VanZandt said.
Although evidence of coordination has emerged, that doesn’t mean the threat of a lone wolf actor has abated.
Among those arrested in connection with the Capitol riot was Lonnie Coffman, a 70-year-old man with no internet footprint. Mr. Coffman’s car was found outside the Capitol with guns, ammunition and 11 Molotov cocktails, authorities say.
His arrest raises questions.
“He’s unique because he was really prepared and we are told by the media there were individuals banging on the door of the Capitol before Trump finished his speech,” Mr. VanZandt said. “So where did he come from? Did he come to his conclusion on his own?”
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