The deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week marked a shocking milestone in the evolution of extremist groups when, for the first time, a diverse mix of organizations converging for a major assault, said current and former federal law enforcement officials.
Photos and video of the Capitol assault showed rioters with clothing, emblems and flags identifying themselves as members of the conspiracy group QAnon, the loosely allied alt-right group America First, and militias such as Three Percenters, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
A left-wing activist linked to Black Lives Matter also was hit with criminal charges for participating in the siege.
John Sullivan, 26, who leads the progressive activist group Insurgence USA, was charged with civil disorder, violent entry or disorderly conduct and entering a restricted building or grounds.
He admitted to media outlets that he entered the Capitol after a pro-Trump mob stormed the building. He maintains he was there to document the mayhem, not to riot.
Prosecutors tell a different story. They say a video Mr. Sullivan shared with the FBI shows him encouraging protesters to cause property damage.
Mr. Sullivan previously was charged for rioting and criminal mischief in connection with a June 30 anti-police brutality riot in Provo, Utah. A truck driver was shot at that protest. Police say he organized the event and, after the shooting, spoke with one of the men who allegedly fired the gun.
On Friday, a federal judge in Utah released Mr. Sullivan from jail and placed him on house arrest while awaiting trial on charges from the Capitol attack.
He was the first left-leaning activist charged in connection with the riot that left five people dead, including a police officer.
The majority of those arrested so far are supporters of President Trump.
“If you look at social media, you can see a lot of affiliation with some of the protest activity and it runs the whole gamut from soup to nuts,” Michael Sherwin, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia told reporters Friday.
He refused to name specific groups but called out two defendants charged, saying the “evidence speaks for itself.”
Those defendants were Robert Keith Packer, 56, who was photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt at the riot, and Kevin Seefried, who carried a Confederate flag inside the Capitol.
“These guys have labeled themselves,” he said. “All these extremist groups are being looked at in terms of their participation at the Capitol.”
Prosecutors filed charges against more than 100 people linked to the Jan. 6 mayhem on Capitol Hill. Court documents, however, don’t link the suspects to extremist groups.
Mr. Sherwin declined to say if they’ve uncovered any evidence of coordination between the groups ahead of the deadly siege.
He walked back previous allegations that the attackers were organized to assassinate or kidnap lawmakers.
“We don’t have any direct evidence of kill-capture teams,” Mr. Sherwin said.
Right-wing terror attacks have largely been carried out by lone-wolf extremists.
The 2019 mass shooting in a Walmart parking lot in El Paso, Texas was carried out by a single perpetrator, a white supremacist who killed 23 people.
In 2018, authorities linked a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that resulted in 11 deaths to a single individual, who posted anti-Semitic views online.
Even the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, widely seen as the deadliest anti-government terror attack in U.S. history, was believed to be carried out by just four people.
In the past few months, the pattern of lone-wolf attackers has begun to shift, analysts say.
In October, prosecutors brought charges against members of the far-right Boogaloo Bois, saying a Texas man coordinated with other extremists to “incite a riot” in Minneapolis this summer by clashing with demonstrators protesting against the death of George Floyd.
That same month, the FBI broke up an alleged plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The 13 suspects were tied to a paramilitary organization calling themselves the Wolverine Watchmen.
The traditional lack of coordination by right-wing groups is one of the reasons law enforcement was unprepared to deal with chaos at the Capitol, said Clint VanZandt, a former FBI profiler.
Officers were overwhelmed when thousands of pro-Trump supporters stormed the building.
“You’ve had massive rallies in support of President Trump and no one has taken any violent action whatsoever so you can see why the Capitol Police never expected anything like this,” said Mr. VanZandt.
As evidence of coordination emerges, it doesn’t mean the threat of a lone-wolf actor has abated.
Among those arrested in connection with the Capitol riot was Lonnie Coffman, a 70-year-old man with no internet footprint. Mr. Coffman’s car was found outside the Capitol with guns, ammunition and 11 Molotov cocktails.
His alleged involvement raises questions.
“He’s unique because he was really prepared and we are told by the media there were individuals banging on the door of the Capitol before Trump finished his speech,” Mr. VanZandt said. “So where did he come from? Did he come to his conclusion on his own?”