US House cancels Thursday session over fears Capitol will be stormed again

Washington: The US House of Representatives has cancelled all legislative business on Thursday after police warned that a militia group likely inspired by the QAnon conspiracy theory has been plotting to attack the Capitol.

The assessment, which was disseminated to all members of Congress on Wednesday by Capitol Police, did not identify the group, but the timing of the alleged plot gives a clue.

Thursday is March 4 – the date followers of QAnon falsely believe Donald Trump will reclaim the presidency.

Members of the Michigan National Guard and the US Capitol Police keep watch as heightened security remains in effect around the Capitol. Credit:AP

QAnon adherents, who ascribe to a baseless theory that Trump is on a secret mission to expose a Satanist cabal of Democratic paedophile politicians, picked March 4 because it was the original date for presidential inaugurations until 1933.

The deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol still fresh on their minds, House leaders cancelled votes planned for Thursday and advised members they did not need to appear.

The Senate, which is working on the coronavirus stimulus package, has not cancelled its Thursday session.

Capitol Police vowed to beef up security on Thursday.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett also issued a memo warning that there could be trouble into the weekend, with “additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th-6th by a militia group”.

Online chatter identified by authorities included discussions among members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group, concerning possible plots against the Capitol on Thursday, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorised to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on January 6.

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 broken and smashed their way into the building and roamed the halls for hours, stalling Congress’ certification effort temporarily and sending lawmakers into hiding.

Lawmakers, congressional staffers and law enforcement officials are still on edge after the attack last month, even as the security posture around the Capitol remains at an unprecedented level.

On Wednesday, federal agents were seeking to determine whether there was an increase in the number of hotel rooms being rented in Washington, as well as monitoring flights to the area, car rental reservations and any buses being chartered to bring groups into the capital, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The person could not publicly discuss details of the security planning and spoke on condition of anonymity.

There’s also a very large fence in place around the U.S. Capitol that blocks off all avenues of entry including on the streets around the building, which was put in place after Jan. 6.

Also, thousands of accounts that promoted the Jan. 6 event that led to a violent storming of the U.S. 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 of the mass gathering on Thursday.

Twitter banned more than 70,000 accounts after the riots, while Facebook and Instagram removed posts mentioning “stop the steal,” a pro-Trump rallying cry used to mobilise his supporters in January.

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 statement said the agency was “taking the intelligence seriously” but provided no other specific details on the threat.

New York Daily News, AP

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