Capitol Police say they have uncovered intelligence of a "possible plot" by a militia group to breach the US Capitol this week, nearly two months after a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the building to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden's election victory.
The threat appears to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that Trump will rise again to power on March 4, which was the presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to January 20.
The announcement comes as the Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies are taking heat from Congress in contentious hearings this week on their handling of the January 6 riot.
Police were ill prepared for the mass of Trump supporters in tactical gear, some armed, and it took hours for National Guard reinforcements to come. By then, rioters had smashed their way into the building and roamed the halls for hours, stalling Congress' certification effort temporarily and sending lawmakers into hiding.
"The United States Capitol Police Department is aware of and prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress or towards the Capitol complex," the agency said. "We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4." Police did not identify the group.
An advisory sent this week to members of Congress by Timothy Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, said that the Capitol Police had "no indication that groups will travel to Washington DC to protest or commit acts of violence."
But that advisory was updated in a note to lawmakers Wednesday morning. Blodgett wrote that the Capitol Police had received "new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4–6 by a militia group".
In her testimony to the House panel, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said her investigators had collected "concerning intelligence" but declined to provide any details publicly, saying that it was "law enforcement sensitive" and that she would provide a private briefing for the subcommittee members.
There has been a noticeable decline in online activity on some social media platforms surrounding efforts on March 4, and there was considerably less online chatter than during the lead-up to January 6, a day that Trump repeatedly had promoted for a his rally and encouraged thousands to come to the nation's capital.
A very large fence around the US Capitol blocking off all avenues of entry was put in place after January 6.
Also, thousands of accounts that promoted the January 6 event that led to a violent storming of the US Capitol have since been suspended by major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, making it far more difficult for QAnon and far-right groups to organise a repeat.
Twitter banned more than 70,000 accounts after the riots, and Facebook and Instagram removed posts mentioning "stop the steal", a pro-Trump rallying cry used to mobilise his supporters in January. And the conservative social media platform Parler, which many of Trump's supporters joined to promote false election fraud conspiracy theories and encourage friends to "storm" the Capitol on January 6, was booted off the internet after the siege.
Capitol Police say that they have stepped up security around the Capitol complex since January's insurrection, adding physical security measures such as the fencing topped with razor wire around the Capitol and members of the National Guard who remain at the complex. The agency said it was "taking the intelligence seriously" but provided no other specific details on the threat.
Representative Adriano Espaillat said he was "very concerned" about potential threats Thursday and wasn't sure whether the Capitol Police were adequately prepared.
"I believe that there should be additional resources assigned to their efforts to sweep for explosives, for example," he said. "And I don't know to what degree that's being done right now."
Lawmakers were expected to be briefed Wednesday by Capitol Police leadership in a closed session.
So far, about 300 people have been charged with federal crimes for their roles in the riot. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died.
Since his defeat, Trump has been promoting lies that the election was stolen from him through mass voter fraud, even though such claims have been rejected by judges, Republican state officials and Trump's own administration. He was impeached by the House after the January 6 riot on a charge of incitement of insurrection but was acquitted by the Senate.