Was there a plan for hostages or killings at the Capitol?

Amid the photos that flooded social media during Wednesday’s riot at the Capitol—shirtless jokers in horned helmets, dudes pointing at their nuts, dumbasses carrying away souvenirs—the images of the zip-tie guys were quieter, less exuberant, more chilling. And we’d better not forget what they almost managed to do.

Call the zip ties by their correct name: The guys were carrying flex cuffs, the plastic double restraints often used by police in mass arrest situations. They walked through the Senate chamber with a sense of purpose. They were not dressed in silly costumes but kitted out in full paramilitary regalia: helmets, armor, camo, holsters with sidearms. At least one had a semi-automatic rifle and 11 Molotov cocktails. At least one, unlike nearly every other right-wing rioter photographed that day, wore a mask that obscured his face.

These are the same guys who, when the windows of the Capitol were broken and entry secured, went in first with what I’d call military-ish precision. They moved with purpose, to the offices of major figures like Nancy Pelosi and then to the Senate floor. What was that purpose? It wasn’t to pose for photos. It was to use those flex cuffs on someone.

They went into the Capitol, as Congress was counting electoral votes, equipped to take hostages—to physically seize officials, and presumably to take lives. The prospect is terrifying. But just because it seems unthinkable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think hard about what almost happened. Don’t dismiss the zip-tie guys as “LARPers” or “weekend warriors.” First of all, given the well-documented overlap between ex-military, law enforcement, and right-wing militias, it’s entirely possible these guys were weekday warriors using their training in service of extracurricular interests. (One of the Twitter sleuths who are now trying to track them down sure seems to think they’re ex-military.) More importantly, the long awful course of history reminds us how slippery the slope is from playacting as a strike force to actually behaving as a strike force. Once the zip ties go on, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a “real” terrorist or not.

Slate Was there a plan for hostages or killings at the Capitol?