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March 2, 2021

Over half the people charged with taking part in the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol were not connected to extremist groups or to one another, according to an analysis of arrest information. The study, by George Washington University's Program on Extremism, examined court documents and other data from 257 cases filed in federal court as of late February. It concluded that 33 of those charged were involved with militant networks and that 82 were connected with others through networks of like-minded believers.

But the remaining 142 planned to go to the Capitol on their own, "inspired by a range of extremist narratives, conspiracy theories, and personal motivations." The authors said the findings show that "conspiracy communities" are playing an expanding role in right-wing extremism that leads to violence, as followers of online theories mobilize in the real world.

Those charged are 18 to 70 years old, and they came from all but a handful of states. Men outnumbered women by 6 to 1. Records showed that 33 have military backgrounds.

While only about three dozen of those charged were part of extremist groups, their participation "was likely a necessary precondition for the escalation of violence from an angry riot into a breach of Capitol security," the report said. Prosecutors have accused members of three groups — the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys — of conspiring to come to Washington and stage violent protesters.

 

"The groups that these individuals represent potentially pose the largest threat of enacting follow-on attacks in the future," the study said.

Federal prosecutors have accused members of the groups of formulating plans to attack the Capitol. But court documents have yet to disclose evidence supporting the notion that a single person or group hatched a plan to break into the Capitol and disrupt the electoral vote count, which formalized President Joe Biden's election win, before a joint session of Congress.

For example, although an indictment in the Oath Keepers case accuses nine people of planning "to enter the Capitol on January 6" and details their communications beginning in early November, it makes no mention of any specific reference to storming the Capitol.

If federal prosecutors have identified those who conceived of such a plan, they have yet to say so in court filings. The second category, totaling 82 people, involved small clusters of people connected by personal contacts, and even family connections, with shared interests in conspiracy or extremist ideologies, the report said. But the majority had no involvement in any known network, according to the analysis.

"The hodgepodge of individuals in this category, with varied and often conflicting ideologies, evidences the diverse and fractured domestic violent extremist threat in the United States today," the Program on Extremism report said.

Justice Department officials said they have filed charges against more than 300 people; some of those cases are under seal because the defendants have not yet been arrested. By far the largest number of those charged were identified thanks to members of the public who phoned in tips after having seen videos and photos of the riot.

FBI officials have said investigations also used facial recognition software. And a recently filed court document revealed that federal agents used a third method to identify rioters — obtaining lists of all smartphones and other cellular devices at the Capitol that were in use the day of the riot.

The document said investigators then compiled an "exclusion list" of people authorized to be in the building at the time. People whose numbers were tracked but were not on the list would be considered potential suspects, law enforcement officials confirmed Monday.