Republicans accused of peddling ‘crazy right-wing conspiracy theories’ in Jan 6 pipe bomb hearing

One Democrat accused Republican lawmakers of playing ‘CSI or Law and Order’ during Tuesday’s hearing

Katie Hawkinson
Washington, DC
Tuesday 12 March 2024 18:22 GMT
FBI footage of Capitol pipe bomb suspect

US House Republicans led a hearing on the unsolved three-year mystery of the 6 January pipe bomber on Tuesday that Democratic members said peddled “crazy right-wing conspiracy theories.”

During the US Capitol riots on 6 January 2021, authorities identified two pipe bombs in Washington DC: one outside the Democratic National Committee (DNC) building, the other outside the Republican National Committee (RNC) building. Now, more than three years later, authorities have yet to announce a suspect or an arrest in the case.

Chairman Barry Loudermilk, a Republican from Georgia, led the hearing. He is best known for giving a “not typical” tour of the US Capitol on 5 January 2021, which some lawmakers on a separate special committee investigating the 6 January said raised “concerns” about the attendees’ “activity and intent.”

These allegations arose after video footage captured the tour group taking photos of “areas of the complex not typically of interest to tourists, including hallways, staircases, and security checkpoints.” The Congressman, meanwhile, said the tour attendees were photographing children’s artwork. The 6 January committee presented evidence that one of the tour attendees marched to the Capitol on 6 January and recorded a threatening video related to the riots; meanwhile, Capitol Police reviewed the video, writing, “We do not consider any of the activities we observed as suspicious.”

“What exactly is it that we’re doing here this morning?” Ranking Member Norma Torres, a Democrat, asked ahead of the Tuesday morning hearing. “Maybe it is to peddle crazy right-wing conspiracy theories about the January 6 pipe bombs spreading in the dark corners of the internet.”

“This committee should not be used as a platform to feed into Internet conspiracy theorists,” Ms Torres continued.

Last year, Marjorie Taylor Greene — a hard-right Republican and staunch ally to Donald Trump — made a claim that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) actually knows the identity of a person who left the two pipe bombs.

GOP congressmen gives Captiol tour to Trump rally attendees before Jan 6

“The FBI can’t find the pipe bomber? This is ridiculous! This shows you that the FBI doesn’t care about finding the pipe bomber because they know exactly who the pipe bomber is,” she said.

Several people also attended the hearing wearing shirts that read, “Rosanne Boyland: Murdered by Capitol Police January 6, 2021.” However, Ms Boyland — a 34-year-old who attended the pro-Trump rally that devolved into a Capitol breach — was not killed by authorities or anyone present at the insurrection. While initial reports suggested Ms Boyland was crushed to death by the mob of pro-Trump rioters, it was later revealed she died of acute amphetamine intoxication.

The hearing, lasting just around 90 minutes, did little to alleviate the mystery surrounding the 6 January pipe bomber — and one Democrat left the Republican-led hearing just as confused as when he walked in, he told The Independent.

Footage and radio communications from 6 January

Chairman Loudermilk has focused his questioning on law enforcement’s initial response to the pipe bombs outside the DNC and RNC.

“There should have been a permanent officer at that location,” Sean Gallagher, Assistant Chief of Police for Uniformed Operations, told the subcommittee, referring to the RNC. “I’d like to clarify that as these incidents are ongoing ... we were dealing with breaches.”

The chairman then showed footage of the streets outside the RNC and DNC, overlaid by radio communications between police officers. The footage at one point showed a nearby individual watching from just yards away as a bomb robot approached one of the devices. One officer could be heard on the radio calling for another officer to be posted near the headquarters, as people were walking throughout the area after authorities identified the bombs.

The witnesses emphasized that the Capitol Police were overwhelmed that day and did not have adequate numbers to deal with the mass of Trump supporters storming the Capitol.

Trump supporters scale the US Capitol scaffolding on 6 January 2021 (Getty Images)

Mr Loudermilk said the hearing’s purpose was not to “point fingers,” but rather to identify any failures by Capitol police on 6 January 2021 to fix them moving forward. He said the hearing was not intended to probe the FBI investigation into the bombs, as it is still ongoing.

Yet, the chairman invited a representative from the FBI to testify — and Democrats warned of the concerns about probing an ongoing investigation.

“Mr Chair, you would indicate that you invited the FBI to testify, but I have no idea how they would have contributed the conversation about what happened moments after the bombs were discovered,” Representative Joseph Morelle, a Democrat, said at the hearing.

“I don’t know why they would ask the FBI to come since they took over the investigation after the incident,” Mr Morelle told The Independent after the hearing.

Democrats push back

Ms Torres criticized her fellow subcommittee members’ probe into law enforcement’s response to the pipe bombs throughout the hearing.

“Second-guessing our law enforcement officers three years after the incident seems to me like a very cheap shot,” Ms Torres said. “It’s like spitting in their face after they gave up so much — so many of them had major injuries that were suffered under the violence of this angry mob that was unleashed on the US Capitol.”

At the beginning of the hearing, Ms Torres expressed concerns that Republicans were trying to play detectives.

“We must remember that this isn’t an episode of CSI or Law and Order,” Ms Torres said. “We don’t get to write our own ending according to what may or may not be convenient for our politics. It’s frustrating, and I agree 100 per cent, but all critical and sensitive investigations take time.”

Meanwhile, Mr Morelle questioned the true purpose of the hearing.

“I must admit I’m perplexed as to why we’re here for a public hearing on an active and ongoing federal criminal investigation,” Mr Morelle said. “Especially one the FBI has repeatedly told Congress — including members of the subcommittee — that discussing an ongoing investigation will undermine its integrity and make it more difficult to catch the perpetrator.”

“I have to wonder about whether that’s to undermine the integrity of an ongoing investigation,” he continued.

After the hearing, he told The Independent he still was unclear of the hearing’s true purpose.

“I will admit, I scratch my head often at the hearings that the majority holds,” Mr Morelle said. “I’m not sure what the point is. I’m not sure, when they’re all done, what they were trying to prove. I’m not sure that they did prove anything today.”

Mr Loudermilk told The Independent he was “disappointed” in Democrats’ response to the hearing.

“It’s a conspiracy theory to think that we’re just promoting conspiracy theories here,” Mr Loudermilk said after the hearing.

Mr Loudermilk has long criticized the initial US House investigation — led by a special committee appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi — into the 6 January riots.

Chairman Barry Loudermilk of Georgia led the hearing probing the response to the 6 January pipe bombs (Getty Images)

“Their role was to investigate the security failures in the Capitol on January 6,” Mr Loudermilk told The Independent. “They didn’t put any effort into that or if they did, they sure didn’t report on it.”

However, that committee did report on their efforts: in 2022, they released a damning 845-page report detailing the results of a 17-month-long investigation into the insurrection.

Where does the pipe bomb investigation stand?

This hearing, overall, did not present any new information regarding potential suspects or progress on the FBI investigation.

Since 6 January, the FBI has spent “thousands of hours” conducting interviews for information on the pipe bombs, according to a January statement.

Former FBI Master Bomb Technician Barry Black told the subcommittee not every explosive case has a clear-cut solution.

“I understand and hundreds of thousands of interviews have been conducted, tens of 1000s of video images that we’ve reviewed ... sadly, sometimes cases go cold once the evidence has been exhausted once all my leads,” Mr Black told the subcommittee.

The FBI also released footage of the suspect in 2021. As of March 2024, the FBI has yet to release any information on a suspect. Last year, authorities raised the reward for information regarding the bombs from $100,000 to $500,000 — two months ago, they released a statement confirming the award remains in effect.

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