Capitol Hill Pipe Bomb Analysis


As authorities charge suspects in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot and insurrection, the pipe bomber suspect recorded the night before remains a menacing question mark.

This source-linked analysis begins with observations, questions, and analysis of the actions of the suspected pipe bomber captured on select FBI-released video segments from the U.S. Capitol Hill neighborhood on the evening of January 5, 2021. It explores events, details, and actions in context as may lead to identifying the pipe bomb suspect.

The analysis then addresses the gray war effects of the pipe bombs placed outside the HQ’s of the RNC and DNC and found on January 6, 2021.

Capitol Hill Pipe Bomber Video Segments: January 5, 2021

This analysis is partly based on the embedded FBI-released video segments below. For brevity, it uses the words “suspect” and “he” without assuming gender:

Possible Dominant Hand: In all of the video captures seen above in which the pipe bomb suspect is carrying the backpack (thought to contain the pipe bombs), he uses his right hand in a straight-arm carry to his right side. Then, at the corner of Canal and South Capitol Street on Democratic National Committee HQ premises, the suspect sits on a park bench, sets down his backpack in front of him on the ground, and appears to pull an item from the backpack. He rises, holding a shiny object in his right hand, possibly a pipe bomb, while holding the backpack in his left hand, then sits down abruptly. That he drew the object out of the backpack with his right hand and switched to holding the pack with this left suggests he is right hand dominant. (More on this segment later).

South Capitol Street SE, Residential Sidewalk Near DNC Segment: Context and Details

In one video segment, the suspect walks on South Capitol Street toward the Democratic National Committee HQ along a sidewalk on the residential side of the street, left to right from the camera view (See entire video at link, as this is abbreviated, then shown in detail). Below, see in order: (1) a still shot from the January 5, 2021 video; (2) a June 2019 daytime Google street view (most recent); and (3) a likely view of the security camera on a lamp post in the parking lot across the street from the residential sidewalk the suspect was on:

Behavior / Backpack / Jeans / Glasses: The suspect first hesitates on the residential sidewalk (at Left from camera viewpoint), looks back where he came from; touches his glasses and face mask; then looks in the general direction of the camera in the parking lot across the street. He walks two more doors down the sidewalk L to R per camera view, then stops on the sidewalk in front of a house, sets the backpack on the sidewalk against a small retaining wall, and bends at the waist revealing a right-side rectangular patch on the back of his jeans. He appears to pull something from the pack (perhaps a cloth), takes-off his glasses, and stands up facing the camera again, cleaning his glasses using both hands, before replacing them on his face above his mask (which he does not remove). The suspect is gloved throughout. Backpack Detail: Fibers from the backpack, gloves, and or powders or residues adhered to them might have transferred from the backpack to rough textures on the sidewalk or retaining wall where the suspect set the backpack in this segment. Jeans Detail: Does the shape, size, and location of the patch on the back of the suspect’s trousers betray the brand?

Glasses / DNA: It isn’t clear the suspect cleans his glasses from necessity, but when he takes them off or cleans them, it is an opening for an eyelash, eyebrow, eye-rheum, dead skin, or dandruff to fall near to where he is standing. While chances are low in a public place with nearly three months passed by, the chances that another person would have stopped at that exact spot to clean their glasses is also low. The sidewalk appeared wet that evening, and the air calm, increasing chances that fibers, hairs, lashes, or biomaterial may adhere to or snag wet, rough surfaces near to where they fell, if they did fall. The suspect had set his bag down and appeared to clean his glasses twice. The suspect was standing close to the retaining wall and leaning over when cleaning his glasses, increasing chances that any falling bio-material might find a resting place close to the base of the retaining wall in pores, cracks, or ridges of the masonry. Also, as foot traffic is highly unlikely immediately next to the retaining wall, in the event bio-material fell, odds of preservation improve.

