GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Seth Jones knew that the Stop The Steal rally in Washington D.C. was going to be big when early that morning on January 6 he saw swarms of people convening around transportation stops, on the mall and nearby Lafayette Square.
The city seemed prepared for the event as well, he said.
“DC is prepared for and looks almost like a war zone,” said Jones during a Zoom interview on Wednesday. “My office building where I work is boarded up. Restaurants are boarded up. I mean people are prepared for, businesses are prepared for this kind of activity.”
However, he said law enforcement was not. Jones is a senior vice president and the director of the International Security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank that tracks terrorism both domestic and abroad. His office is located a few blocks away from the Capitol. When he saw protesters and Trump supporters storm into the Capitol building, he wondered where was law enforcement.
“As I’m watching what’s going on at the Capitol building, I mean it’s the number of law enforcement there, where is everybody?” Jones asked rhetorically. “It’s very different from what we saw from much of 2020 where some of the demonstrations saw a larger police presence. They were generally peaceful demonstrations but there’s a much larger police presence. It’s striking how small that presence was with such a large crowd at the Capitol building.”
Jones said he was perplexed and considered the riots to be an act of domestic terrorism.
However, it was a prediction that came to pass. Back in October, after the plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was foiled by the FBI and Michigan State Police, Jones told FOX 17 in an interview then that increased demonstrations and violence may happen around Inauguration time, especially if Joe Biden wins.
“We’re in for a haul,” he said back on October 9. “There are a lot of people creeping out of the woodwork right now and they’re heavily armed.”
Today, he said we can expect more activity in cities and state capitols across the country of extremists protesting the Inauguration and president-elect Joe Biden. The FBI warned earlier this week of potential violence at Capitol buildings as well.
“There are an infinite number of conspiracy theories. Many of them will not be violent and many of them will just be disillusioned and ill-informed,” Jones said. “But some percentage of them as we’ve already seen may be violent and at the very least will be armed if things get out of control. What’s also possible, again short-term, is that crowds of what you might call violent far-right extremists does bring out this on the far left.”
He added that the violence that stemmed from the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville may happen again. There may be attacks on Black American churches and synagogues, and this time around, law enforcement agencies.
“You could see this in Washington start to transform as people shouted at police on the Capitol steps that they were now the enemies. They were protectors of an illegitimate government,” Jones said. “If that turns out to be the direction that this goes that does raise the possibility of gun-related incendiaries, explosive attacks against government installations, police, including police locations, national guard and military bases.”
Jones said to combat extremism he believes the FBI should focus its attention and resources away from international terrorism, like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and onto domestic terrorism. Sometimes, these groups are hard to track because they’re leaderless and decentralized. There's dozens of them. However, they don’t last forever.
“If there’s a silver lining in a sense these kinds of groups over time, and networks, they peter out,” Jones said. “The U.S. government and its various law enforcement agencies have decimated historically The Covenant, The Sword, The Arm and The Lord,” Jones said, referencing a far-right militant group of the 1970s.
He added that extremist ideologies have to be combated digitally. Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies have already removed extremist and fringe groups or ‘Stop The Steal’ speech from its platforms. Jones said that was the main way they were meeting and concocting plans.
Jones also said that politicians, both democrat and republican, must denounce extremism and acts of violence. In the meantime, the government has got to tighten security in case future attacks happen.
“There’s got to be better preparation and riot-control to deal with what will almost certainly be armed individuals,” Jones said. “If someone crosses that line and uses violence, the full weight of the U.S. government has to come down on them.”