Included in the FBI’s investigation are payments of $500,000 in bitcoin from a French national to key groups and figures prior to the attack. The payments were documented and posted on the internet this week by a company that analyzes cryptocurrency transfers. Bitcoin payments can be traced because they are documented on a public ledger.
Bitcoin is being used to fund extremism
While the Russians were being considered a potential source of fund of the Capitol rioters, an unnamed FBI official told NBC News that the bureau did not necessarily suspect that Russia was involved in the Bitcoin transfers. French media reported that these were made by a French computer programmer, who reportedly committed suicide on Dec. 8, after triggering the transfers.
The payments prompted the bureau to examine whether or not the money was used to fund illegal acts. If this is the case, then it raises the possibility of money laundering and conspiracy charges.
Cryptocurrency transfer analysis company Chainalysis reported on Dec. 8 that the donor sent 28.15 bitcoin ($522,000 at the time of transfer) to 22 separate addresses, many of which belonged to far-right activists.
Bitcoin has become a popular means of crowdfunding extremist groups in recent years. As a cryptocurrency, bitcoin exists only virtually and is not controlled by a central bank or administrator and is beyond any government control. But its open ledger has also made it easy for law enforcement to track bitcoin transactions, as is the case in the current investigation. (Related: The government is coming for your Bitcoin.)
During a press conference on the investigation into the Capitol riot Jan. 12, acting U.S. Attorney General Michael Sherwin stated that the “scope and scale of this investigation in these cases are really unprecedented.”
“We’re looking at and treating this just like a significant international counterterrorism or counterintelligence operation,” he said. “We’re looking at everything: Money, travel records, looking at disposition, movement, communication records.”
Foreign countries taking advantage of the situation in the US
The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies have noted that following the Capitol attack, actors influenced by Russia, Iran and China have seized the opportunity to amplify narratives that further their interests.
One unclassified intelligence report said that Russian state and proxy media outlets “have amplified themes related to the violent and chaotic nature of the Capitol Hill incident, impeachment of President Trump and social media censorship.”
The same report said that Chinese media has seized on the story to “denigrate U.S. democratic governance, casting the United States as broadly in decline — and to justify China’s crackdown on protestors in Hong Kong.”
This examination of possible foreign influence on the Capitol riot came years after what current and former FBI officials say is mounting evidence that foreign adversaries have sought to secretly support political extremists on both the far right and far left.
In February 2020, a paper by law enforcement and terrorism experts published in JustSecurity stated that there has been a “mutual affection” between the Russian government and Western extremist groups.
The reports raised concerns among some senators who inserted a requirement into the 2021 defense bill requiring the Pentagon to provide a report to Congress on the “extent of Russian support for ‘racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist groups and networks in Europe and the United States.'”