Sedan and Dog Walker: Behavior, Details, and Context: Seconds after the suspect finishes cleaning and replacing the glasses on his face, a small sedan with lights on passes by Right to Left per camera viewpoint (from suspect’s Left). The suspect appears to raise up on his toes for a closer look toward the passing sedan, moving streetward on the sidewalk as he does. However, he may have been looking at or past the sedan. If waiting for the sedan he seems to avoid tracking or anticipating the sedan’s arrival, yet waits for it to cross his line of vision. After the sedan passes by, he then looks to his Right at the dog walker approaching from camera-view-Left (suspect’s Right). The suspect then turns the left side of his body to the dog walker and raises his left hand to the left side of his face (adjusting glasses or mask) as if to conceal his eyes and face as the dog walker passes. Height Detail: If the height of the dog walker is determined, the relative height of the suspect should be calculable using video camera stills of the two at their intersection, correcting for relative angles, positions, and estimated inches in fore and background distance as the dog walker passes in front of the suspect before the parking lot video camera view. Route and Context Considerations: The suspect may have deliberately stopped on the sidewalk to let the dog walker pass, cleaning his glasses as a pretext for this action. Whether he stopped for the sedan, awaiting its passage is unknown for now.

Some context and possibilities: Once the sedan and dog walker both pass by, the suspect picks up the backpack, and reverses direction. He returns in the direction from which he came, and away from the DNC HQ.  Following the suspect’s original path as if we were him, and continuing on to the DNC HQ using Google street view, we find an October 2018 daytime street view as we approach the DNC HQ on South Capitol Street SE and Canal Street. This 2018 daytime Google street view reveals a watchman at and near the controlled garage entrance of that DNC building, within eyesight of the park bench on Canal and South Capitol Street that the suspect was captured by surveillance video sitting on in another segment (See embed of area and watchman below, expanding, or grabbing and panning the scene). 

If the suspect continued his reversed course after the sedan and dog walker passed by, he would have been moving away from this DNC HQ scene and would have followed the sedan that may have passed by the below scene under winter conditions (no leaves on some trees). If the sedan was a suspect contact vehicle (not known), the suspect may have rendezvoused with it for information, for a ride, or both, as the sedan’s occupant(s) likely would have cased the DNC building moments before. Was a watchman on duty? Was a change of guard coming-up? If the sedan did or did not pick-up the suspect, the suspect may have ridden or walked around the block in a clockwise direction (see map below street view), (a) up South Capitol Street SE toward the Capitol, (b) Right on D Street SE, (c) Right on New Jersey Ave SE, then (d) Right on Ivy Street (unmarked on map below, zoom in x 1 to see) which leads back to the side of the DNC HQ building from which it appears the suspect approaches to sit on the park bench at the DNC HQ building curtilage at Canal Street SE and South Capitol Street SE some 12 minutes after his sidewalk stop for glasses cleaning. The Canal Street SE and South Capitol Street SE area can be seen in the October 2018 Google street view below and in the FBI’s released park bench video segment from different perspectives, however, with both showing the same landscaping and property features such as the spherical concrete barriers at the corner / intersection perimeter of the property along Capitol and Canal streets.

Metadata inquiries: Could phone providers privately and anonymously contact device owners whose device location data for the evening in question shows-up along the suspect’s path, including possibly the dog walker, to ask if they would interview with authorities? Any information on the suspect’s direction or route out of sight of cameras could lead to more surveillance recordings, witnesses, or observations.

One report suggested the suspect may have accessed a car. Would a late model vehicle with a trackable onboard system show up at or near that time-space in searchable, stored location metadata?

DNC Park Bench at South Capitol Street SE and Canal Street Video Segment:

