Feds Asked Banks to Search Private Transactions for Terms Like ‘MAGA,’ ‘Trump’ for Jan. 6 Probe

Feds Asked Banks to Search Private Transactions for Terms Like ‘MAGA,’ ‘Trump’ for Jan. 6 Probe

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The Treasury Department’s financial crime bureau is being accused of colluding with the FBI to track bank transactions of Jan. 6 participants.

FinCEN, the U.S. Treasury Department’s financial crime-fighting unit, is being accused of urging banks to comb through the private transactions of customers using terms like “MAGA” and “Trump” on behalf of federal law enforcement in its investigations of people involved in the Jan. 6, 2021 incident at the U.S. Capitol.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) leveled the accusation in a letter to former FinCEN director Noah Bishoff, in what the lawmaker described as “pervasive financial surveillance” carried out at the request of law enforcement that raises doubts about Treasury’s “respect for fundamental civil liberties.”

The letter comes as the House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government (also chaired by Mr. Jordan) are conducting oversight of the receipt by federal law enforcement of information about U.S. citizens without legal process and by means of private sector entities such as banks.

Mr. Jordan said in the letter that the two committees are in possession of documents indicating that FinCEN sent out materials to banks on behalf of law enforcement that outlined so-called “typologies” of persons of interest in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.

The materials FinCEN allegedly sent out to banks and other financial institutions aimed to identify transactions on behalf of the FBI.

People clash with police and security forces at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
People clash with police and security forces at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

‘MAGA’ on the Menu

The materials included a document recommending a series of search terms that banks should use to identify persons of interest in the FBI’s sweeping Jan. 6 probe, per Mr. Jordan’s letter.

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Specifically, the terms included words like “MAGA” (short for former President Donald Trump’s signature slogan, “Make America Great Again”), as well as “Trump” and the purchase of religious texts and subscriptions to media outlets containing “extremist views.”

“According to this analysis, FinCEN warned financial institutions of ‘extremism’ indicators that include ‘transportation charges, such as bus tickets, rental cars, or plane tickets, for travel to areas with no apparent purpose,’ or ‘the purchase of books (including religious texts) and subscriptions to other media containing extremist views,’” Mr. Jordan wrote.

“In other words, FinCEN urged large financial institutions to comb through the private transactions of their customers for suspicious charges on the basis of protected political and religious expression,” the lawmaker charged.

“What was also flagged?” the House Judiciary chief asked on X. “If you bought a religious text, like a BIBLE, or shopped at Bass Pro Shop.”

The FBI declined to comment, while neither FinCEN nor the Treasury Department returned a request to respond to Mr. Jordan’s allegations.

The latest revelations of apparent inter-agency collusion to crack down on those involved in the Jan. 6 incident comes on the heels of the third anniversary of the Capitol breach—and the Biden administration’s pledge to hunt down “all” Jan. 6 suspects, even if they didn’t enter the Capitol or weren’t even there that day.

Sporting Goods Get Flagged

The two committees headed by Mr. Jordan have obtained other records of note, per the letter.

FinSEC allegedly distributed slides that explain how financial institutions can use Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) to identify customers whose transactions may reflect an association with potential homegrown violent extremists or active shooters.

The list of query items to detect such customers includes the MCC codes associated with “small arms” (code 3484) and “sporting and recreational goods and supplies” (code 5091).

The slides also include a list of keywords such as “Cabela’s” and “Dick’s Sporting Goods,” both businesses where people can readily purchase a firearm.

“Despite these transactions having no apparent criminal nexus—and, in fact, relate to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights—FinCEN seems to have adopted a characterization of these Americans as potential threat actors,” Mr. Jordan wrote.

“This kind of pervasive financial surveillance, carried out in coordination with and at the request of federal law enforcement, into Americans’ private transactions is alarming and raises serious doubts about FinCEN’s respect for fundamental civil liberties,” he added.

Mr. Jordan requests testimony from the former FinCEN chief, who was in charge of the bureau in the wake of the Jan. 6 incident and would have been responsible for the bureau’s liaising with federal law enforcement in its requests to spotlight suspects.

‘Prosecutorial Discretion’

Three years after the Jan. 6 incident, dozens of detainees are still languishing in jail awaiting trial.

Prosecutors have, to date, charged over 1,250 people with various crimes related to Jan. 6, ranging from being present on Capitol grounds without authorization to the assault of a police officer to seditious conspiracy.

Nearly two-thirds of the 890-plus convicted Jan. 6 participants have received some time in prison.

The longest prison sentence—22 years—was handed down to Enrique Tarrio, the former Proud Boys national chairman who was convicted of seditious conspiracy for allegedly plotting with others to forcibly prevent the transfer of power between then-President Trump and then-President-elect Joe Biden.
Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, then leader of The Proud Boys, holds a U.S. flag during a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government in Miami, Florida, on July 16, 2021. ( Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images)
Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, then leader of The Proud Boys, holds a U.S. flag during a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government in Miami, Florida, on July 16, 2021. ( Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images)

The country’s top prosecutor recently clarified that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has no intention of letting Jan. 6 participants off easy—including those who weren’t even there that day.

“We have initiated prosecutions and secured convictions across a wide range of criminal conduct on January 6, as well as in the days and weeks leading up to the attack,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech on Jan. 5.

Mr. Garland then vowed to cast the DOJ dragnet widely.

“Our work continues,” he said. “As I said before, the Justice Department will hold all January 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under the law—whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.

“We are following the facts and the law where they lead.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice Building in Washington, on Nov. 21, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice Building in Washington, on Nov. 21, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
President Biden celebrated the jailing of Jan. 6 defendants in a speech to mark the third anniversary of the Capitol breach.

By contrast, President Trump rallied his base in Iowa on the eve of the Jan. 6 anniversary.

“The J6 hostages, I call them … Nobody has been treated ever in history so badly as those people,” President Trump said at a rally in Iowa on Jan. 5, where he pledged to pardon a “large portion” of imprisoned Jan. 6 defendants.

The former president has said on several occasions that he thinks the Biden administration is mistreating some Jan. 6 detainees and has vowed to issue pardons for many of them.

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