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QAnon Cultists May Be Scheming to Disrupt Biden’s Inauguration

When he is inaugurated on Wednesday, Joe Biden will speak to the new chapter of national unity he hopes to usher in. But the heavily fortified backdrop against which he’ll take his oath of office will be a stark and surreal reminder of the challenges he’ll face as he tries to make good on that promise of healing the deeply divided country.

Still reeling from the Capitol attack Donald Trump set in motion January 6, Washington has been bracing for the potential for more MAGA violence, with a massive, multi-pronged security effort underway to protect the peaceful transfer of power—a hallmark of American democracy that has come under threat, thanks to Trump’s refusal, to the bitter end, to acknowledge his election loss. True to form, Trump won’t be attending his successor’s inauguration—not that anyone really wants to see him glowering behind Biden the whole ceremony anyway—but there is significant concern that some of his ardent supporters might try.

According to the Washington Post, the FBI on Monday tipped off law enforcement agencies to the threat of QAnon cultists descending on D.C. for the inauguration, possibly disguised as National Guard troops. “QAnon members have discussed posing as National Guard soldiers, believing that it would be easy for them to infiltrate secure areas,” the bureau said in an intelligence report, the Post reported. Devotees to the deranged conspiracy theory, which holds that Trump has been waging a secret war on a Democratic cabal of cannibal sex traffickers, were among the crowd of MAGA extremists who stormed the Capitol earlier this month as lawmakers formalized Biden’s victory. While the FBI did not identify any specific plots against the inauguration on the scale of that siege, it is warning that Q adherents have been scheming up ways to disrupt Wednesday’s ceremony, including by exploiting vulnerabilities in the capital city’s security blanket and by blending in with the more than 20,000 troops that have been mobilized. The bureau is also warning of “lone wolf” threats to the ceremony.

“We’re monitoring all incoming leads, whether they’re calls for armed protest, potential threats that grow out of the January 6 breach of the Capitol, or other kinds of potential threats leading up to inaugural events and in various other targets,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week.

The threats of further violence has already made for a tense transition of power. But the possibility of insurrectionists posing as security forces could make the effort to protect the event even more complicated—especially amid ongoing concerns about extremists within law enforcement and the military. The radicals who converged on Capitol Hill January 6 included several people with a history of service, including Ashli Babbitt, who was killed in the riot and has become something of a martyr to the pro-Trump right. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that two Army National Guard members “are being removed from the security mission” at the inauguration because they are said to “have been found to have ties to fringe right group militias.”

After years of minimizing the presence of right-wing extremists in the military, the Pentagon is now mounting a stronger campaign to root out white supremacists and other far-right radicals among servicemembers—an effort that has included stringent background checks for the National Guard forces that have been deployed in D.C. for the inauguration. Officials have expressed confidence that they will be able to meet the extraordinary security threats facing the inauguration. But even if the security apparatus around the ceremony succeeds in preventing the kind of breach the Capitol suffered earlier this month, the threats themselves are symptoms of the deeper issues plaguing our democracy as Biden takes over. As Barton Gellman put it in the Atlantic recently: “A healthy democracy does not need a division-size force to safeguard the incoming president in its capital.”

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