Alumnae/i Feature

Capitol Police Assistant Director Julie Farnam ’00 Publishes Insider Account of January 6 Attack

Julie Farnam

“Simmons gave me the confidence to be effective in harsh situations and harsh environments. I don’t think I had that confidence as a woman before I joined Simmons.”

Julie Farnam ’00 studied Sociology at Simmons before starting her career in the federal government. After working in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Farnam became Assistant Director of the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division of the United States Capitol Police in October 2020. She was in this position when a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. Farnam has since written a book about the experience and resultant backlash, Domestic Darkness: An Insider's Account of the January 6th Insurrection, and the Future of Right-Wing Extremism. We spoke to her about the book and how she is preparing for another contentious election year.

On Being a Woman in the Federal Government

In her role as Assistant Director of the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division of the U.S. Capitol Police, Julie Farnam ’00 expressed concerns about what could happen during protests scheduled around the Capitol Building on January 6. She had begun to suspect that the groups requesting permission to hold protests around the Capitol were fronts for “Stop the Steal,” a movement devoted to the perceived injustice of President Biden’s defeat of then-President Trump. Unfortunately, her concerns were dismissed. The permits were approved.

“When men speak, they [automatically] have authority and credibility,” Farnam says. “When women speak, we don’t always have that same starting point, especially if you are the only woman in the room. You have to say something many times before people listen.”

Throughout her career in the United States government, she’s frequently been one of a few women on the staff. She reflects that, possibly, senior staff members — including former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has since accused Farnam of failing to provide intelligence about the potential violent nature of the protests — may have interpreted her reserved, polite demeanor as being a person who wouldn’t fight back. That would be their mistake. Her book, Domestic Darkness: An Insider's Account of the January 6th Insurrection, and the Future of Right-Wing Extremism (Ig Publishing, 2024) is a detailed account of her initial challenges with the Capitol Police, the lead up to the insurrection, and the finger pointing that followed.

“A lot of times, we hold ourselves back by not speaking up, or thinking that we don’t deserve to be at the table,” says Farnam. “But we got there! I was hired by the Capitol Police because I was qualified for the job. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you know to be true. That paves the way for the women who come after us.”

Though Farnam was frequently the focus of blame in the days that followed the insurrection, Farnam stayed with the Capitol Police until May of 2023. “I hired new people who were experienced and motivated, including three supervisors under me,” she recalls. “I wrote policy documents and standard operating procedures, and provided training for all of the analysts.” After January 6, the Government Accountability office asked for a 45-day gap analysis that determined what the department needed to be successful; Farnam implemented the resulting plan. “I’m proud of the work I did,” she says. “I left the team in a good place. It’s definitely better than it was when I started there.”

On her time at Simmons

Farnam’s training at Simmons came in handy on the job. “Simmons gave me the confidence to be effective in harsh situations and harsh environments. I don’t think I had that confidence as a woman before I joined Simmons.” She appreciated the welcoming community and empowering faculty she found on campus. Though Farnam grew up just outside of Boston, she chose to live on campus in order to have the full college experience. “I had my independence, but at the same time the community was there to help me succeed. That was really important to me. [Simmons] laid the foundation for what would become my career.”

Farnam finished her studies at Simmons in three short years, then went straight to law school, but dropped out when she found she hated her course of study. While pursuing a graduate degree at Lesley University, she interned at the International Rescue Committee. “I knew that I liked working with immigrants, working with different groups of people. I find people fascinating!” After graduation, she landed a position as an Immigration Information Officer for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). That was the beginning of her career in the federal government.

The Use of Propaganda in Politics

While her book details the particulars of what happened — both within departments unprepared for the crisis, and in the terrorist groups that carried out the attack — Farnam also touches on her personal experience. The morning of January 6, she was worried enough to make sure that the nanny took her two young children out of D.C. before the protests started. After the fact, she had little perspective of the public reaction to what occurred. “I was so in the thick of it,” she recalls. “I thought, do people care about what’s happening? I asked my mother and she said, ‘Julie, it’s the only thing on television.’” Farnam also recalls receiving a text from a friend in Japan, checking in to see if she was okay. “I thought, oh, do people in Japan know about this? I guess people are noticing that things are really bad today.”

