Fact check: Claim about FBI official who said bureau recovered no guns at Capitol riot is missing context
The claim: Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, told a Senate committee that the FBI did not recover any guns at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to prevent Congress from counting electoral votes that would declare President Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 election carried baseball bats, brought zip-cuffs and used flagpoles to break into the building.
Law enforcement officials have said some also had guns.
After a March 3 meeting of a joint oversight Senate committee investigating the riot, some outlets seized on testimony from the FBI counterterrorism division’s assistant director that the bureau had not recovered any guns during the incident.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, how many guns the FBI had confiscated in the Capitol or on its grounds on Jan. 6.
“To my knowledge, none,” Sanborn is quoted as saying in several outlets, including The Epoch Times. At least one other outlet quoted The Epoch Times coverage.
But that leaves out the first part of Sanborn’s response, when she declined to speak for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department or U.S. Capitol Police.
The U.S. Department of Justice has charged at least three people on gun charges stemming from the Jan. 6 riot, including one whom prosecutors said Metro police found carrying a loaded handgun with an extra magazine.
The Epoch Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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What did Sanborn say?
Johnson already has questioned whether it’s fair to call the U.S. Capitol riot an “armed insurrection,” as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others have.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last month that Johnson told a radio station, “This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.”
“I mean ‘armed,’ when you hear ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms?” Johnson said. “Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask. How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired? I’m only aware of one, and I’ll defend that law enforcement officer for taking that shot. It was a tragedy, OK? But I think there was only one.”
Johnson asked Sanborn those questions at the March 3 joint oversight committee hearing investigating the riot.
Asked how many firearms were confiscated in the Capitol or on its grounds on Jan. 6, Sanborn said, “To my knowledge we have not recovered any on that day from any of the arrests at the scene at this point. But I don’t want to speak on behalf of Metro and Capitol police, but to my knowledge none.”
Sanborn later noted that investigators found a firearm in a search of a vehicle that also had Molotov cocktails. The only shots fired that day, she said, were from an officer who shot and killed a woman inside the Capitol.
In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Photo: Jose Luis Magana, AP)
Gun charges related to Capitol riot
So far, at least three people have been charged in federal court in the District of Columbia with gun crimes related to the Capitol riot, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Christopher Alberts, of Maryland, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm on Capitol grounds or buildings, carrying a pistol without a license and possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device. A Metro police officer said Alberts, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, had a “bulge” on his right hip that turned out to be a loaded handgun with a spare 12-round magazine.
Federal prosecutors also have charged Lonnie Coffman, of Alabama, with possession of an unregistered firearm and carrying a pistol without a license. A Capitol police officer swore in an affidavit that Coffman had a black handgun on the seat of his pickup truck and an assault rifle and magazines in the bed near where explosive devices had been reported at the National Republican Club and the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
A bomb squad also recovered 11 Molotov cocktails from Coffman’s truck, according to the affidavit, and Coffman also was carrying two handguns.
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On Jan. 7, the day after the riot, the FBI investigated a text message that Cleveland Meredith, of Georgia, allegedly sent claiming that he was considering going to Pelosi’s speech “and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.” Meredith told the FBI that he arrived from Colorado in Washington too late for the Capitol riot.
FBI agents discovered a pistol, assault rifle “and approximately hundreds of rounds of ammunition” during a search of Meredith’s trailer, according to an arrest complaint. He was charged with possession of unregistered firearms and unregistered ammunition, possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices and making threats against Pelosi.
Capitol riot: FBI's warning not fully shared, police lacked training, gear (Photo: GETTY)
Our rating: Missing context
The claim that the FBI’s assistant director over the counterterrorism division told a Senate committee that the bureau did not recover any guns at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is MISSING CONTEXT. While Jill Sanborn did say the FBI had recovered no firearms at the riot, outlets quoting her have removed the first part of her quote when she notes that she cannot speak for other law enforcement agencies that were present at the riot. The U.S. Department of Justice has levied gun charges against two men law enforcement officials say were at the Capitol riot and a third who arrived too late.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, Jan.7, “California woman killed during Capitol riot was a military veteran and staunch Trump supporter”
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 15, “Ron Johnson on Jan. 6 Capitol attack: ‘This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me'”
- The Washington Post Youtube channel, March 3, “Senate hearing on Jan. 6 Capitol riot”
- U.S. Department of Justice, accessed March 4, “Capitol Breach Cases”
- U.S. Department of Justice, Jan. 7, “Statement of Facts for charges against Christopher Alberts”
- USA TODAY, Jan. 12, “Alabama man with ‘particularly lethal’ Molotov cocktails at US Capitol riot left alarming notes in truck, records show”
- U.S. Department of Justice, Jan. 7, “Affidavit in support of criminal complaint for charges against Lonnie Coffman”
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 9, “Georgia man among those facing federal charges following Capitol riot”
- U.S. Department of Justice, “Statement of facts for charges against Cleveland Meredith”
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