Analysis: US Capitol attack marks the beginning of a prolonged period of insurrection

Rightwing militancy 2021IF WEDNESDAY’S ATTACK ON the United States Capitol Complex was part of a coup d’état, then the American political system should be considered safe for the time being. The mob that ransacked the Capitol was disordered, leaderless, and appeared to have no coordination, or even direction. However, the broader militant movement that it represents is evolving very rapidly. If left unchecked, it will be able to turn its weaknesses into strengths and spell major trouble ahead for the already stormy waters of American politics. The nation’s law enforcement and security agencies must therefore prepare for a period of widespread insurrection, some of which will be armed and lethal in nature. Insurrectionist acts are likely to occur across the nation, and may last for months, if not longer.


Wednesday’s attack was carried out by what can be described as the militant wing of the American nationalist-populist movement. This wing is not strictly representative of the US president’s broader political base. Its members see themselves as vanguard soldiers who are prepared to take extreme action to avert President Trump’s imminent departure from the White House. Such militant attitudes are not typical among Trump voters. Yet this vanguard is revered by Trump’s political base, a sizeable portion of which appears to be in support of Wednesday’s attack on the US Capitol. Indeed, early polling by YouGov suggests that over 40 percent of Republican voters strongly or somewhat support the attack on the US Capitol.Q Quote 1

Many members of this frontline force belong to organized militant cells, like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and —more recently— the Proud Boys. But these groups provide limited operational direction to their members, and were certainly not commanding Wednesday’s events. In fact, an audiovisual analysis of the attack shows that most of the assailants operated in makeshift groups and many didn’t even know each other’s names. There were no leaders directing the attacks on Wednesday. It is indeed likely that the militant figureheads of the movement were as surprised by the turn of events as the hapless members of the US Capitol Police.


Many of the assailants were armed with tactical equipment, as well as with clubs, shields, chemical irritants, knives and other weapons. It also appears that at least one group of insurgents arrived at the Capitol with ropes, which they subsequently used to scale its walls. This points to earlier planning and coordination, which likely involved at least some reconnaissance. Still, it is plainly evident that the assailants had not discussed what they would do once they entered the buildings. It is very likely that they never expected to be successful in their attempt. Indeed, they were probably stunned to find that breaching Q Quote 2the temple of American democracy was so embarrassingly easy.

Extensive discussions to storm the Capitol Complex took place on social media among the militants in the days prior to the attack. However, US law enforcement agencies have been notoriously dismissive of the danger posed by domestic rightwing militants. Most of their intelligence on these groups comes from social media analysis. But in the last few months, far-right militants have been abandoning en masse mainstream social medial, such as Facebook and Twitter, and congregating instead on online platforms such as Gab and Parler, which they consider conservative-friendly. This likely created large gaps in intelligence collection for law enforcement agencies, which were already suffering under the weight of chronic under-staffing, compounded by the pandemic.


As mentioned earlier, the militants who participated in Wednesday’s attack did not expect to be able to simply walk in the Capitol Complex buildings. Nor did they appear to have a concrete goal about what they were going to do once inside. Their actions after breaching the Capitol’s laughable physical security measures were both uncoordinated and bizarre. Some of them trashed various offices, many looted artwork and other items, and others took selfies and chanted slogans while waving Confederate flags and pro-Trump banners.

It is likely that some of the attackers expected many thousands of others to follow them into the building; but the majority of the crowd stayed outside. It is also likely that they insurgents hoped that their actions would inspire similar mini-insurrections in so-called ‘red’ states, thus leading into a nationwide insurrection. This, however, did not materialize in any noteworthy scale. It is notable that many of the assailants did not appear Q Quote 3concerned about the legal repercussions of their actions: not only did they not hide their faces inside buildings that are monitored by hundreds of surveillance cameras, but they also took photographs of themselves carrying out illegal acts and posted them online. They likely did so because they truly believe that President Trump will remain in office after January 20, and as a result they will not be prosecuted for their actions under his watch. Many of them will now undoubtedly be expecting to be officially pardoned by the departing president.


