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No evidence Antifa or ‘fake’ Trump supporters spurred Capitol riot, FBI’s Wray testifies

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday sought to beat back right-wing conspiracy theories suggesting that fake supporters of former U.S. president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

It was Wray’s first testimony in Congress since the attack — a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s November election victory — was carried out by supporters of Trump who, in a speech near the White House, exhorted them to march to the Capitol in protest.

“I was appalled that you, our country’s elected leaders, were victimized right here in these very halls,” Wray testified before the Senate’s judiciary committee.

“That siege was criminal behaviour, pure and simple. It’s behaviour that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.”

Early on, Republicans on the panel sought to equate the Jan. 6 riot to the occasional violence that ensued in months of racial justice protests in dozens of U.S. cities last year.

The senior Republican on the panel, Chuck Grassley, made repeated references to Antifa and violence committed by those who might be described as being left on the political spectrum, including a fatal shooting incident in Portland last year and the near-fatal shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise in 2017 by a suspect who posted a photo of Bernie Sanders on his Facebook profile.

But Wray was unequivocal in terms of what the agency has learned so far about the events of Jan. 6.

“We have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th,” he said.

Last month in another Senate hearing, Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin brought up the possibility that “agent provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters” had circulated among the crowd on Jan. 6, citing an article by a right-wing think-tank.

Wray said there had been no evidence presented yet of fake Trump protesters crashing the event, which appears to have been planned for weeks according to previous testimony, and he reiterated his assertion from 2020 hearings that white supremacists “have been responsible for the most lethal attacks over the last decade” in terms of domestic terrorism.

Hundreds charged so far

The U.S. Justice Department has charged more than 300 people on criminal counts ranging from conspiracy to attacking police and obstructing Congress.

Five people in attendance died that day, including a Trump supporter who was fatally shot and a Capitol police officer who was killed in circumstances that are still unclear. Three others suffered fatal medical episodes, according to reports.

At least 18 people associated with the far-right Proud Boys — which Canada labelled a terrorist group last month — have been charged and nine people tied to the anti-government militia known as the Oath Keepers are facing charges they conspired as far back as November to storm the Capitol to prevent Biden from becoming president.

Biden took office on Jan. 20.

Federal investigators including the FBI have come under scrutiny since Jan. 6 over why more was not done to protect the Capitol ahead of the attack.

On Jan. 5, the FBI’s Norfolk, Va., office distributed a raw, unverified intelligence report which warned that violent extremists intended to disrupt Congress.

Still unclear how Capitol Police officer was killed

Wray told lawmakers on Tuesday the intelligence was shared with other law enforcement agencies three different ways, but acknowledged he personally did not see the report until a few days later.

As to why other top law enforcement officials did not see it, Wray said: “I don’t have a good answer to that.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said to Wray: “What I don’t understand is why this … raw intelligence didn’t prompt a stronger warning and alarm.”

The FBI has yet to arrest any suspects in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, or for pipe bombs that were discovered outside the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic national committees.

The FBI has obtained a video that shows a suspect spraying bear spray on police officers, including Sicknick, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation.

Citing an ongoing investigation, Wray said he couldn’t yet disclose a cause of death for Sicknick.

Democrats and some Republicans condemned Trump for his weeks of false claims leading up to Jan. 6, that the election was stolen. He repeated that claim in his first significant speech since leaving the presidency last week.

But Wray said he stood by comments made by former attorney general Bill Barr, who had infuriated Trump after the election when he said the Justice Department did not have evidence of any widespread election fraud.

“We are not aware of any widespread evidence of voter fraud, much less that would have affected the outcome of the presidential election,” Wray told lawmakers.

We are not aware of any widespread evidence of voter fraud, much less that would have affected the outcome of the presidential election,” Wray told lawmakers.

In a newly unsealed search warrant, investigators say rioters carried weapons inside the Capitol including tire irons, sledge hammers, stun guns, bear spray and, in at least one case, a handgun with an extended magazine.

“Everyone involved must take responsibility for their actions that day, including our former president,” said Grassley, who was among those who voted to acquit Trump on a count of incitement of insurrection in a Senate impeachment trial last month.

WATCH | Former FBI agent Jack Cloonan on the domestic terrorism threat:

Given the events of Jan. 6, the likelihood of someone attempting an attack around the presidential inauguration is ‘extremely high,’ says former FBI special agent Jack Cloonan. 7:46

Senate judiciary committee chair Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said the government has not done enough to protect against threats from far-right extremists and white supremacists, and accused the Trump administration of playing down those threats.