Behavior and Details: At the corner of Canal and South Capitol Street on Democratic National Committee HQ premises, the suspect sits on a park bench. Shoulder Movement Detail: On seating himself and setting his backpack on the ground, the suspect makes a motion that appears as if he was adjusting or removing shoulder straps, although no shoulder straps appear visible on the outside of his hoodie in the video segment. He could have been symmetrically exercising his shoulders after carrying the backpack and setting it down, but the movement stood out as odd. Also, could he have been adjusting something he was wearing under the hoodie? Was there a form of communication worn underneath his hoodie, a holster with a weapon, or other wearable? Relating back to his repeat touching of his mask and glasses, did he have earpieces he was readjusting or securing? Camera or Surveillance Awareness: Once or twice the suspect looks back toward the capturing camera’s direction with a fairly fast head motion, and appears concerned with moving quickly as he opens and searches his backpack. Shiny Object Detail: The suspect leans forward on the bench, roots around in his bag, and appears to pull an item from the backpack. He soon rises, holding a shiny object in his right hand, possibly pipe bombs, while holding the backpack in his left hand, then sits down abruptly. Was this because he remembered the sense or knowledge of surveillance or possible surveillance from behind and to his right? Did he stand-up on impulse feeling urgency to get rid of the pipe bombs yet forgetting the pipe bombs would reflect nearby lights?

Alley between Capitol Club and RNC Segment:

Behavior: As the suspect walks down the alley between the Capitol Club and RNC at about 8:14 p.m., at first he avoids the water or moisture standing in the center of the alley. Footprint Detail: Yet as he approaches stairs descending from Right per the camera viewpoint, he looks up at them, loses orientation somewhat, and walks over into the moist or liquid drainage area at the center of the alley, which could have produced footprints in or to the left side of the liquid as he walked out of the drainage. While unlikely to survive three months time, if collected successfully at any point, the Capitol pipe bomber’s footprints could provide more information on shoe size, tread pattern or irregularity, or, if the moisture caused some earth or substance stuck to the treads of the shoes to dislodge and remain on the alley surface, yield more information about where the suspect had been.

Capitol Club Sidewalk, RNC Video Segment:

Behavior: In another segment at 8:14 p.m. the suspect walks on the sidewalk past the entrance of the Capitol Club on South Capitol Street near the RNC HQ, glances at the Capitol Club entrance in the general direction of the camera, then looks ahead as lights approach, moving a free left arm in a semi-circular exercise while straight-arm carrying a backpack with the right arm. This, just before a light colored SUV crossover (taxi? shuttle?) with trim, stripes, or decals passes by in the opposite direction. Implications of the arm movement may include a signal to others, possibly the SUV occupants; or a self-conscious movement to appear to be out for exercise rather than simply carrying dead-weight with one arm down the street as the vehicle approached. Possible footprint media: Toward the last seconds of this segment, the suspect approaches light colored sidewalk bricks appearing to have been soiled by some kind of substance, adhesive, earth, or spill. During or after his arm exercise, the suspect comes close to stepping in the discolored areas. Time and Date Detail: Whether Friday evening after 8:00 p.m. would be a busy dinner hour would be a matter of local knowledge. Any number of vehicles parked along the street may have had someone waiting inside, with potential witnesses.

Possible Further Information Sources Toward Identification

Gait: Neither automated or expert forensic gait analyses are scientifically established positive identification methods. However, properly vetted to evidentiary standards, they can aid in identification or non-identification. If automated gait recognition software advances to reliably search, find, and compare legally available, possible video matches with the suspect’s digitally captured gait from January 5, 2021, then a search of video surveillance captures within a reasonable proximity in location, time, and travel paths to and from Capitol Hill surrounding January 5-6 2021 might yield possible matches. It is reasonable to search back a week or so ahead of the former president’s tweeted announcement of the January 6 rally and protest of the vote certification in the Capitol.

Historical uses for gait analysis are many. Medical gait analyses can detect pathology in a suspect’s gait. Biomechanics Engineers have begun to study gait differences by race for medical purposes. Forensic podiatrists help analyze footprint, footfall, and footwear evidence, merging these with gait analyses. These remain partial aids to understanding imperfect digital captures of suspect gait, while efforts continue toward standardization of gait analysis methods, for example, “Morphometric assessment.” 

