FBI chief says agency tracking 'extensive' online chatter about potential inauguration threats

FBI Director Chris Wray said Thursday that the bureau is seeing "an extensive amount of concerning online chatter" about events with the potential for violence surrounding next week's inauguration of President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race On The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Health Care — GOP attorneys general warn of legal battle over Biden's vaccine mandate MORE.

"Right now, we’re tracking calls for potential armed protests and activity leading up to the inauguration," Wray said at a briefing with Vice President Pence at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"And the reason I use the word potential is because one of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what’s aspirational versus what’s intentional," Wray continued. "We’re concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies planned here in D.C. and at state capital buildings around the country in the days to come that could bring armed individuals within close proximity to government buildings and officials."

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Wray's comments come after the riot on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, where Trump supporters stormed the building while a joint session of Congress was meeting to certify the electoral votes affirming Biden as the next president. Numerous people sustained injuries in the mayhem, and several people died, including one Capitol Police officer.

Pence opened Thursday's briefing at FEMA by assuring the public that Biden's inauguration would be safe despite rising safety concerns after the Capitol riots. Pence is expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony, but President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE, who has for months fomented anger among his supporters by falsely claiming the election was stolen, will not be in attendance.

"We all lived through that day of January the 6th," Pence said. "And as the president made clear yesterday, we are committed to an orderly transition, and to a safe inauguration, and the American people deserve nothing less."

Biden was briefed by the FBI and Secret Service on Wednesday about potential security threats to his inauguration, his transition team said. Lawmakers were briefed earlier this week on four armed threats targeting the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court. One Democrat described it as "the most chilling hour imaginable."

Officials at Thursday's briefing expressed confidence in their ability to keep Wednesday's inauguration secure. In the days since the riots, fencing has gone up around the Capitol building and the Supreme Court, and members of the National Guard have been stationed at the Capitol.

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Secret Service Director James Murray told Pence that his agency and its partners have been planning for the inauguration for more than nine months.

"We are highly confident in our security plan, but we are always wide eyed and sober in looking to capitalize on lessons learned," Murray said of reflecting on last week's breach at the Capitol.

Biden's inauguration was already expected to be scaled back given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Biden has said he will still take the oath of office outside the Capitol building despite the latest security concerns, though he has scrapped earlier plans to arrive in Washington, D.C., via Amtrak.

Trump, who is expected to leave a day before the inauguration for Florida, was impeached Wednesday on charges of inciting violence against the government. Lawmakers cited his false claims about the election, as well as his comments to supporters on the day of the riots in which he urged them to walk to the Capitol and fight the certification process.

The president issued a lengthy video message a week after the melee, disavowing the violence and calling for national unity, though he still has not acknowledged that Biden won the election fairly.