He said the Trump administration “never set up a task force to combat the numerous incidents” from the far-right, and instead focused on Black Lives Matter activists.

With respect to other issues, Wray said he was concerned about violent attacks against Asian Americans during the past year. But he stopped short of condemning  what he called “rhetoric” — offensive language used by Trump and other legislators regarding the pandemic that Democrats have characterized as pejorative or racist.

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How measles outbreak spurred renewed interest in national vaccine registry

As Colin Duggan and his wife were getting ready to take their 18-month-old daughter to get vaccinated, they realized they didn’t know their own immunization history.

Over the years, Duggan has moved around, living in Nova Scotia, Ontario and the United States. When it came to finding his vaccination records, he was at a loss.

“We asked our nurse practitioner if that was something we could do again, and she said, ‘Better safe than sorry,'” he said.

That day, the entire family rolled up their sleeves and received their shots for measles, mumps and rubella.

A central database

Creating a central place for people to look up their records is just one part of a long list of reasons why public health advocates have spent more than two decades calling for a national immunization registry.

Those calls have been renewed recently with an outbreak of measles in Saint John.

One of those patients had visited a hospital in Halifax for treatment of something unrelated to measles. Because of that, all cleaners, doctors and nurses had to be tested to see if they were immune before they could return to work.

Colin Duggan and his daughter wait to receive their MMR vaccines. Duggan decided to get the booster at the same time because he couldn’t find his vaccination records. (Submitted by Colin Duggan)

“It’s on everybody’s mind in public health, in all the provinces and territories, and at the federal government,” said Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, deputy chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia.

“I think the big advantage for a national registry is that allows us to see how well we’re doing at reaching unimmunized populations and bringing their immunizations up to date. And that gives us a sense as to how protected we are against some of the most serious vaccine preventable diseases.”

While Watson-Creed said the desire is there, a national registry would force public health officials to sort through some significant hurdles.

Each jurisdiction follows its own system when it comes to vaccines. There are different types of shots, some are given on different schedules. 

“It would require 13 provinces to have the same approach.”

There are, however, hints that it’s possible. Eight provinces and territories have opted to use the same program, Panorama, to digitally track their public health records.

Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed remains hopeful that a national immunization registry will be created in Canada. She says public health officials across the country are on board. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Ultimately, it would also require the federal government’s involvement to oversee the program.

“The federal government does not necessarily have a stellar track record when it comes to innovation and national registries,” said Ian Culbert, the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

Even so, he said the CPHA wants to see the development of a registry to be a priority.

“I think we need to proceed cautiously and make sure that we make solid and sound investments moving forward.”

Health Canada points to the work being done under the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network, which helps share information when someone moves to a different province or territory. But the vision of public health advocates goes much further than that. 

Ideally, Culbert said, a registry would offer a database for research purposes without containing identifying information, while individuals could still access their own information that would be safeguarded by health regulations. 

Targeting specific areas

Culbert said there are many situations where people haven’t received their vaccines because of logistics. Maybe they don’t have a family physician or they can’t take time off work to go to an appointment.

Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, says a national registry could help identify neighbourhoods to set up pop-up vaccination clinics. (EvidenceNetwork.ca)

“If we had a registry, we would be able to pinpoint perhaps neighbourhoods that have lower immunization rates and be able to go in and do a pop-up vaccination clinic at a convenient time for parents or for whoever is the focus of that particular campaign.”

Researchers, too, have also advocated for a national vaccine registry, saying it could be an incredible data source that could shape public health.

Dr. Joan Robinson, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta, said the lack of consistency in recording vaccinations between provinces “is a huge problem.”

But she believes it may take a major outbreak for it to become a top priority.

“It’s asking the federal government to put money into something that isn’t completely their responsibility,” she said.

Robinson is a realist when it comes to the likelihood of the registry ever being created, even though she’d be in full support if it did actually happen.

“We could look at … who gets admitted in hospital with influenza. We could use that information to figure out which of the vaccines worked best.”

She said it would also help individuals manage their own records, ideally through an app.

“You could access your immunization records and the records of your children. And it could tell you when anyone is due for a vaccine. I mean, wouldn’t that be a novel idea?”

Robinson said the priority now needs to be working with parents to make sure children are vaccinated.

Culbert said everything needs to be on the table amid the ongoing vaccine debate.

“Part of the problem is that there are no silver bullets,” said Culbert. “There’s no panaceas. This is one of a number of initiatives that need to be undertaken.”

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