Riot police walk outside the US Capitol as supporters of US President Donald Trump protest on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC AFP
The FBI sought the public's help in identifying the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol, as the Justice Department said a policy adopted in the summer to consider sedition charges for anti-racism protesters would also apply in this case.
Some of the 68 people arrested after Wednesday's assault on the seat of the U.S. government were due in court on Thursday, with most facing initial charges of violating a curfew imposed to quell the unrest.
The assault by supporters of President Donald Trump forced members of Congress who were in the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory to evacuate the chambers for several hours.
The U.S. Capitol Police said they had arrested another 14 suspects in connection with the rioting, most charged with unlawful entry.
"The violence and destruction of property at the U.S. Capitol building yesterday showed a blatant and appalling disregard for our institutions of government and the orderly administration of the democratic process," FBI Director Chris Wray said in a statement.
"Make no mistake: With our partners, we will hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol."
The Justice Department confirmed that a policy put in place urging federal prosecutors to consider "seditious conspiracy" charges for people involved in anti-racism protests would also apply to those who stormed the Capitol, smashing windows and stealing property.
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen "continues his commitment to the charging considerations" spelled out in the summer memo laying out that policy, a Justice Department spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.
Rosen added that some of the agitators will face federal charges.
"Some participants in yesterday’s violence will be charged today, and we will continue to methodically assess evidence, charge crimes and make arrests in the coming days and weeks to ensure that those responsible are held accountable under the law," he said in a statement.
In a news conference on Thursday, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee said most of the arrests were related to violations of Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser's curfew, and included people arrested on U.S. Capitol grounds.
Several others were arrested on charges related to carrying unlicensed or prohibited firearms.
He said the police had arrested 60 men in connection with the violence at the Capitol and eight women. Forty-one of the arrests occurred on U.S. Capitol grounds.
A spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Superior Court told Reuters court appearances for the people who were arrested and not detained would not take place until March and April.
The FBI is taking the lead on an investigation into two pipe bombs that were recovered from the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees.
D.C. police said the bombs were authentic, and also told reporters they had recovered a cooler from a vehicle on U.S. Capitol grounds that contained Molotov cocktails.
The FBI has asked the public to submit tips, including images and videos, to help agents identify people who were "actively instigating violence."
Mayor Bowser said police also intend to ask the public for help in identifying rioters, many of whom posed for photos inside the Capitol building and can be seen in videos on social media without masks.
While the number of people arrested is expected to grow, the initial number paled in comparison with the more than 300 people arrested by police following the June 1 protests in the District of Columbia related to the police killing of George Floyd.
In that incident, baton-swinging police and federal agents fired smoke canisters, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets to drive protesters farther from the White House, enabling Trump to walk across Lafayette Square and hold up a Bible in front of historic St. John’s Church.
Law enforcement officers were severely criticized for being too aggressive at Lafayette Square. The Capitol Police are now facing questions about why they did not do more to secure the Capitol building.