WASHINGTON — A man armed with an AR-15 dies in a shootout after trying to break into FBI offices in Cincinnati. A Pennsylvania man is arrested after posting death threats against officers on social media. In cyberspace, calls for armed uprisings and civil war are growing louder.
This could be just the beginning, warn federal authorities and private extremism watchers. A growing number of ardent Donald Trump supporters seem ready to hit back at the FBI or others who they believe are going too far in the investigation of the former president.
Law enforcement officials across the country are warning and warning of increased threats and potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings following the FBI’s raid of the home from Trump to Mar-a-Lago.
Experts who study online radicalization and misinformation — such as Trump’s aggressive misrepresentations about a stolen election — note that the recent surge was sparked by a legal search of Trump’s Florida home. What might happen if arrested or charged?
“When the messaging hits a certain level, things start happening in the real world,” said former New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. Rutgers. “And when people in positions of power and public trust start to echo extremist rhetoric, it’s even more likely that we’re going to see real-world consequences.”
Amplified by right-wing media, statements of anger from Trump and his allies over the raid are fanning the flames of his supporters’ distrust of the FBI — despite being headed by a Trump appointee — and the federal government in general. And at least some of Trump’s supporters now appear to be acting on his anger.
Last week, a man wearing a body armor and armed with an assault rifle and a nail gun tried to break into the FBI office in Cincinnati. He was later shot dead by police after exchanging gunfire with officers. Authorities say they believe the man had posted somber messages on Truth Social, Trump’s online platform, including one saying federal agents should be killed on sight.
Another man drove his car into a United States Capitol barricade on Sunday and began firing shots in the air before shooting himself dead.
On Monday, the Justice Department announced the arrest of a Pennsylvania man who had made repeated death threats against FBI agents on Gab, a platform popular with Trump supporters.
“You declared war on us and now it’s open season on YOU,” he wrote in a post shared by authorities.
A joint FBI and Homeland Security intelligence bulletin warns of an increase in violent online threats targeting federal officials and government facilities. These include ‘a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb outside FBI headquarters’, as well as calls for ‘civil war’ and ‘rebellion’, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Associated Press. .
Mentions of “civil war” on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter increased tenfold in the hours immediately following Mar-a-Lago’s search last week, according to analysis by Zignal Labs, a company that analyzes the content of social networks. social media.
Many messages contained baseless allegations suggesting that President Joe Biden had ordered the FBI to search Trump’s home, or that the FBI had planted evidence to incriminate Trump.
“Biden sending the FBI to raid a former President, Mr. Donald Trump’s home is a declaration of WAR against him and his supporters,” a poster on the Telegram platform wrote.
The intelligence bulletin also noted that federal law enforcement officials have identified multiple threats against government officials involved in the Mar-a-Lago raid, including calls to kill the magistrate judge who signed the Search warrant.
The names and home addresses of FBI agents and other officials have been published online, along with references to family members who may be additional targets, according to the intelligence documents.
The threats are eerily similar to online rhetoric that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, says Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Jan. 6 Committee and the House Committee on internal security.
“These threats of violence and even civil war — coming primarily from right-wing extremists online — are not only un-American, but pose a threat to our democracy and the rule of law,” Thompson said.
The search of Trump’s residence was carried out on the basis of a legally obtained warrant signed by a judge. But that’s not the issue for Trump and his allies.
“This is an assault on a political opponent on a level never seen before in our country,” Trump wrote Monday in an article on his Truth Social. “Third World !”
Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona equated the investigation with “tyranny” and tweeted, “We must destroy the FBI.”
Another Arizona congressman, Republican Andy Biggs, sought to blame the individual officers who carried out the search. “It looked more like something you would see in the former Soviet Union,” Biggs said this week. “Why did all these agents voluntarily agree?”
Republican Sen. John Thune told reporters in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Tuesday that although the Justice Department has shown it followed legal protocols to obtain the search warrant, its reluctance to regard to the Trump investigation has people questioning the motives of law enforcement.
“There are just a lot of unanswered questions that, left unanswered, create a lot of suspicion among the American people, and the one thing you don’t want is people not trusting the forces of the United States. ‘order,” Thune said.
Other Republicans have tried to temper the rhetoric, as Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson did in a weekend appearance on CNN. “We have to let go of passing judgment on them,” Hutchinson said of the agents. “The FBI is simply fulfilling its responsibilities under the law.”
But many in the conservative media ignored that advice.
“The raid on Mar-a-Lago was not an act of law enforcement, it was the opposite,” Tucker Carlson said on his Fox News show Monday night. “It was an attack on the rule of law.”
Fox also shared a doctored photo that mistakenly depicted the judge who signed the warrant receiving a foot massage from Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell was sentenced in June to 20 years for helping her boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein abuse underage girls. The original photo was not of the judge but of Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial. Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade later said the doctored image was shared as a joke.
The roots of Republican anger against the FBI can be traced back to the 2016 election and investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia and Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified documents in a private email account. That furor has only grown as new investigations focus on Trump, his efforts to nullify the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents since leaving office.
Baseless claims that the FBI secretly framed Trump supporters for their violent actions on January 6 have also stoked the ire of conservative social media users.
“Well guys you started this civil war,” wrote a poster on Gab “And others will definitely end it for you.”
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.