Updated Oct 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

FBI official was warned some agents were "sympathetic" to Capitol rioters

Rioters on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Some within the FBI may have felt "sympathetic" to the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters, someone warned in an email sent to a top FBI official a week after the attack.

Why it matters: The email is a sign that there could be FBI agents who may not have been motivated to bring cases against the Capitol rioters, according to NBC News. The Department of Justice has arrested hundreds of people in connection to the riots in almost every state.

What they said: "There is, at best, a sizable percentage of the employee population that felt sympathetic to the group that stormed the Capitol," and that believed it was no different for the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, the person wrote in an email to Paul Abbate, who is now the FBI's deputy director.

  • "Several also lamented that the only reason this violent activity is getting more attention is because of ‘political correctness,'" the emailer wrote to Abbate.

Zoom in: The emailer told Abbate that they spoke to a "blue state" office and had to explain the differences between "opportunists burning and looting" during the Black Lives Matter protests and the "insurgent mob whose purpose was to prevent the execution of democratic processes at the behest of a sitting president."

Details: The emailer wrote that they recovered the information from first- and second-hand conversations with FBI employees.

  • The email was recently released through a Freedom of Information Act request.
  • It is labeled as an "external" email, which may suggest the emailer was no longer an active FBI agent. The emailer described their "first unit," indicating that they have a history within the FBI.

Of note: The FBI Agents Association (FBIAA), an organization that supports active and former FBI agents, "does not comment on ongoing investigations," said Brian O’Hare, the group's president.

  • "I will say that FBI Agents understand the importance of separating their own personal views from their professional work," he said in a statement to Axios.
  • The FBI declined to comment.

The big picture: The FBI at large sees the Jan. 6 riots as an example of domestic terrorism, director Christopher Wray said in May 2021 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • Wray said the rioters were "on the same level with ISIS and homegrown violent extremists."

Go deeper: FBI director: Jan. 6 Capitol attack was domestic terrorism

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Abbate is a top FBI official. A previous version incorrectly said he was the top FBI official. The story has also been updated with comment from the FBI Agents Association.

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