In her book, Farnam provides historical context for domestic terrorism and the use of propaganda and conspiracy theories. She uses the 1824 race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson as an example of the circulation of conspiracy theories during Presidential elections. But knowing the history doesn’t make the reality of these issues easier, nor does it instruct us on how to deal with those who believe them.

“You have to relate it to people, personally,” Farnam says. “If you stick to facts and what’s objective, you’re going to get nowhere with someone who is deeply entrenched in conspiracy theories.” She notes that people will always be able to counter whatever argument is offered. “Get them to think that maybe their positions are impacting them, personally. How they are harming themselves by taking these positions. That’s probably where you’re going to have the most success.” Farnam cites a lack of critical thinking skills or the ability to recognize political manipulation as the slippery slope into believing wild theories; this was only exacerbated by the pandemic. “We need to [engage] on an individual level, rather than trying to take all extremists and helping them see the light — it’s not going to work that way.”

That these conspiracy theories and extremist groups are infiltrating the mainstream is especially troubling. “They are being empowered to do so,” says Farnam. “There have always been fringe groups in any society, regardless of whether it’s on the left or the right. What we saw in the past few years is people in power taking those fringe groups and recognizing them as a legitimate voting block, bringing them into the mainstream, and giving them a platform to spread their hate. We have [fewer] people in positions of power speaking out against things that are wrong, and that’s really troublesome for our country.”

Mis- and Disinformation in the Age of Social Media

Farnam cites social media as a way to amplify hate, as well as to generate mis- and disinformation. “People aren’t being challenged, they’re just talking inside an echo chamber of other like-minded individuals and they’re all talking about the same thing and no one is questioning whether what they are saying is accurate.” Disinformation is information that is known to be false and is spread with the intent to promote false information. Misinformation is false information that people believe to be true. “There is a lot of foreign influence, particularly in the United States,” says Farnam. “It’s going to take a lot more attention to how foreign forces [are contributing to the problem].”

Farnam suggests that helping people recognize trolls and bots on social media is a good first step. “Bots will automatically respond to things [when they detect] certain keywords,” explains Farnam, “while trolls are actual people.” In some cases, foreign governments use groups of trolls to spread propaganda online. “These accounts look legitimate,” Farnam notes. “Usually, if someone is a real person who cares about an issue, they’ll stick to one issue. They’re not all over the place. When you see these people posting frequently on anything that is divisive, that’s probably a troll.” Unfortunately, social media platforms have little interest in identifying these accounts or pulling them from their platforms. “Foreign countries that are enemies of the U.S. have a vested interest in seeing us divided,” says Farnam. “They’ll let us destroy ourselves, and they don’t have to do a thing.”

Moving Forward in 2024

As for dealing with challenges, Farnam looks back at her time with the Capitol Police as a lesson in fortitude. “When you’re going through a hard time, people will say, take things day by day. [I learned that] sometimes you have to take things minute by minute.” Now, Farnam is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pandorus Intelligence, an open source intelligence firm that works with private investigators and businesses, and attorneys. She’s also running for local office in Arlington, Virginia. “It’s one thing to complain about politics, but it’s another thing to do something about it. I want to instill that sense of advocacy and empowerment in my daughters, that ability to make change.” Her broader concerns about division in America is also at the core of her desire to run. “I saw how fragile our democracy is, and how divided we are. I haven’t seen the people in positions of power working to bring people together and to find common ground. [I want to] come up with practical solutions to make our community better.”

How can we protect ourselves during what will, undoubtedly, be a politically fraught year?

“First and foremost: vote! Second, step up.” Even if you don’t run for office, there are many ways to get involved in your community. “No matter where you live, there is an issue that you feel your community has. Go out and do something about it, because I would bet there are other people in the community who feel similarly. Change what is bothering you in your own backyard, and go from there.”

Publish Date


Alisa M. Libby