Charged rhetoric swirls online and off as Trump’s Miami court date looms

Gun Rights


CNN
 — 

From the halls of Congress to the dark corners of the internet, charged and violent rhetoric is echoing among some Donald Trump sympathizers ahead of the former president’s appearance in a Miami court on Tuesday

FBI special agents across the country assigned to domestic terrorism squads are actively working to identify any possible threats, four law enforcement sources told CNN, following Trump’s second indictment.

So far, the FBI is aware of various groups like the Proud Boys discussing traveling to south Florida to publicly show support for Trump, sources said, but there is currently no indication of any specific and credible threat.

“We have now reached a war phase,” Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican and prominent supporter of Trump’s election denialism, tweeted Friday. “Eye for an eye.” Biggs’ office later said his comment was a call for the GOP to “step up and use their procedural tools” to counter “the Left’s weaponization of our federal law enforcement apparatus.”

Speaking at a Republican event in Georgia on Friday night, Kari Lake, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Arizona last year and is still spreading falsehoods about that election, said: “If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me and 75 million Americans just like me.”

“And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA,” she said to applause, adding, “That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.”

On some pro-Trump forums, anonymous users were less circumspect. “MAGA will make Waco look like a tea party!” one user posted Friday in an apparent reference to the April 1993 Waco, Texas siege that left 76 people dead.

On Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social, one anonymous user posted Thursday, “This is a Declaration of War against the American People. It is time We The People exercise our 2nd Amendment rights and burn the corruption out of DC.”

The former president himself has been posting frequently on Truth Social throughout the weekend. “SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY!!!” he posted Friday.

High emotions, little coordination

Still, at least on public social media forums, there doesn’t appear to be a mass online mobilization effort for people to gather people in Miami this week like there was in the lead-up to the events in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.

However some prominent right-wing figures are calling for Trump supporters to protest in Miami on Tuesday.

One influential right-wing activist in Florida who has almost half a million followers on Twitter is promoting a flag-waving event outside Trump’s golf course in Doral on Monday and a protest the following day against the “weaponization of government” outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Courthouse, where the former president is set to appear.

Some Trump supporters online have stressed the need for protests to remain peaceful and some have said they will not demonstrate in Miami on Tuesday, fearing it could be a trap. This is an extension of the false belief held by some that the January 6 attack on the US Capitol was a set-up designed to incriminate supporters of the former president.

But at least one person who has served prison time for his role in the January 6 riot said he will be in Miami to protest on Tuesday.

Anthime Gionet, a prominent online streamer better known by his moniker “Baked Alaska,” plead guilty to unlawfully protesting after he livestreamed himself breaching the Capitol in a nearly 30-minute video that showed him encouraging others in the mob to enter the building.

Gionet served a two month sentence and was released at the end of March, according to federal records.

On Friday, he lamented Trump’s latest indictment in a livestream outside Mar-a-Lago. During the livestream, Gionet said he and another person who was with him outside Mar-a-Lago would both be in Miami on Tuesday. The other person is heard on the stream responding, “we weren’t supposed to talk about that.” Gionet replied, “I know but it leaked so f*** it.”

The exchange may be illustrative of the shifting ways people use the internet to organize – something that has proven to be a challenge for law enforcement.

No ‘specific and credible plans for violence yet’

While much of the planning for January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol was done on public forums that could be read by anyone, a lot of that communication has since shifted to private channels, experts say.

The secretive nature of many private forums has caused federal agents working domestic terrorism matters to place greater emphasis on recruiting informants who can report on potential threats discussed online among extremists, law enforcement sources told CNN.

But even messages posted publicly cannot be accessed by investigators without lawful investigative purposes. The FBI’s own investigative guidelines limit what material can be accessed by agents and analysts, even when it is in the public domain. These policies prevent FBI employees from trawling the internet looking for concerning material, unless a formal assessment or investigation has been authorized and opened.

The FBI’s investigative efforts to identify possible threats include querying existing confidential human informants reporting on domestic terrorism issues for any indication of potential threats, sources said.

In addition to working their informant networks, FBI agents and analysts are reviewing publicly available online platforms frequented by domestic extremists for any indication of plans for violence.

Ben Decker, CEO of Memetica, a threat intelligence company, told CNN on Sunday, “Given the robust and successful grassroots architecture of right-wing culture war campaigns and anti-Pride protests this month, there are concerns that many of these in-person rally groups could pivot directly into more Trump-themed protests around the country over the coming days.”

But, at this point, Daniel J. Jones, the president of Advance Democracy, a non-profit that conducts public interest research, told CNN that his group had not identified “what we would assess to be specific and credible plans for violence yet.”

“However,” he added ,”as we saw during the events of January 6, it’s Trump’s statements that drive the online rhetoric and real-world violence. As such, much depends on what Trump says of his perceived opponents, as well as what he asks of his supporters, in the days ahead.”

Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national security analyst and a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, echoed this concern. “We know how incitement to violence works. It is nurtured from the top and given license to spread by leaders. They don’t have to direct it to one place or time. They can simply unleash it, knowing full well that someone may become emboldened to act,” she said.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a nationwide bulletin indicating the country “remains in a heightened threat environment,” warning that individuals “motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the homeland.”

DHS analysts indicated the motivating factors that could incite extremists to violence include perception about the integrity of the 2024 election cycle, and, while not specifically citing Trump’s legal woes, also pointed to “judicial decisions” in their list of grievances among extremist groups.

Ahead of Trump’s Tuesday court appearance, law enforcement will continue to remain on alert.

“We do not want a repeat of [the January 6] violence,” one senior FBI source said.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Holmes Lybrand contributed to this report.

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