Giving evidence on Capitol Hill about the events on 6th January, former Capitol police chief Steven Sund made a series of interesting statements. His defence of the Capitol police was based on two arguments. The first being that the federal agencies tasked with providing intelligence ahead of the event had not warned of anything close to what was being planned. And the second was how, rather than just the usual MAGA rally crowd descending on the capital, there were also groups of highly organised paramilitaries intent on taking control of the Capitol building hidden among the wider crowd.
In making his first point Stephen Sund couldn’t have been much clearer, explaining how “the intelligence that we based our planning on indicated that the January 6th protest were expected to be similar to the previous MAGA rallies in 2020”. And how while the evidence provided “indicated that members of the Proud Boys, White Supremacist Groups, Antifa and other extremist groups were expected to participate on January 6th and that they may be inclined to become violent”, “none of the intelligence … received predicted what actually occurred”.
This leads interestingly into his second argument. While the Capitol Police “properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence, what we got was a military style coordinated assault on … officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol building”. He reiterated this point by outlining how the insurrectionists “came prepared for war”, “with their own radio system to coordinate the attack”.
So, while the Capitol police were expecting the usual highly vocal and confrontational Trump-supporters what they actually found themselves facing was several well-resourced and trained groups of paramilitaries who had pre-planned and coordinated an attack on the government with the intention of subverting the electoral process in order to install an unelected government. It is difficult to see how this can be described as anything other than an attempted coup. But I’ll leave that to one side for the moment.
According to Sund, the intelligence agencies and federal law enforcement had failed to see what was being predicted by many others, and which really wasn’t that difficult to foresee after it had been quite clearly rehearsed at the Michigan state house over half a year earlier. Sund’s claims of official shortcomings have since been disputed with certain parties arguing that a warning had been sent to the Capitol Police the day before but that it had never been passed on to the leadership.
As the hearings have gone on the supposedly flawed decision making and “bureaucratic” inertia that much of the previous administration are now trying to use as cover is disappearing fast, only to be replaced by allegation after allegation of complicity among senior administration cheerleaders, both in the military, and congress. As time goes on these allegations will most likely either be proved and then disappeared from public debate, or if proved written off as the mistakes of a few bad apples. Either way, history tells us that many of the “coincidences” that led to this happening will be glossed over quickly.
Either way, that still doesn’t address some glaring inconsistencies in who took part and who was meant to be monitoring those people. For instance, how did federal law-enforcement, and the civilian and military intelligence agencies all fail to predict what large sections of the general population could see quite clearly coming down the tracks?
Lets start with the Proud Boys as they seem to have been one of the main focusses of the mainstream and social media, having positioned them as the poster boys for the paramilitary wing of the MAGA movement. According to the BBC they are an ultra-right paramilitary group that was founded in 2016 by a Canadian-British right-wing activist called Gavin McInnes. The leadership of the Proud Boys was taken over by an Enrique Tarrio in 2018. They have only risen to global renown in the last few years under Tarrio’s direction, and in large part due to the thinly veiled approval they received from the former President during the election debates.
So what was the role of the Proud Boys on 6th January? Well their leader Enrique Tarrio was arrested by Washington law-enforcement two days before the attempted insurrection on 6th January. He was charged with burning a BLM flag a month earlier and carrying high-capacity firearm magazines, and ordered to leave Washington. However, as we all later learned many of his subordinates in the Proud Boys stuck around to take part in the events of 6th January, just as Tarrio had predicted they would in his online postings before the fact.
What makes Tarrio’s 4th January arrest so interesting is that, according to a Guardian article, he had actually been an informant for the FBI and local law enforcement since 2012. However, a Reuters report went further arguing that Tarrio had been much more than than just a government informant, having actually worked undercover for the FBI on occasions. In intelligence terms this should more accurately be described as an “asset” rather than an “informant”. So while he is not an active agent or a defence industry sub-contractor, he is certainly more closely and actively managed than a simple snitch.
While there is no evidence that he was still an active FBI asset at the time of his arrest in Washington, he was by his own testament still informing local law-enforcement about upcoming events planned by the Proud Boys. One can assume that he performed this service ahead of the various actions that took place last year, such as the ones in Portland. Events which are perhaps most famous for the highly questionable role that the local law enforcement chose to play in responding to the organised violence of these ultra-right wing paramilitaries. Organised violence that it is quite possible they were pre-warned about by the leader of those planning to commit it.
But let us assume that he wasn’t being quite so upfront with the local law enforcement in Washington in the lead up to the 6th January as he had been in recent years. However that still leaves the question unanswered why, when he was arrested in DC two days before the widely publicised “stop the steal” action, his previous employer the FBI, who are in fact tasked with gathering intelligence on the very organisation that he leads, and would have undoubtedly been made aware of the fact that he had been arrested in Washington carrying high-capacity magazines, chose not to look a bit deeper into this.
How problematic this is only really becomes apparent once the wider context is clear. It was not just the Proud Boys and their leadership attempting to overthrow an elected government on 6th January.
There have been many arrests over the last 2 months, based largely on the very helpful self-incriminating evidence posted publicly by the perpetrators themselves. For instance there are 9 members of an organisation called the Oath Keepers that are now being charged, according to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, for conspiring “to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.”
And while there is a certain amount of debate about whether the events of 6th January can be accurately described as an armed insurrection or not, the fact of the matter is that a series of organised and trained individuals coordinated an attack on the institution of government that was in the process of ratifying the electoral process with the intention of stopping that process and instead installing an unelected government. And to the question of whether they were heavily armed or not, the MSNBC segment goes onto report that the conspirators decided not to carry guns into the Capitol building because “… we have a heavy QRF [quick reaction force] 10 min out.”
