MAGA’ and ‘Trump’: The New Targets in FinCEN’s Financial Investigation Post Capitol Breach?

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FinCEN, the financial crime enforcement arm of the U.S. Treasury Department, is under fire for purportedly instructing banks to sift through the private transactions of their customers for terms like “MAGA” and “Trump” in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, incident at the U.S. Capitol.

This claim was made by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in a letter sent to the Treasury Department, accusing it of infringing on Americans’ rights to political and religious expression.

Jordan’s letter alleges that FinCEN circulated materials to banks on behalf of law enforcement agencies, outlining “typologies” of persons of interest after the Capitol breach. The materials were supposed to assist financial institutions in identifying transactions for the FBI. The key search terms allegedly included “MAGA”, a popular slogan of former President Donald Trump, “Trump,” and purchases related to religious texts and media subscriptions with “extremist views.”

In his letter, Jordan wrote, “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.'”

He accused FinCEN of effectively encouraging large financial institutions to scrutinize their customers’ private transactions for suspicious activity based on protected political and religious expression. FinCEN, the FBI, and the Treasury Department have yet to respond to these allegations.

Beyond this, Jordan’s letter also claims that FinCEN provided guidelines to banks on how to use Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) to identify customers whose transactions might suggest links to potential domestic violent extremists or active shooters. The MCC codes associated with “small arms” and “sporting and recreational goods and supplies” were among the items listed for detection. The list also included keywords like “Cabela’s” and “Dick’s Sporting Goods,” both of which are businesses where firearms can be purchased.

Jordan expressed concern about this financial surveillance, stating that these transactions have no apparent criminal connection but relate to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights. He raised serious doubts about FinCEN’s respect for fundamental civil liberties.

To date, over 1,250 individuals have been charged with various crimes related to the Jan. 6 incident, with nearly two-thirds of the 890-plus convicted participants receiving prison time. Despite these ongoing efforts, former President Trump has criticized the treatment of the Jan. 6 detainees and promised to pardon many of them.

Trump, while rallying his supporters in Iowa on the eve of the Jan. 6 anniversary, said, “The J6 hostages, I call them … Nobody has been treated ever in history so badly as those people.” He pledged to pardon a “large portion” of the imprisoned Jan. 6 defendants, claiming that they are being mistreated by the Biden administration.