Broadly speaking, political commentators seem to regard the assault on the Capitol as a blundering catastrophe for the Trump movement. Not only did it startle moderate Republican voters, who may have previously been sympathetic to the president’s dogged campaign to keep his job, but it also dissuaded the vast majority of Republican Congress members from challenging the election results. It therefore made the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory by Congress easier and faster than it would otherwise have been.

However, this is not how this day will go do down in the annals of the nationalist-populist movement’s militant wing. Many of its members self-identify as nationalist revolutionaries, and will welcome the storming of the Capitol as the opening shots of what they see as the second American Revolution. Wednesday’s events marked the first time that the Capitol was ransacked by assailants since the War of 1812. The symbolism of this act, and the names of at least three four five people who died in the process as self-styled ‘martyrs’, will galvanize and inspire the militant wing of the nationalist-populist movement.

It is worth pointing out that the assailants who took part in Wednesday’s attack do not live in Washington. They descended on America’s capital from nearly every state in the Union. Most of them Q Quote 4are now on their way back to their home states, galvanized by their experience and ready for action. Few —if any— of them will be arrested in the coming weeks or months, just like few of them were arrested after the notorious 2017 Unite the Right rally. It is almost certain that acts of insurrection of various types —whether by groups or ‘lone wolves’— will continue to occur in the coming weeks. This realization is clearly behind the decision of the mayor of Washington to extend the duration of the curfew that is currently in place in the nation’s capital to 15 days. Other major cities across the nation will do well to follow that example.


At this point, the militant wing of the nationalist-populist movement can be more appropriately classified as a growing insurgency against the state. Its members, many of whom have military backgrounds and advanced familiarization with weaponry, are in possession of significant amounts of firearms. Not all expressions of this insurgency will be armed in nature, but lethality should be seen as an increasingly likely outcome of this campaign from now on. Some of these attacks will be carried out against infrastructure, but US authorities should also be prepared to defend against targeted attacks on specific individuals. One notable aspect of this insurgency is that it is directed, not so much against Democrats, but primarily against Republicans who are seen as ‘traitors’ to the Trump movement.

Consequently, political protection measures aimed at safeguarding office holders (both state and federal) should be redoubled as soon as possible. Resources devoted to monitoring and collecting intelligence on anti-government militants should be given top priority within the security apparatus. Finally, government infrastructure should be protected in the same way that the French government protected public facilities following the November 2015 Paris attacks by the Islamic State. The list of potential targets to be protected should include private companies, such as Q Quote 5the offices of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Facebook and Twitter, which are seen by the nationalist-populist militants as “enemies of the people”.

Perhaps most importantly, it is crucial that the militants who participated in the attack on the Capitol be isolated and rejected by the broader Trump movement and by the Republican Party as a whole. It should be assumed that the leadership of groups such as the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and the Proud Boys, are in regular contact with senior Trump aides and other campaigners. These contacts must be scrutinized and deciphered, in an attempt to prevent further linkage and interaction between armed militants and the broader Trump voter base. Anyone in mainstream politics who cultivates links with these insurgents should be probed by law enforcement and, if found to have encouraged or participated in illegal acts, face legal penalties.

The placement of this rapidly evolving threat to the top of the security community’s priority list must take place immediately. At this time, the threat these militants pose to the Republic is not existential. But if left unchecked, it can expand and spread faster than the security agencies’ ability to curtail it.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 January 2021 | Permalink

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

14 Responses to Analysis: US Capitol attack marks the beginning of a prolonged period of insurrection

  1. Pete says:

    A authoritative source on China commented today:

    CCP commenters are gleeful at the scenes of chaos in Washington on Wednesday, after Trump’s push to overturn the November election results culminated in armed supporters breaching the US Capitol Building.

    Many in China have made comparisons between the US today and coups in the Third World undemocratic Asian, African and Hispanic countries Trump himself dubbed “shitholes” 2 years back.

    The scenes in Washington, so reminiscent of the Russian parliamentary violence of the 1990s, will only encourage such CCP convictions, as has the botched US response to the COVID Pandemic.

    It’s hard to say that the CCP is entirely wrong, given the precarious state of US democracy. Today’s Capitol assault is likely to encourage riskier challenges to US global power and more aggression from Beijing.

