FBI tracking ‘extensive’ online chatter about armed protests

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is tracking an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter,” including calls for armed protests leading up to next week’s presidential inauguration, Director Chris Wray said Thursday.

Wray, in his first public appearance since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, said in a security briefing for Vice President Mike Pence that the FBI remains concerned about the potential for violence at protests and rallies in Washington and in state capitols around the country.

Those events could bring armed individuals near government buildings and elected officials, Wray warned, while also noting, “One of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what’s aspirational versus what’s intentional.”

Wray said the FBI was receiving a “significant” amount of information that it was pushing out to other law enforcement agencies ahead of the inauguration. Information-sharing is critical before any significant public event like the inauguration, but the issue is receiving particular scrutiny because of signs law enforcement was unprepared for the violent, deadly surge at the Capitol by loyalists of President Donald Trump.

Federal officials have warned local law enforcement agencies that the riot at the Capitol is likely to inspire others with violent intentions.

“We’re looking at individuals who may have an eye towards repeating that same kind of violence that we saw last week,” Wray said, adding that since January 6, the FBI has identified over 200 suspects.

“We know who you are. If you’re out there, an FBI agent is coming to find you,” he added.

States nationwide have already been stepping up security in preparation for possible armed protests and violence this weekend, particularly at statehouses amid legislative sessions and inaugural ceremonies. Officials are reassessing their security plans for high-risk targets and police in major cities are preparing to be put on tactical alert if necessary. An FBI bulletin earlier this week warned of potential armed protests in all 50 states.

To monitor threats, share intelligence and decide how to allocate resources, the FBI during the inauguration will operate a round-the-clock command post at headquarters and at each of its 56 field offices, Wray said.

“Our posture is aggressive, and it’s going to stay that way through the inauguration,” he said.

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen attended a separate briefing Thursday at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center, where he was briefed on specifics of the inauguration security plan and met with FBI leaders for an update on the investigations.

Separately, Pence returned to the Capitol on Thursday for the first time since the attempted insurrection forced security to whisk him to a secure location after rioters interrupted his work overseeing the congressional count of Electoral College votes.

The vice president visited with guard troops keeping watch outside the Capitol, telling them he’s familiar with the National Guard because he used to be a governor.

“Thank you for stepping forward for your country,” Pence said. He told the troops they would be get to witness the transfer of power and thanked them for their service.

“It’s been my great honor to serve as your vice president,” Pence added, before ending with another round of thanks and wishing the troops a “safe inauguration and a swearing-in of a new president and vice president.”

In response, the guardsmen yelled, “Hooah.”

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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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