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House Cancels Session After Another Militia Threat

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Large numbers of police and National Guard were at the U.S. Capitol today to protect against a threat that never materialized. March 4 is a day that holds significance for some conspiracy theorists, and officials had been saying that they'd received reports of a plot by a militia group to attempt to breach the Capitol. Even though that hasn't happened, Capitol Police are asking the National Guard to remain on site for two more months. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been monitoring the situation and she's with us now.

Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What more do we know about the threat to the Capitol?

MCCAMMON: Well, thousands of National Guard members have been here since the storming of the Capitol on January 6. And now a Pentagon official has confirmed to NPR that the Capitol Police are asking for those troops to remain in D.C. for another 60 days or so. And today, March 4, as you mentioned, was a day that some conspiracy theorists had predicted that Donald Trump would be swept back into office, which obviously did not happen.

And - still, though, out of security concerns, the House did not meet for a previously scheduled session today after a threat was reported. The Senate was in session, though. But U.S. Capitol officials have described intelligence reports about a potential militia plot targeting the Capitol as concerning. And they've said that there is a heightened level of alert for the next couple of days.

SHAPIRO: You've been reporting around the Capitol building today. Tell us what it looks like. What have you been seeing?

MCCAMMON: Well, really quiet, thankfully, with heavy security. Our colleague Claudia Grisales reported a similar environment inside, extra layers of security, but she said almost as quiet as a weekend in some areas. Outside the Capitol, roads remain closed. There's a highly visible presence of Guard troops and other law enforcement. And a tall fence topped with barbed wire continues to wind around the perimeter of the Capitol. That's been there since January.

The streets were empty, Ari, but I did talk to a couple of people, including Maria Allegretto. She came from Florida to D.C. because of the significance of March 4 for her. She says she and a friend were here on January 6 at the pro-Trump rally, although they say they did not go inside the Capitol. But Allegretto says they came back today because she wanted what she called closure from that day. And she'd heard rumors that this day might be important.

MARIA ALLEGRETTO: But we just felt like we're supposed to be here to pray. I don't know why. I can't explain that to you other than feeling like God is saying, let's go. So we're here.

MCCAMMON: Where were you hearing about March 4, I mean, that that this was a significant day?

ALLEGRETTO: It's on the Internet. It's everywhere on the Internet.

MCCAMMON: And she said she doesn't trust the government or the media. And that kind of attitude really aligns, Ari, with what we're seeing in a lot of polling these days - pervasive acceptance of misinformation and conspiracy theories and widespread distrust in the election system, especially among many Republicans and Trump supporters.

SHAPIRO: Now, you said U.S. Capitol Police want the National Guard to stick around for a couple of months. So what's the concern? What are they anticipating?

MCCAMMON: Well, just because today was quiet does not mean that this threat is over. Jared Holt is a fellow at the Atlantic Council. He told me that conspiracy theorists have a tendency to move the goalposts every time one of their predictions fails.

JARED HOLT: These prophecies are likely to just continue indefinitely until people who follow these theories just disengage or become worn out of them.

MCCAMMON: And Holt says there's also significant overlap between conspiracy theorists and potentially violent militia movements, all of which explains why the Capitol Police have asked the National Guard to stick around until at least May.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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