    The US failure of democracy today has come at a good time to mask China’s recent arrest of Opposition politicians and demonstrators in Hong Kong. Many of those arrested previously looked to America for democratic hope – hope now put in doubt by Trump’s example today.

    Using the Correlation of Forces methodology, previously used by the Soviet Union leaders during the Cold War, CCP leaders see a big gain for authoritarian China today, due to America’s damage to democracy during the assault on the Capitol.

    The image of the US has taken a beating today, to the benefit of China’s CCP and also to Russia’s benefit.

  2. juan jose castro says:

    muy interesante y claros sus comentarios, gracias por su publicacion

  3. Anderson says:

    Weve determined that there were ANTIFA members, supported by press and certain capital police.
    According to a retired Federal agent a bus of antifa embedded themselves disguised as Trump supporters- whom were the ones that swarmed the capital building
    The militias have disavowed any involvement, nor were they involved with the intrusion into the Capital on 6 January

  4. Brian says:

    While these attacks yesterday did appear unorganized for the most part, would you say it’s plausible to believe the organizations mentioned to witness an influx of new members/ followers within the upcoming days and potentially lead to a much more organized attack on Inauguration Day?

  5. intelNews says:

    @Brian: You make a good point. In my view, given the small scale of the Inauguration Day events in DC, combined with significant police and security presence (which will be unprecedented in size, I would imagine) probably precludes any major violence from taking place. If there is violence, it will be outside of DC, in my opinion. [JF]

  6. Ivan Nezitic says:

    Your analysis is piss poor. The people who went to the Capitol Building were angry (Trump goading them on was irresponsible) and they wanted to take full advantage of their 1st Amendment Rights – Freedom of Speech, Assembly, and Petition the Government over grievances. You should also check some history – which good analysts do – regarding the radical Left and the anti-War movement “mobs” at the Capitol in the 60s/70s. Their descendants are now gaining national political power in a big way. They already control the national media and educational system. So fearful of “right-wing militants”? They may turn out to be the nation’s saviors from socialist authoritarianism. Yesterday was an act by frustrated, leaderless, angry citizens, who are seeing the national power structure being coopted by enemies of democracy.

  7. Lainey says:

    Firstly, do you foresee the growing insurgency to be extinguished following the Inauguration of President-Elect Biden? Do you think it will worsen, but be limited to a smaller, hyper-radicalized faction of this group? Or an alternative outcome? Secondly, though unlikely, should the Trump campaign announce a candidacy for the 2024 election, how do you think this group will respond?

  8. Jack Walter Dietz says:

    One should also look at the premise that yesterday’s demonstration at the Capitol appeared unorganized simply because it was not an objective of those demonstrating in the first place. The attack itself was instigated by a select few and the rest were swept up in the moment.
    I can understand the concern of a growing insurgency or pockets of anti- Biden administration protests happening throughout the county in the next four years. It would not be a surprise if it happens. One only needs to look back six months to not only the growing unrest from Antifa and BLM, but the direct and indirect support from all forms of media, government leaders, and the justice departments (especially local) that encouraged their actions.
    From George Floyd, to the take over of city blocks in Seattle, to the systemic call to defund the police-our main line of keeping order in this country, allowing this insurgency was instrumental in what happen in Washington yesterday.
    One only needs to look at Portland Seattle, and New York. Heck, when was the last time the national news reported the almost daily insurgency going on in Portland?
    Perhaps we should face facts and be honest, the very people crying out and demanding action for what happen yesterday and please understand I do not approve or promote what happen, are directly or indirectly responsible for creating the climate that generated this demonstration. The never-ending quest to get and maintain political power by both parties has to stop and government leaders who fail to obey the law should be punished just as any other citizen.
    When the citizens of this or any country can no longer trust their government leaders, the media, and find themselves or feel that they are being forced to accept what they feel is wrong, you have set the groundwork for protest that could lead to a civil war.