First Impression of Gait: This writer’s first impression, which could be wrong, when viewing the suspect’s physical proportions and gait, particularly the alley capture between the RNC and Capitol Club and in front of the Capitol Club was that the suspect could be a small to average sized male of near or far eastern Asian descent, wearing shoes he may have been unaccustomed to wearing. I deduced this from the mostly short, efficient stride, and how his gait appeared centered and relaxed (not lumbering, walking on heels,  or with a swagger, as seems a more western trait). This seemed especially so when he believed he was in less exposed locations such as the alleyway before reaching the stairs. However, the suspect seemed to lose physical centeredness or focus when cognitively distracted by potential encounters, surveillance, and or discovery, as when he approached the stairs in the alleyway, peered around the corner and up, and then apparently drifted to center, stepping into the wet drainage channel in the center. Also, he seemed to lose focus after showing concern for surveillance over his shoulder at the park bench at the DNC, rising prematurely (impulsively?) and holding a shiny object exposed to the building camera, then quickly sitting down again. On the residential segment after looking behind and possibly realizing the dog walker was coming, the suspect turned, walked and then stumbled slightly. These are intuitive impressions based on observation, memory, experience, and first impression. Deception in presentation is always a possibility.

Infrared and Other Scans: With enough reliable profile data about the suspect, including credible estimates of height, weight, gait, footprints, shoe type, and other data, authorities should try to preserve incoming and outgoing passenger and commuter information including air, train, ship, charter, cargo, government, and other information from a reasonable time surrounding the suspect’s Capitol Hill presence on January 5, 2021. This would attempt to include relevant infrared face /body scans, video captures, and luggage imaging for such passengers or commuters.

Shoes and Gait: The suspect wore distinctive, rubber-soled Nike court shoes and in one segment rose up on the toes of those shoes as if to get a better look at something in the distance while standing on a sidewalk just before a dog walker passed by. At one point the suspect stumbled a bit on the sidewalk. Was the suspect used to these shoes? Would thick-soled court shoes change a person’s gait?  Was the shoe type randomly selected or planned for appearances? What are the main characteristics of the largest market for the shoes? How would wearing other shoes or no shoes (as in an airport line) change the suspect’s gait and height?

The Pipe Bombs: Planting, Purpose, and Effects

The pipe bombs planted outside the RNC and DNC in the Capitol Hill area of Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021 may imply gray information and influence warfare by conduct as much or more than direct, purposeful terrorism.

The Act of Planting But Not Detonating Pipe Bombs: Why the pipe bombs were not detonated is unknown, as they were viable. If they did not fail for technical reasons, it seems they must have intentionally or accidentally not been set to explode.

If intentionally or accidentally not set, why? Some possibilities:

(1) the bombs were meant to be found unexploded, reported to authorities, and the bomb planting suspect seen on video and discussed in the media for information warfare purposes;

(2) the pipe bombs were intended for pickup by arrangement with a specific party to use but for some reason the party did not pickup;

(3) the pipe bombs were planted in anticipation of a person who would stop by later and set their timers in place, but did not;

(4) the pipe bombs were planted in case a random, radicalized party may find and use them, given what was to occur the next day at the Capitol, but they did not; and or

(5) some combination of the above.

For (2) above to be true, it would seem the pipe bombs would have been left in a concealed location for secure transfer to the intended party, not in the relative open to be easily discovered and reported. Dedicated terrorists would arrange secure transfer and use.

For (2) or (3) to be true, it would mean the party responsible for the operation risked twice the public exposure, surveillance, and discovery risk of using two participants, ineffective placement, and a problematic timing gap between planting and likely timed use.

For (4) to be true, the unlikely timing gap between planting the pipe bombs and the arrival of the crowds from which a radicalized insurrectionist might find the pipe bombs is too great for this to be a serious motive.

Also, any and all of the above problems with the timing, location, and unset status of the pipe bombs makes detonation a less likely priority for whoever was in charge of the operation.

Absent technical issues, logistical fails, or communication breakdowns, if the pipe bombs’ timers were intentionally not set, possibility (1) above is more likely: The pipe-bombs were an information warfare tool planted for near-certain discovery, reporting to authorities, and media broadcast to get public help with catching a mysterious suspect who apparently managed to sanitize the scene and situation of identifying evidence for nearly 3 months.

