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Republicans Fall for Bogus March 4 QAnon Insurrection

The 'intelligence community' is now 0-2 on predicting violent incursions on the Hill. Why do Republicans still put faith in them?

Washington, D.C. - Fencing and open space around the U.S. Capitol building, March 4.

“I think President Trump has a responsibility to tell them to stand down. This threat is credible; it’s real.”

So said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), member and former chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, to CNN’s Jake Tapper Wednesday night. Rep. McCaul’s real, credible threat consisted of reports from the FBI and Capitol police that right-wing militia forces would attempt to storm the fortified grounds of the Capitol on Thursday, March 4th.

McCaul was hardly alone in taking these reports seriously. The House of Representatives, under the cautious leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, altered their Wednesday schedule in order to avoid working on Thursday. Far more surprising, the Republican National Committee—headquartered just south of the Capitol complex—shut down on Thursday, as The American Conservative has confirmed. The Senate, apparently acting on the same intelligence as the House, carried out their business uninterrupted on March 4th.

That seems to have been the sensible course of action, as the situation on the ground Thursday apparently disproved the assumption that any potential threat was either credible or real. All around the miles-long perimeter of concrete barriers and 10-foot fences, the only people to be found were a handful of camera men (who must have had a very unproductive day) and the occasional urban jogger. (Though one squirrel, who may have had ties to the Proud Boys or the Oathkeepers, did wriggle in illegally through concertina wire.) Guardsmen stood posted all along the fences, ready to put down a riot that never came.

But why did anyone think it was coming in the first place? Intelligence agencies claimed that pro-Trump conspiracy theorists had homed in on March 4th as the day the former president would make his triumphant return to office. According to this alleged conspiracy, the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 had effectively disestablished the United States—making Donald Trump, on his foretold parousia, the 19th American president and immediate successor to Ulysses S. Grant. Naturally, this return would occur on March 4th, the standard Inauguration Day during the first century and a half of U.S. history. Politico reporter Natasha Bertrand, known for her Russiagate reporting, was perhaps the first prominent figure to call attention to the date.

The seriousness of the theory, though—i.e., how seriously it was taken by how many people—is unclear, but questionable to say the least. And yet the FBI, as well as Homeland Security and the Capitol Police, insisted that they had actionable intelligence suggesting that a horde of QAnon fanatics would descend on D.C. on the prophesied date. One report suggested that 50,000 militia members would be in attendance, ready to take the Capitol by force (again). Others were less certain, with one ABC News source casting doubt on the 50,000 figure.

It’s worth pointing out that any influx of 50,000 armed individuals into a fairly depopulated D.C. would not have gone unnoticed. And yet as late as the day in question, authorities remained on guard for…something. Exactly what they expected remains entirely unclear, especially given the vague (and sometimes contradictory) character of the intel and media reports leading up to March 4th. Equally obscure is why they really expected it, since the FBI will only say that their “standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products.”

More perplexing than anything is why Republicans went along with the narrative on March 4th, given the repeated failures of the media and intelligence agencies that were pushing it. In fact, all that appears certain at this point is that the FBI can’t tell you when a mob will overtake the U.S. Capitol, but they can put half the city on high alert any time one won’t. And senior Republicans, the RNC, and every major news outlet will be more than happy to oblige, despite an embarrassing two-strike record. Their motives are likely to remain a mystery; Rep. McCaul’s press contact has not responded to an inquiry as of press time. But Republican legislators, law enforcement agencies, and intelligence authorities all owe the public answers about the second Capitol-riot intelligence failure in the first quarter of 2021.

Maybe there are political calculations in play here. Maybe Nancy Pelosi just wanted a long weekend. Or maybe our government really is being run by people who would jump ten feet high at the sight of their own shadows. If that’s the case, they can at least rest easy for a while longer: On that all-important date of March 4th, Capitol Police requested a 60-day extension of the National Guard occupation—57 days after the riot that kicked it off, 43 days after the transfer of power, and 19 days after the uneventful conclusion of President Trump’s second impeachment.

If the current trend holds, our fearful leaders are apt to be well-protected for a long, long time—no matter how many invisible militias leave the Temple of Democracy entirely untouched.

about the author

Declan Leary is The American Conservative's editorial fellow and a graduate of John Carroll University. His work has been published at National Review, Crisis magazine, and elsewhere.

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