If the hearings this week in Washington about the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection showed us nothing else, it was that we still don't know enough about what really happened that day.
And we must. New threats are coming to light.
"We know that members of the militia groups that were present on Jan. 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified," acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told House lawmakers during Thursday's hearing.
"With a direct nexus to the State of the Union," she said.
The State of the Union address is the one time every year when the president addresses all of Congress in the House chamber. The event also is attended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court justices.
If it sounds a little familiar — like a movie or a TV show — it is. Or was. The four-season political thriller "Designated Survivor" starred Kiefer Sutherland, who, as a lower-level cabinet member drew the short straw to be "designated survivor" and not attend the event. After a made-for-TV State of the Union explosion claimed the lives of the president and most of the Cabinet, Sutherland's character suddenly found himself catapulted to the Oval Office.
Back on the real Capitol Hill, the police chief's warning was made in the context of trying to justify to Congress why exceptional security measures put in place in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault need to remain until sturdy alternatives can be built. For now, a large area around the Capitol is surrounded by a 7-foot non-scalable fence topped with razor wire. Thousands of national guard members continue to be deployed there as additional guards.
The Jan. 6 assault followed an incendiary rally by Donald Trump to promote his "big lie" that the November election was stolen from him. Pittman's predecessor, Steven Sund, testified earlier last week that police expected an enraged but more typical protest crowd of Trump backers. Sund resigned days after the shameful catastrophe.
Pittman denied that law enforcement failed to take seriously warnings of violence. She said that three days before the riot, Capitol Police distributed an internal document warning that armed extremists were poised for violence and could attack Congress because they saw it as the last chance to try to overturn the election results.
She said intelligence collected before the riot prompted police to take extraordinary measures, including the special arming of officers, intercepting radio frequencies used by the invaders and deploying spies at the Ellipse rally where Trump was sending his supporters marching to the Capitol to "fight like hell.
The FBI also forwarded a warning to local law enforcement officials about online postings that a "war" was coming.
But Pittman said it still wasn't enough to prepare for the mob that attacked the Capitol. There were just too many violent extremists, all made too angry by the then-president's incitements. The Capitol police could not maintain control.
There are still so many unanswered questions. Who planted the bombs found nearby? Why were Congress members or their staffs giving tours the day before to some of the protesters despite COVID-19 tour bans? Who were the Congress members who arranged those tours that later allowed the rioters to zip right to the chambers and the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?
Where was the national guard and why were requests for its presence delayed?
And why is the "big lie" being continued — even by Republican congressional members themselves?
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson used his questioning time during Tuesday's Senate hearing to talk up another false conspiracy theory that "agents-provocateurs" and "fake Trump protesters" were behind the assault, rather than actual Trump supporters. Really, Senator, if that's the case, Donald Trump's an even bigger chump than we thought.
Despite right-wing efforts to downplay the insurrection and the right-wing extremist connections to it, several of the most prominent armed militia and extremist groups in the U.S. were photographed and even made selfies of themselves at the forefront of the Capitol riot — happily sporting their Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and QAnon gear. Happily wielding their Trump banners, Confederate battle flags and Don't Tread on Me pennants.
More than 300 people have now been charged in the insurrection — many identified by law enforcement through text messages sent to family and friends. In an indictment handed down last week against six alleged members of the Oath Keepers militia, the justice department charged that the group had planned for several months to prevent Congress from certifying the electoral college results of the presidential election. Several members of the far-right Proud Boys have also been charged with criminal conspiracy.
Meanwhile, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies continue to track far-right online chatter for early warnings on any possible repeat attacks, according to The Guardian. In addition to Biden's upcoming congressional address, law enforcement will also be on alert on the days leading up to March 4.
"Followers of the crank movement [QAnon] have been growing increasingly agitated by the fantasy around a Trump comeback on 4 March, the date on which US presidents were originally inaugurated," the Guardian wrote.
Be forewarned. And this time, pay attention.