‘Homemade’ Black Powder: Authorities found what they described as homemade black powder in the pipe bombs. This could mean, or be meant to suggest, domestic non-professional actors, or, an effort to avoid the appearance of professional or state actors. The label “home made,” must not be used to assume that someone of domestic citizenship made the black powder, that it was made domestically, or that it was made by non-professionals, although any of those could be so.

Information Warfare Pattern and Effect: The placement of pipe bombs at or near both the DNC and RNC sites offers animosity toward both mainstream U.S. parties and appears to be information warfare messaging by conduct. The act seems to assume that there would be favorable reception among Capitol rioters, insurrectionists, domestic extremists, conspiracists, and increasing numbers of the former president’s base that the established U.S. Constitutional governing system is a nefarious, “establishment,” “cabal,” or “deep state.”

The near certain discovery and public knowledge of the discovery of viable bombs, amplified by media broadcast and video of the suspect might tend to egg-on a cross-section of suggestible U.S.-based extremists to prove they can succeed where the failed pipe bomber could not.

The planting of pipe bombs in this case, absent an operational or technical defeat of their use, suggests the will to a slower-burn escalation of information warfare by conduct under the new Administration as might use the mystery of the bomber’s identity or loyalty as an enduring catalyst for cross-blame and proof that the U.S. government is at once corruptly deserving of being struck, and too weak to protect itself in its own Capitol.

These information weapon narratives would also be consistent with a preferred strategic, lower cost warfare suitable to foreign nation state interests unready for sudden escalation with the United States and so dependent on encouraging domestic extremists to do the kinetic terror or militant work. Presently, mid to long term division and deconstruction of the superpower status of the United States would make more strategic sense for near-peer, autocratic adversaries.

Whoever engineered the planting of the bombs before the January 6 rally, protest, riot, and insurrection had apparently anticipated in advance of January 6 that there would be anger enough against both main parties that detonation outside the RNC and DNC would be an effective development, rather than an action that unified Americans in the centrist main parties.

The deniable nation state information warfare theory gains traction if the pipe bombs and components were professionally cleansed of potentially identifying or lead-generating forensic evidence; if the suspect left no digital trail; or if it is possible that the suspect used a wireless signal jammer or other tech to thwart wireless camera captures of the exact moment in time the pipe bombs were planted.

Checking for evidence of past or ongoing third party monitoring, connection, or jamming devices at or near the bomb planter’s chosen sites might make sense, and or reviewing back-video coverage of such nearby, permissive locations in a radius around the spots the bomb suspect operated. If a non-adversarial nation state or intelligence actor may have had eyes or ears they would not admit having in the Capitol, and which they subsequently removed, this could become helpful evidence obtainable by diplomacy.

Another reason for the nation state discussion: the direct approach of an operationally-minded domestic extremist would seem less likely to engage in the indirect, ineffective bomb planting activity seen on the FBI video releases.

Caveat: Tech savvy domestic extremists versed in information warfare could possibly consider planting pipe bombs as an information weapon of warning and or recruitment, to encourage more people needing a purpose in life to step forward and join the insurrection. However, it is also arguable that anti-government actors and accelerationists would sooner plant more powerful bombs unless local technical countermeasures made that too risky.

The grievances of the groups behind the Oklahoma City bombing apparently remain represented among some groups involved in the Capitol insurrection, online, and in foreign agitation content. Would these groups, absent advice or sponsorship by more sophisticated parties employ pipe bombs for information warfare use? Or would they use them violently, to maximum effect?

Closing Thoughts and Future Focus

The recent history of nation state and domestic extremist information warfare shows past patterns echoed in the implied action of the Capitol pipe bomb placement outside both the DNC and RNC buildings near the Capitol, targeting both mainstream parties. The “Unite the Right” and the extreme Left “Occupy” agitation propaganda movements morphed from an autocrat-state driven whipsaw operation into facilitation of a conspiracist, anti-democracy “Left-Right Unite” theme as disseminated and laundered via conspiracist tabloid content with supposed U.S.-Canadian identifiers (InfoWars, American Free Press, Breitbart, Global Research) despite the internet being borderless in its gray war reality. These trends in gray warfare will be addressed soon in a separate analysis and report.

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