WASHINGTON (AP) – A man armed with an AR-15 rifle was killed in a shootout after trying to break into FBI offices in Cincinnati, police said. A Pennsylvania man was arrested after posting death threats against officers on social media. In cyberspace, calls for armed rebellion and civil war are growing louder.
This may be just the beginning, federal officials and private observers of extremism have warned. A growing number of ardent Donald Trump supporters appear ready to attack the FBI or others they say are going too far in the investigation of the former president.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are alerting and warning of increased threats and the potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings in the wake of the FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
Experts who study online radicalization and misinformation – such as false claims about Trump’s stolen election – say the surge was sparked by the recent break-in at Trump’s home in Florida. But what happens in the event of an arrest or a charge?
“When messages reach a certain pitch, things start happening in the real world,” said former New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer. “And when those in positions of power and public trust begin to echo extremist rhetoric, we are even more likely to see real-world consequences.”
Amplified by right-wing mainstream media, Trump and his allies’ angry claims about the raid are fueling the fires of distrust of his supporters of the federal government in general and the FBI in particular — albeit one conducted by an individual. Who was appointed by Trump_. And at least some of Trump’s supporters are now dealing with their anger.
Last week, a man in armored tactical clothing and armed with a rifle and a nail gun attempted to break into an FBI office in Cincinnati. He was later shot dead by the police after exchanging bullets with the officers. Officials said they believe the man posted stern messages on Trump’s online platform, Truth Social, saying federal agents should be executed.
Another man rammed his car into the US Capitol barricades on Sunday and opened fire in the air before shooting himself.
On Monday, the Justice Department announced the arrest of a Pennsylvania man who repeatedly threatened the lives of FBI agents on a platform gab popular with Trump supporters.
“They have declared war on us and now it is hunting season against you,” he wrote in a post shared by the authorities.
A joint intelligence bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned of an increase in violent online threats against federal officials and government facilities. According to a copy of the document obtained by the Associated Press, there are calls for “civil war” and “rebellion” as well as “the threat of planting an alleged pipe bomb in front of FBI headquarters”.
According to an analysis by the social network’s content analysis company Jignal Labs, mentions of “civil war” on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter increased 10x in the hours immediately following last week’s Mar-a-Lago record.
Several of the posts contained unsubstantiated claims that President Joe Biden ordered the FBI to search Trump’s home, or that the FBI had put up evidence to convict Trump.
“That Biden sent the FBI to search the home of former President Donald Trump is a declaration of war against him and his supporters,” one person wrote on Telegram.
The intelligence bulletin also noted that federal law enforcement officials have identified a number of threats against government officials who participated in the Mar-a-Lago search, including calls to kill the trial judge who conducted the search. The warrant was signed.
According to intelligence documents, the names and addresses of FBI agents and other officers have been posted online, as well as references to relatives who may be other targets.
The threats are similar to the online rhetoric that preceded the January 6, 2021, uprising in the US Capitol, said Rep. Benny Thompson, a Democrat who chairs the House committee investigating the Capitol storm and the National Security Commission.
“These threats of violence and even civil war – coming primarily from right-wing extremists online – are not only un-American, they are a threat to our democracy and the rule of law,” Thompson said.
The search of Trump’s residence was carried out based on a legally obtained warrant signed by a judge. But this is not in the interest of Trump and his allies.
“This is an attack on a political opponent at a level never before seen in our country,” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Monday. “third World!”
Republican Representative Paul Goser compared the investigation to “torture,” tweeting, “We must destroy the FBI.”
Another Republican congressman, Andy Biggs, tried partly to place the blame on the individual agents who made the discovery. “It looked like something you’d see in the former Soviet Union,” Biggs said this week. “Why did all those agents volunteer for it?”
Republican Senator John Thune told reporters in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Tuesday that while the Justice Department has shown it followed legal protocol in obtaining search warrants, his reservations about the Trump investigation have helped people for law enforcement purposes. question has been raised.
Thune said, “There are a lot of unanswered questions that have been left unanswered that raise a lot of suspicion among the American people, and the one thing you don’t want is people don’t trust law enforcement.” “
Other Republicans have tried to downplay the rhetoric, as Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson did during a weekend appearance on CNN. “We have to stop judging them,” Hutchinson said of the officers. “The FBI is simply performing its responsibilities under the law.”
But many in the conservative media ignored that advice.
“The break-in at Mar-a-Lago was not 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 manipulated photo that showed the judge falsely signed an order to receive a foot massage from Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for helping her boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, sexually abuse minors. The original photo was not of the judge, but of Epstein, who committed suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial. Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade later said that the manipulated photo was shared as a joke.
The roots of Republican anger at the FBI go back to the 2016 election
and investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia and Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified material in a private email account. The fury is focused only on Trump as new investigations, his efforts to quash the 2020 election, and his handling of classified material have since left office.
The unsubstantiated claims that the FBI secretly implicated Trump supporters for their violent actions on January 6 also sparked outrage from conservative social media users.
“Okay guys, you’ve started this civil war,” wrote one user on Gab, “and others are going to end it for you.”
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.