  9. intelNews says:

    @Lainey: Armed anti-government groups tend to grow in both membership and scope under Democratic administrations, so I would suggest that we take their current state, size and capabilities as a departure point for what is to follow in the coming years under a Biden administration. The concern has been expressed (and I think rightly so) that previously fringe groups, like the Oath Keepers and the Third Percenters, have been able to make contact with portions of mainstream conservative voters. This occurred as a result of extensive use of the Internet during the pandemic shut-downs, but also as a result of their interaction during anti-shut-down protests across the nation. So they’ve grown considerably as a result. I think that, even though the armed radical wing of the movement will remain small in comparison to the broader Trump movement, its size will be considerably larger than what we have seen in the past. Finally, if Trump withdrew from politics and retired to some private island in the South Pacific, I don’t think the movement would go away. I (and others) keep calling it the Trump movement, but a more accurate term for it would be the nationalist populist movement. Trump is currently the main expression of the movement in government, but he could easily be replaced by an equally charismatic –and far more skilled– figure. I think that is a very plausible scenario come 2024 –i.e. a more skilled nationalist-populist candidate supported by Trump in an “emeritus” role of some kind. Thanks for your questions. [JF]

  10. Hunter says:

    The terrorists who staged this coup are indeed being target by LEO. Unlike the “Unite The Right” rally there will be consequences, though generally for the least wealthy and connected of the criminals. The sons and daughters of the rich will be protected, as always. The ex military caught on camera may also escape the most severe punishments – we shall see.

    Of course, the terrorists and their enablers in government [edited] and the far right nationalist media have claimed “Antifa!” infiltrated this coup, a laughable, predictable and transparently cowardly response. ‘Blame others for what we do” has been a staple of fascism since its inception.

    [Edited] has also played a significant role in this terrorist attack, and more generally the propaganda campaign of sedition. Any thoughts on justice being served on traitors of his level?

  11. Too simplistic an analysis, sans important points underlying the current state of social psychology. What is missing is the fact since the National Security Act of 1947, ‘rule of law’ has been transformed into ‘color of law’ in the USA where constitutional principles can no longer be squared with law applications in fact. Conservative America senses this and are the historic keepers of those constitutional principles most departed from in this ‘new age of national security.’ This a the state of the nation’s anti-federalist heritage being usurped. It was supposed to be both, balanced federalist & anti-federalist, or that is to say a central government with solid checks, not one or the other. That’s one point.

    Another point is, the people have been so pervasively lied to, for so long, there are two entirely separate & artificial realities, with either side incapable of grasping neutral facts beyond the borders of their own cultural myths. That’s the fruit of irresponsible ‘free speech’ in modern mass media where political lies possess constitutional protections.

    A third, consequent point would be, the current tension plays out in unbridgeable social dynamic where the red states’ conservatives are being driven to a deeply superstitious conservatism of a distant past due to a real subliminal fear of a ‘liberal’ cultural revolution being imposed upon them; and the blue states’ liberals are becoming radicalized into intolerant ‘woke’ because they perceive a revanchist conservatism threat imposing what they consider are archaic social values on themselves in turn.

    There’s little or no middle ground left and middle ground is the only way forward that would see institutions secure over the long run.

  12. C. Thomas says:

    Excellent article which helps to clarify the importance of the situation and the next steps to be taken.

  13. Erik says:

    Hi – thanks for this great (and scary) analysis.
    Q: you write that “Few —if any— of them will be arrested in the coming weeks or months, just like few of them were arrested after the notorious 2017 Unite the Right rally.” – question is, do you think the arrests we’ve seen, and the rapid public online mobilization toward helping identify the perpetrators make you rethink that? And the follow up, IF arrests continue to accelerate and ends up numbering in the multi- hundreds as by right it should, how does that change the rest of your conclusions about what is to come regarding growing attacks and acts of insurgency?

  14. intelNews says:

    @Erik: thanks for your question. I’d love to see numbers of how many arrests have been carried out, but I suspect they are not many. Some of the “media stars” of the attack (shaman guy, feet-on-table guy, etc.) have been apprehended, but even they are facing relatively minor charges (forcible entry, trespassing, etc.). Based on the footage I’ve seen from the attack, something in the neighborhood of 500 to 800 arrests should have taken place, and that’s just the ringleaders. If this changes, I’ll be impressed! [JF]

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