And this leads on to the second theme of Sund’s evidence, in which he implied that his officers were unprepared to face what was “a military style coordinated assault”. This phrase “military style” can be understood in two ways. The first being a form of army cosplay for men struggling with the fragility of emotionally stunted identities built on toxic masculinity, and the second is that the behaviour of certain groups appeared to be that of professional and highly organised military personnel. And while, when you look at the videos and interviews it is difficult not to see a significant number of the rank and file of these groups coming from that first category, the emotionally stunted mid-life crisis brigade, what is more worrying is that there is also clear evidence of some of them coming from the second category, the highly organised military.
The Oath Keepers was originally set-up in 2009 by Elmer Stewart Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, ex-Army Paratrooper and staffer for the neoliberal republican congressman Ron Paul (the father of Rand Paul). It is a far-right para-military militia made up of former military and police who while pledging to fulfil their oath to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, appear to have fallen for the same racist, mysogynist and authoritarian conspiracy tropes as so many before them. While the Oath Keepers positioned themselves as strongly anti-government during the Obama presidency, their motivations slid under the Trump presidency towards being more openly anti-progressive.
However the evidence suggest something much deeper than just retired soldiers struggling with civilian life and their age. CNN is reporting that one of the Oath Keepers being charged for his actions on the day, Navy veteran Thomas Caldwell, is also being accused of engaging with the Oath Keepers before, during and after the attack at the Capitol. Therefore, accused within the actual charging documents of being part of an organised conspiracy, Caldwell according to his lawyers, in addition to being a Navy veteran has also worked in the past for the FBI.
In fact, in that same story, CNN have quoted a source who argues that there are several active federal law enforcement members of the Oath Keepers who have kept their names off any membership databases in order to hide their true identities.
Based on the evidence coming to light about the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers alone it is not difficult to conclude that active FBI agents and assets, in addition to retired military and law enforcement, conspired to overthrow the elected government of the USA. But it doesn’t stop there.
Sections of the mainstream media have also focussed on an Emily Rainey who “led 100 members of the Moore County Citizens for Freedom”, a non-partisan network which “promotes conservative values” to the US capital to protest “election fraud” in support of Trump. The reason that this has been deemed news worthy is because she is a Captain in the 4th Psychological Operations Group based out of Fort Bragg.
For decades now, when the USA military and intelligence services attempted to overthrow a government and install a puppet regime in a foreign country, they have invariably turned to the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations (PsyOps) group. And this isn’t really breaking news. In fact, one could argue that the PsyOps group are probably just as well known for their domestic actions as they are for their foreign actions.
In the 1980s the Office for Public Diplomacy (OPD), while reporting to Colonel Oliver North on the National Security Council, conducted a domestic campaign against the American people and legislators in order to garner support for the CIA strategy in central and south America. While this campaign would eventually unravel publicly in the Iran-Contra investigations, it was not before it had allowed the 4th PsyOps group to embed active personnel in the offices of NPR and CNN. One senior US official described this OPD campaign to influence public opinion as a “vast psychological warfare operation of the kind the military conducts to influence a population in enemy territory.” Years later it was widely reported that some of the PSYOPS officers had continued to work at CNN well into the 1990s.
Of course there is now a good deal of debate about Captain Rainey’s official status on the 6th January, with the Army arguing that while still on active duty, Rainey was in fact in the process of resigning her commission after having been reprimanded for unspecified actions at an earlier protest.
That this is being debated is not entirely surprising because the very fact that she was resigning her commission after a career-ending reprimand over a similar event would suggest foreknowledge on the part of her superiors of a pattern of behaviour before January 6th. And therefore, even if she was simply a ‘bad apple’ acting privately, the fact that they knew before hand and took no steps to warn the Washington police that a captain in Army PsyOps was leading a group of 100 people to march on Washington does really draw into question the senior officers at Fort Bragg’s understanding of the phrase “enemies foreign and domestic”.
And to make matters still worse, shortly after this all started coming out the Army issued a statement saying that they had begun an investigation to ascertain exactly how many more soldiers from Fort Bragg were with Captain Rainey on that day. We’ll have to wait to see if the findings from that investigation are voluntarily made public.
The reason I am talking about this now is because it is a very good example of the disparity between what the “deep state” is and how it is presented by the far-right. While many provocateurs on the right like to present the deep state as some sort of racist child-abuse fantasy that titillates rich white male conservatives, the reality is demonstrably more bureacratic, pedestrian, and insidious.
The deep state, in summary, are the actors and sections of the institutions that are very rarely scrutinised or held to account by the media or the electorate but who are highly influential over and active in the day to day lives of the general population. To name but a few, the senior management in the intelligence agencies and armed forces, the defence and technology industries, and of course the think tanks and lobbyists.
Put simply, the deep state is the parts of the state that are not easily visible to the electorate. And who, hidden behind that veil, invariably overstep what is normatively accepted as appropriate behaviour by a “democratic” and “civilised” government. There are many arguments as to how this occurs, a good deal less about why it occurs.
In short, what we understand as “democracy” today is something more akin to a system developed and managed by a highly authoritarian ruling elite waging a class war against everyone else. The 6th January wasn’t an anomaly, it was the quite logical response of system of government that routinely nurtures and endorses authoritarianism while maintaining an easily deniable paramilitary response force to use against progressives who threaten to equalise society.