Six months after Trump coup, FBI investigation severely lacking
New video footage of the Capitol attack continues to emerge, as do questions about the pace and thoroughness of the FBI Director Christopher Wray's investigation of the Trump coup. | Photos: AP / Ilustration: PW

The special commission appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the last hope we have of any kind of meaningful probe of the Jan. 6 right-wing Trump coup attempt which has become an ongoing insurrection and was, in reality, only a piece of a massive, planned attack on democracy in the United States.

New video is still coming out showing the truly horrific nature of those attacks on the day Donald Trump’s election loss was certified. More than 500 people from all over the country have been charged in relation to the insurrection. Twelve have pleaded guilty, and only one so far, Anna Morgan-Lloyd, has been sentenced—three years of probation and no jail time.

The film footage from the day’s events continues to trickle out, however, with the FBI saying it wants to use the videos to build support for holding defendants in jail. This confirms that the investigation is really only beginning.

Figuring out how to hold people in jail some six months after the coup attempt is such a necessity for the FBI now precisely because such an unusually small number of people were actually arrested by law enforcement on the day of the events. That itself raises serious questions.

More disturbing, however, than the slow crawl of the investigation is the fact that the FBI is not qualified to investigate crimes which it allowed to happen in the first place.

Christopher Wray, the current director of the FBI, who held that position under Trump, told Congress recently that part of the difficulty his probe faces is that all the people arrested thus far are first-time participants in the type of action we saw on Jan. 6. This would mean, apparently, that very few of the top leaders of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, or many other terrorist groups—people with long experience in plotting violence—have been called in.

This, in itself, might be seen as an admission of failure by the FBI. Leaders of groups responsible for crimes leading up to Jan. 6 have, by the Bureau’s own admission, not been arrested. Anyone who watches the news knows this. No special investigatory skills are required.

Major news outlets, among them the Washington Post, reported that people on terrorist watch and no-fly lists were at the riots in January and were among those who breached the Capitol. Presumably, the FBI knows who is on these lists, so why did it do nothing? It is business as usual for the FBI to act on such information before major events like inaugurations and State of the Union gatherings.

Certainly, they knew that most members of Congress and the vice president would be in the Capitol on Jan. 6 for the election certification. And they knew protests were planned. So why no advance action on the part of the FBI?

The agency, according to press reports, got word from its Norfolk, Va., office that violent actions were being planned for Jan.6. Again, why were those reports not acted upon?

The FBI, like all of us, saw the April 2020 storming of the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., by armed right-wingers who brandished semi-automatic weapons at lawmakers meeting inside. The FBI watched as Trump praised those insurrectionists. Did that not contribute to the crimes of Jan. 6?

How about the arrests of the people planning the kidnapping and killing of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer? Did that not help prepare the FBI to act to prevent what happened at the Capitol in D.C.?

How about everyone in the country hearing Trump revive a segregation-era slogan during the demonstrations in Minneapolis after the police killing of George Floyd, proclaiming that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”?

Were those provocations not part of a buildup of tensions leading to the violence that would allow police to attack innocent people and rile up right-wingers to attack lawmakers on Jan. 6?  And what about the further provocative Trump support of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed a peaceful Black Lives Matter supporter?

Certainly, the FBI knew, as did the rest of us from press reports, that the Department of Homeland Security was encouraged by Trump to make sympathetic statements about Rittenhouse.

The incitement went well beyond Trump, though, extending across Republican ranks.

On Dec. 21, 2020, Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina urged everyone to call their members of Congress and “lightly threaten” them if they didn’t back Trump’s false claims of election fraud. We read about this online and watched and heard about it on news programs. There were many other examples of lawmakers urging violence, and it must be assumed that the FBI, like the rest of us, knew about these, right? But why no arrests?

GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, ahead of Jan. 6., openly called for people to “go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and Black Lives Matter.” Should this not have added to the pile of evidence prompting the FBI to prepare ahead of time to prevent the Jan. 6 disaster?

The right-wing group Guardians of Freedom even had a website on which they put a detailed map of the Capitol showing tunnel entrances for those who planned to come to D.C. The section of their website with the map was titled “Surround the Swamp.” Again, should not the FBI have concluded at least that SOMETHING violent might be coming? They were either complicit on some level or grossly incompetent.

At this stage, one thing is certain: It is a mistake to assume that Director Wray because he was on the outs with Trump at times, is someone to rely upon to lead us out of the danger. For that we will need the independent commission, but even more important, we will need an alert and aware public determined to wage an historic battle to defend our democracy against an ongoing right-wing insurrection that wants to see it toppled.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its authors.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.