But an examination of the two men’s histories shows that local and federal law enforcement agencies passed up several opportunities to take action against them and their fellow Proud Boys long before they breached the Capitol.
The group’s propensity for violence and extremism was no secret. But the F.B.I. and other agencies had often seen the Proud Boys as they chose to portray themselves, according to more than a half-dozen current and former federal officials: as mere street brawlers who lacked the organization or ambition of typical bureau targets like neo-Nazis, international terrorists and Mexican drug cartels.
“There was a sense that, yes, their ideology is of concern, and, yes, they are known to have committed acts of violence that would be by definition terrorism, but we don’t worry about them,” said Elizabeth Neumann,an assistant secretary for threat prevention in the Department of Homeland Security who left last year. “The Proud Boys are just the guys-that-drink-too much-after-the-football-game-and-tend-to-get-into-bar-fights type of people — people that never looked organized enough to cause serious national security threats.”
Although law enforcement agencies cannot investigate political groups without reasonable suspicion of a crime, some former officials said they were surprised by the Proud Boys’ apparent impunity….
Local police officers have appeared at times to side with the Proud Boys, especially when they have squared off against leftists openly critical of law enforcement. Some local officials have complained that without guidance from federal agencies, their police departments were ill equipped to understand the dangers of a national movement like the group.