The New York Times is now reporting that there was at least one FBI informant in the Proud Boys group, one of the three organizations being principally accused in the media of “conspiring” to in some way attack democracy in the Capitol riot of 6 January 2021.
This will of course be taken as vindication for those who have pored over charging documents and detected strong indications that the FBI had informants in the mix during the riot. A number of analysts have argued that the FBI probably also had undercover agents involved in planning, as with the plot against Michigan Governor Whitmer.
The vindication claim would be justified; the “undercover agents” argument unproven. But there’s a deeper interest to the new report.
Note how it is framed. The Proud Boys “marched on” the Capitol, and arrived after the initial breach, when the brain-dead among Trump ralliers were already “streaming into” the building.
In the informant’s version of events, the Proud Boys, famous for their street fights, were largely following a pro-Trump mob consumed by a herd mentality rather than carrying out any type of preplanned attack.
After meeting his fellow Proud Boys at the Washington Monument that morning, the informant described his path to the Capitol grounds where he saw barriers knocked down and Trump supporters streaming into the building, the records show. At one point, his handler appeared not to grasp that the building had been breached, the records show, and asked the informant to keep him in the loop — especially if there was any violence.
This excuses the Proud Boys from the actual breach, and situates their penetration by an FBI informant on the sideline.
There can be no doubt that that’s the intent of the article. The excerpt above begins with the article’s fourth sentence. It’s not buried down in paragraph 35. There’s a lot of background that follows, little of it significant (much of it is a rehash of the mainstream media’s longtime narrative about the nature of the Proud Boys).
The main point, with which the article opens, is that the Proud Boys marched behind the Trump supporters, and that’s where the FBI informant was. The Proud Boys may have “conspired” (by communicating mostly about travel and meet-up arrangements on social media) before the event, but this article seems to justify the conclusion I had already reached: that they weren’t “conspiring” to break into the Capitol.
We won’t know for sure if this framing comports with the Justice Department’s view of culpability and the full reality of the riot, until there’s more conclusive action on charges, trials, pleas, and dispositions.
But it would appear to build a narrative that supports letting the Proud Boys off the hook. It’s not even a particularly important feature of that narrative that the FBI and its informant are thereby let off the hook. The latter feature is of course convenient for the FBI.
Those deductions are obvious ones, and seem likely to be valid. But the really important point is that letting the Proud Boys off the hook eliminates one of the three candidates for blaming the Capitol breach on. The others are the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.
In the charges brought so far, the few people fingered for conspiracy to actually breach the Capitol are nowhere near enough to account for the initial breach. The big hole in this case all along has been that the great majority of the initial breachers are not being identified and charged. The former Capitol Police Chief, Steven Sund, said in his letter of resignation that he saw “thousands” of initial attackers from his vantage point in the USCP command center, and that the initial breaching force fought with Capitol Police for over an hour before the breach was achieved.
Even if Sund overestimated the number of the initial attacking force, what’s clear from the charges brought to date is that practically no one from it — if anyone at all –has been arrested or charged. Hardly any of the 500-plus defendants in the riot case is charged with anything related to the actual breach, including conspiracy. It is simply not possible that the few dozen charged with conspiracy — mostly conspiracy for collateral crimes, and not the breach itself — either succeeded in breaching the Capitol in a fight with the USCP, or equate to the force described by Sund. There just aren’t nearly enough of them. (I’ve seen other estimates, from people whose views came from outside the Capitol building rather than from the command center, that the initial breaching force was about 300-400 people.)
Is it really impossible to locate and charge the people from the initial breaching force? Until that is done, the theory of the Capitol riot looks like smoke and mirrors. We know there was a violent breach, but we also know that hardly anyone arrested so far is charged with it. The NYT report on the FBI informant in the Proud Boys suggests that the Proud Boys won’t be found to have taken part in the initial breach.
Which, from what I can tell, would remove nearly half of the charged “conspirators” from the pool of potential breachers, winnowing it down to about 24 individuals. See the CBS summary linked above. To date, if media reporting is correct, ten Oath Keepers have been charged with crimes related to the actual breach, though not identified as actually breaching the Capitol building. Five people from Florida have been charged with assaulting USCP officers outside the Capitol and fighting with them for “hours,” but not of breaching the Capitol.
These crimes as charged are inexcusable. The perpetrators should, on conviction, receive full punishment. But their prosecution does not identify the hundreds more who were behind and committed the actual breach, nor do the other charges brought, especially the hundreds of misdemeanors committed by the people who entered the Capitol after the breach and wandered around snapping selfies.
Nothing to date validates the media narrative about what happened that day. There remains a very big missing piece.